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Born to swing, if not to dance

As with his other performances, Tito Puente Jr.'s muscular cover of "Oye Como Va" on a live episode of "Dancing With the Stars" in October was jammed with percussive tributes to his father. So tight was Puente Jr.'s mambo set onstage, brought to an electric and synchronized finish by a troupe of hip-twisting dancers in the foreground, that he says producers asked him back to the show next season.

Puente Jr. would never refuse laying down yet another tribute to dad, the revered Latin jazz percussionist, but this was different: The DWTS people wanted him to … dance?

"My dad was a dancer, but I have two left feet," Puente Jr. says from his home in Miramar. "But I need to jog off the Christmas ham first."

In between jogging sessions, no doubt, the 41-year-old bandleader will perform Friday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, where he will again honor Tito Puente's contribution to salsa, mambo and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Playing in the shadow of his father's legacy has remained his career for more than two decades, he says, begun as a teenager in New York as a roadie touring with his father’s orchestra (“Dad was a tour horse. I set up and broke down his drums”) and continued in earnest after dad's passing in 2000.

"I've always had the Tito Puente mindset," he says. "Dad constantly reinvented himself, so I try keeping that integrity alive by introducing new generations to big-band swing and mambo."

Tito Puente Jr. will perform 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 770 N.E. 125th St. Admission is free. Call 305-893-6211 or go to

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