Augie Rodriguez, 86, Half of a Mambo Team, Dies


This obituary by Margalit Fox appeared in The New York Times.

Augie Rodriguez, half of Augie and Margo, the husband-and-wife team who at midcentury helped turn mambo from a sultry social dance into a dazzling public entertainment, died on July 18 in Deerfield Beach, Fla. He was 86.

The cause was cancer, Margo Rodriguez said.

In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Augie and Margo were among mambo’s most famous exponents, appearing on television, on concert stages and in nightclubs worldwide, often accompanied by renowned bandleaders like Xavier Cugat.

In New York, the couple were fixtures at the Palladium Ballroom, on Broadway between West 53rd and 54th Streets. The space was for decades a mecca of Latin music; there, they often danced to live music by Tito Puente and his orchestra.

In Las Vegas, Augie and Margo opened for many major entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.; they also performed at the White House for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon and in London for Queen Elizabeth II.

On television, they were seen often on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Steve Allen Show” and “The Arthur Murray Party.”

Mambo dancing originated in Cuba in first half of the 20th century. As conceived, it was a ballroom affair involving sensual swaying and elegant footwork.

Augie and Margo kept the sultriness and the elegance and added a stunning dose of athleticism, integrating slides, turns and dizzying spins worthy of a figure skater.

They also infused mambo with techniques from other dance traditions, including ballet, jazz and modern. In so doing, they helped usher in the transition from mambo dancing to salsa dancing, which, as the style’s saucy name implies, is an amalgam of diverse genres.

Augustin Rodriguez was born in Brooklyn on May 13, 1928; his father had come to the United States from Spain, his mother from the Dominican Republic.

After service in the merchant marine as a young man, Mr. Rodriguez returned to New York, where he began frequenting the Palladium. For many months, he said, he learned by watching other dancers; only then did he begin to dance himself.

At the Palladium, he was first partnered with Margo Bartolomei, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican and Corsican parentage; like him, she was self-taught at first. They became partners off the dance floor as well, marrying in 1950.

In their early years together, the couple competed in many ballroom dance contests, doing a more traditional mambo. They often won the top prize, which might be as much as $100 or as little as $15.

Before long, they began studying ballet and modern dance. Little by little, almost without their being aware of it, that training crept into their ballroom routines.

“At the time, we didn’t realize we were changing the whole atmosphere,” Mrs. Rodriguez said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “Whatever we learned that day in class, we would put into the mambo.”

In later years, the Rodriguezes taught dance and booked nightclub acts for cruise ships.

A resident of Deerfield Beach, Mr. Rodriguez is also survived by a son, Richard, and two grandchildren.

If, in their transformation of mambo, Augie and Margo ruffled purists’ feathers, it did not bother them in the slightest.

“Some of the dancers said: ‘What are you doing? You’re ruining the mambo!,’ ” Mrs. Rodriguez said on Thursday. “And we said, ‘That’s the way we feel it.’ ”

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