Mad Hot Mambo
Borrow from the things kids love, like chacha-cha music, dressup, and gym class, and they can step right into another passion: dancing the Mambo
April 2009
By Lily Fleishman
Photography by Mary Ellen Mark

ON DESTINY (RECLINING) Jacquard Clip Dot top, $78, crewcuts by J. Crew, Metallic shell skirt, $78, Ismodern, Patent orchid hairpin, $162, Jennifer Behr, ON JAMIE (LEFT) Shimmery sundress, 77 kids by American Eagle, 77kids.COm. Rose drop earrings, $20, Erickson Beamon for Target, Zoe Glicine ballerina flats, $325, Maloles, ON KRYSTAL (CENTER) Angel blouse, $132, flora and henri, Flower skirt, $298, Sofia Rykiel Enfant, Dress ballerina flats, $173, Porn d'Api, ON GLORIANNE (RIGHT) Camicia S.M. top, $197, Miss Grant, Metallic ballerina flats, Little Raggio,

ON LEXUS (LEFT FOREGROUND) Mini Marie dress, $800, Betsey Johnson, Flower lei (in hair), $100, Wovenplay, (212) 594-5750. Valli wedges, $70, Steve Madden, ON LAKIERRA (RIGHT FOREGROUND) Sweetheart Ruffle dress, $426, Sretsis, Flower embroidered swim cap, $280, Bonnie Young, Bonnie Young Aspen, (970) 925-7299. Ballerina flats, $635, Alberta Ferretti, (310) 652-9000. ON PARRIS (LEFT BACKGROUND) Rose tutu, $164, Wovenplay, Flavia flats, Little Raggio,

ON OMARIS (RIGHT BACKGROUND) Silver tutu, $164, Wovenplay, Jazzmina jazz shoes, Bloch, Love, (203) 422-0900.

white dinner jackets and a flower-tipped fedora or two. These are little -ages 3 and up-dancing the big dance of mambo. "I find them moving in many ways," says Mary Ellen Mark. "Their beauty, their youth their energy... I'm very touched by them."

For the past five years, Mark, an award-winning documentary and portrait photographer has been following the children of 2nd Generation South Bronx Kids, a dance studio in one of New York City's most underserved neighborhoods. The center has given these kids an important outlet for their energy and creativity-and Mark has tried to present them exactly as they are. In her four-decade career, she has made a name for herself with arresting portraits of some of the most influential people of our time, including Woody Mien, Maya Angelou, and Bill Clinton. Her real passions, though, are documenting social issues around the world-and photographing children. "They allow me to still make pictures that are real," she says.

ON NATALIE GAB dress, $255, Dm0 e Lucia, Barneys, @12 826-8900.

Mark is attuned to the nuances of 2nd Generation's predominantly Dominican and Puerto Rican cultures, and she takes care to capture the pride that these children express through dance. "I like kids who have a particular confidence," she says. Three-year-old Destiny (shown on page 105, reclining), for instance, "is an incredible child. That tiny little person has incredible poise." And Malachi (following page, far right)? "All the girls have a mad crush on him." Mark also admits that she was drawn to Brianna (page 111), "because she just had this look. She got up on a chair and did all these incredible things with her arms-she was just amazing. Then afterward she kind of winked at me!"

The photographer has realized that preserving the essence of these kids means talking to them and always treating them like adults. "You don't condescend to them; they understand everything!" she says. "I like to show them for who they really are-and none of the fake smiles. You have to build up to a smile if you want it."

ON BENNY (FAR LEFT) AND MALACHI (FAR RIGHT) Andrew dinner jacket (sold with pants), $150, tuxedo shirt (sold with bow tie), $40, and black pants, $, Hart Schaffner Marx, for stores. ON VALERIE (LEFT) Ruffle skinny T-shirt, $40, Belle Ame, Taffy Confection pettiskirt, $80, Belle Ame, Chelsea hat, $288, Eugenia Kim, Henri Bendel, (800) 423-6335. ON JAMIE (RIGHT) T-shirt leotard, $28, American Apparel, Ruffle pettiskirt, $80, Belle Ame, Geneva fedora, Stetson, for stores.

ON JAMIE (LEFT) Solid-color socks, $3, We Love Colors,  Layla mary janes, $50, Jessica Simpson, Stride Rite, (800) 955-5510. ON CANDICE (CENTER) Chic pettiskirt, $80, Belle Ame, Jacklyn hat, $100, Christys' Crown Series by Tony Merenda, Long leg warmers, $16, American Apparel, ON MARIAH (RIGHT) Pink pettiskirt, $80, Belle Ame, Wi Ei fedora, $30, Stetson, for stores. Fishnets, $7, We Love Colors,

ON ENRIQUE (FAR LEFT) AND BENNY My-37 sneakers, $154, Puma Sport Fashion, ON CANDICE (FAR RIGHT) Daisy ballet slippers, $20, Capezio,

ON OMARIS (LEFT) Scoop-neck leotard, $23, We Love Colors, Wrist gloves, $8, We Love Colors, Piccolo Pearl ballet flats,  Bloch, Love, (203) 422-0900. ON DESTINY (CENTER) Tank leotard, $20, We Love Colors,

Sirette ballet flats, $, Bloch, Love, (203) 422-0900. ON PARRIS (RIGHT) Little Luxury ballet flats,  Bloch, Love, (203) 422-0900.

BOTTOM RIGHT, ON HECTOR (FAR LEFT) Carnaby Retro 8 sneakers, $68, Lacoste, ALSO SHOWN James (center foreground) and Junior (second from right, behind Enrique).

ON LAKIERRA (LEFT) Puff-sleeve bunny-print dress, $500, Betsey Johnson, Double-pleated flower headband, $525, Jennifer Behr, Faux-pearl cluster ring, $30, Erickson Beamon for Target, ON LEXUS (RIGHT) Puff-sleeve polka-dot dress, $400, Betsey Johnson, (212) 734-1257.

ON BRIANNA Blossom sequined shrug, suspended tulle ruffle silk dress, $418, and stretch silk charmeuse tiered pants, $176, Bonnie Young, Bonnie Young Aspen, (970) 925-7299.

Sty/mg by Jennifer Smith. Hair by Gerald Decock. Makeup by Souhiat De Facto for Dior. Prop styling by Noemi Bonazzi.