Arts Undercurrent: The Mambo Room
- Written by Rebecca Weinstein
- Category: Featured - Radio
- Published: 05 February 2020
The Mambo Room offers classes, dance socials, and parties every weekend where you can learn about the history and culture behind bachata, kizomba, salsa, and more. Rebecca Evans interviews Mambo Room founder and owner Tracy Holland Gramajo.
Tracy: Everyone is always nervous in the beginning, but the thing is, you're coming into a class with a bunch of other beginners who feel exactly the same way as you. So while everyone thinks everyone's watching them, no one's watching them. Everyone's worried about people watching them, but they're just watching themselves.
Rebecca: That's Tracy Holland Gramajo, founder and owner of the Mambo Room, a Latin dance center and community in Norfolk. They've got classes, dance socials, and parties running throughout the month and pretty much every weekend. I talked to Tracy about the history of the Mambo Room and why we should all learn to dance. So what led you to start the Mambo Room?
Tracy: I was in college and I was going to ODU. I ended up with an internship in Virginia Beach and I would drive past this little club, and they had this sign out that said "free salsa classes on Thursdays." I started learning and I just got really entwined into the Hispanic community and I fell in love with dancing. I fell in love with salsa, with the music, with the people, with the culture. Being in there, I became very good friends with one of the local instructors and her and I started to do things in the community. So we would bring instructors from D.C. and New York to kind of expose people here to different types of salsa. We were using other dance studios and different clubs and it just got to the point where we wanted to have our own space because we didn't want it to be a club. We wanted it to be a place to go dancing. One thing led to another and eventually we opened up the Mambo Room.
Rebecca: So what's it been like to see this community kind of grow and change over the years?
Tracy: We started with maybe 10 or 15 people and then that seemed to double every couple of months. It is a wonderful group of people to be around and to be associated with. On Friday nights, when we have our socials, it's really like coming together with your family. When I founded the Mambo Room, Dorian, who was my husband...not at that time; back then we knew each other as friends...he was a founder as well. And this year in September, he passed away from cancer. Following his journey was the most impactful thing that's ever happened to me. I watched him go from in the beginner stages of a dancer to not knowing very much to just growing and learning, like he would go to New York and he would go to Philadelphia and he would learn from all these amazing instructors. He brought it back and he started teaching and he started DJing and he started dancing more and just really became a pillar in the dance community. Like he was that person in the room that everyone flocked to. He was able to influence a lot of people in a very positive way with dance, and when he died, it was kind of like that magnified. Just to watch the impact that his life had and then his death had on people, like, was really soul touching.
Rebecca: The Mambo Room legacy and vision lives on through Tracy's hard work. A big part of their mission is growing the dance community and welcoming beginners.
Tracy: Everyone starts in the beginning and even the people who dance really well have started in the beginning too, and they know what it feels like. The majority of the people that come to the Mambo Room, they're hungry to have a bigger community and a more fulfilling community, so they want beginners to come in and they want beginners to learn. When we moved from our old building to the new building, I had everyone write down their memories, and it's all these people saying, "Oh, this is how dance changed my life. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for doing that. I met my wife. I met my husband. I found a new passion, like I found confidence." Like, it really does instill a lot of positive things in your life.
Rebecca: What would be the best event or class to start with?
Tracy: Well, we have three different options for beginners to start in. We have six-week courses and then we have three-hour crash courses and then we also have social classes. So every Friday night starting at 9 o'clock, we offer our socials. From 9 to 10 is a class specifically for beginners, people who have never danced before. They can come in and be very comfortable, and we teach them a little bit of salsa and a little bit of bachata, and then they can stay and hang out and the whole dance community comes in and they dance every Friday night and we're there till about 1 or 2 in the morning. It's not just about learning the steps or the music. It's about really learning the history of the dance and the culture.
Rebecca: That was Tracy Holland Gramajo from the Mambo Room in Norfolk. You can see their full schedule and learn more about what they do at mamboroomdance.com. Tonight (Thursday, February 6), they'll offer a kizomba social, on Friday (February 7), a Latin social, and then they'll have a bachata crash course on Saturday.