Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cruisin' the 50s in Spanish Harlem (5a)

(continued from page: (5)

Loud Latin Rhythmic music would blast through the open windows and doorways of apartment dwellings penetrating the ears of reluctant hearers. Puerto Ricans have always loved their music and plenty of it back then and even now, whether they are cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning the house or driving a car. There is something in the rhythmic beat of Latin music that reaches into their very soul. Their style of musical compositions incredibly rich in Latin variations of tone, blend the base ingredients of rhythm, melody, and harmony sounded by one or more instruments which may include trumpets, trombones, saxophones, piano, drums, maracas, cowbells and guitars. For many of the Puerto Ricans in "El Barrio," dancing was an escape from the frustrations of their daily lives." It didn't matter how tired they felt or how miserable their lives were, as soon as their bodies were swept up by the passionate rhythm they would become rejuvenated , literally dancing until they dropped.

This dance was first seen in the dance-halls of America, in the early 50s, following closely Mambo, from which it was developed. The music is slower than Mambo. Mambo dancing was a sensual Cuban dance and it was one of the most popular form of dances in the United States. After the World War II the Mambo was pushed aside by the Cha, Cha, Cha which became popular around 1956.

There was a growing popularity of Latin dance music during the forties and fifties. Latino dancers from all over Spanish Harlem would flock to the "Park Palace Ballroom" located at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, El CaborojeƱo and Broad-way Casino, two popular dancehalls on the west side of Manhattan, the Palladium ballroom down in mid-Manhattan, the Grand Plaza and Tropicana in the south Bronx or go to the Roseland Ballroom located on 51st street taking advantage of their Latin Tuesdays which were always packed, for an evening of Latin rhythmic excitement. As the musicians played their instruments to the greatest names in Latino music, "the partners , skins flushed with perspiration would spin around the dance floor, whirling around each other. Their hips and shoulders swaying in time, and feet marking the beat of the music" to rhumbas. boleros, guarachas and the mambo, floors shaking under their body movements. The young busty Latin women would heat up the atmosphere as they moved seductively, swaying their curvacious hips to the beat of the drums. Occasionally a flirtatious remark made by another male dancer who had a little too much to drink, would set off a verbal confrontation between both men that would lead to an outright street brawl of switchblades and broken bottles as others would rush to their defense. Unfortunately, for the people from "El Barrio" there never was a dull moment even when they wanted to have a good time.

Those from "El Barrio," who didn't go to the nightclubs, would stay at home and have their own loud parties on the weekends. On unbearable hot nights many families would sit on their stoops and spend hours in loud endlesss chatter and laughter until the wee hours of the morning irritating the neighbors who wanted to sleep.

To be continued: Cruisin the 50s in Spanish Harlem (5b)

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