Palladium Mambo, Palladium Era Mambo Dancers - Keeping the History Alive
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Nina LazarNina Lazar

June 19, 1937 –

As a child, Nina Lazar spent summers in the Catskill mountains, where she fell in love with Latin music. At the tender age of fifteen, she began teaching and performing mambo at the Olympic Hotel with partner Luigi (Lou Dorant), launching a career in Latin dance and music that spanned half a century. In the 1950s, Nina performed and taught mambo (among other ballroom dances) in Brooklyn, Long Island, the Catskills, Miami Beach, and at New York’s Palladium Ballroom. As a mambo performer, Nina Lazar partnered with some of the Palladium’s greatest dancers, including Steve Sands, Marty Arret, Bunny Osborn, Marilyn Winters, and Joe Vega. She performed as a member of the Marilyn Winters Trio (Marilyn, Bunny, and Nina) as well as the Marty Arret Trio (Marty, Bunny, Nina), and briefly in a trio with the Cha Cha Aces (Freddie Rios and Joe Vega). She spent four summers dancing with Ralph Lew at El Patio Beach Club in Atlantic Beach on Long Island. In addition to her work as a performer, Nina worked behind the scenes for the Jose Curbello Agency, helping to book bands.

Nina Lazar

In the 1960s, Nina Lazar began fronting Latin bands: dancing, singing, playing small percussion (guiro, maracas, clave) in front of the instrumentalists. She performed at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair with Joe Cuba and Ray Barretto. From 1965-1966 she worked with Mongo Santamaría. Much of her work during this decade was in Las Vegas, performing at popular hotels, including the Sands Hotel, the Flamingo, and Caesar’s Palace.

In 1975, Nina Lazar moved to Miami Beach, where she continued to perform and promote the mambo. In Florida, she partnered with Mike Vázquez, Cuban Pete, Bunny Osbourn, Marilyn Winters, Gene Ortiz, and Jackie Danois, with whom she performed as “Pepper and Salt.” In 1998 Nina began the MMO (Mambo Members Only) Club, at which old-time Palladium dancers convened to dance in the Palladium style. The club lasted for a year and a half, most often holding their events at Luigi’s Ballroom. She also taught dance workout classes in Florida called “knock-it off with mambo.”

Nina's passion for the mambo has never dimmed, and she continues to be inspired by the music, especially her favorite, Tito Puente “El Rey del Timbal.” She can be found social dancing most Sundays at Gold Coast Ballroom.

© Juliet McMains 2014


This information was relayed to me during a personal interview with Nina Lazar in Aventura, FL January 18, 2008 and a telephone interview September 8, 2014.

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Header photos: Mambo Aces (Aníbal Vázquez and Mike Vázquez) and Jackie Danois Website Design: Wren McMains, Additional Credits