This is more a gratitude page than a list of coaches. I was a student at USC (studying pre med) when my girlfriend took me to a dance at the iconic Westmor Dance Studio in LA, I could “sorta dance” Cumbia, a little Salsa and something that passed for single Swing. Not paying attention I thought this was a weekly occurrence not realizing that I returned the following week was a Quickstep Class. Protesting mightily as Jill Morton dragged me in to the class, I was more than a bit miffed that the girls gave me the “Oh no! Not this one again.” look as they rotated to me. Especially when the other guys were the Asian nerdy engineering students, and I was an athletic USC fraternity guy. Making a vow that I wouldn’t quit until I could out dance everyone of those B*¢43$, I signed up for a class that fall at USC. When I tell people that I only had championship level coaches from the beginning, I’m not kidding. Running the USC program were British Rising Star runner ups Ron & Carol Montez. Ron would soon go on to win 7 US Latin Championships with Elizabeth Curtis. A couple of private lessons helped me win the USC Intercollegiate Latin- my first comp ever. Four years later as captain of the USC Formation Dance Team I got to work with Swing legend Buddy Schwimmer who introduced me to Swing and Hustle, and Roy Mavor who would teach me lifts, choreographing for formation teams, and allow me to win the US Amateur Latin Championship with his 15 year old daughter Natalie. My meteoric rise through the amateur ranks gave me the opportunity to train with Ron’s coach Nina Hunt. Nina just happened to be the coach of the pro national champions of UK, Scotland, Australia, So. Africa, Japan. Since Natalie lived 2500 miles away in Houston, practice was limited to weekends commuting. During the week though I would go from work to the best Jazz school in Hollywood.-DuPree’s Dance Center Daily classes from future legends Joe Bennet, Joe Tremaine, Carol Connors and Hama, were followed my a mad dash to the Westmor to practice my lines in the mirror til closing and home to collapse. I was a 24 year old dancer trying to catch up to dancers that had been dancing since they were kids and living in the London scene. Six weeks after starting, we won the US Amateur Championships and placed 17th at the Worlds in Frankfurt, Germany. Turning Professional and two partners later with a newbie partner and wife we made the British Open Professional Latin round of 24. Intensifying my training Nina arranged lessons for me with the creme de la creme of the dance world. World Champions Alan & Hazel Fletcher, Mic Stylianos, master technician Elizabeth Romaine and British Champions Sammy Stopford & Barbara McColl. Rehearsing at Semley and Top of the Stairs, dancing at Royal Albert Hall & Hammersmith Palais in London.
It was also at this time that there was kind of a Star Wars Rebellion/Dark Side component and I searched out the best of both sides. World Champions Peter Maxwell, Espen Salberg both acolytes of 6 time World Champion Walter Laird taught me so much about the importance of the music and authenticity that I had to search him out. After all of it though, Ron Montez will always be my best friend, supporter and #1mentor. I would not have completed this journey without him.
Though I had stopped for nearly three years as my wife Kate and I had kids, we were fortunate to attend a pro dance camp organized by Ron & Liz where I had the good fortune to work with legendary former US Latin Champion Vernon Brock. He started a mini lesson with me with the words “You know Enio, I’ve never been a fan of your dancing…” Rather than getting mad, I got one of the career changing lessons in just a 10 minutes. His disdain for the direction of English style gave me a new direction to pursue. In 1987 after my wife decided to retire. Ron found me a partner in Denver, Colorado. Commuting weekly back and forth to Denver, over the next 13 months continuous lessons with Ron, Liz, & Walter Laird, helped me whip Karen Lee into shape. Karen also taught me volumes about spirituality. Walter Laird suggested that I also work with former US Latin Champion Bobby Medeiros. With Bobby I found a kindred spirit who was all about the music and authentic Latin. His first question to me went like this: “Do you want to learn to dance or do you want to win? I paused, said “Dance!” “Good!” He answered, “Otherwise I wouldn’t teach you”. One month before the US Ballroom Championships we won our first major- the Florida State Championships at the Breakers. One month later we swept the US Rising Star Latin title. A bit burned out at this point I decided to retire that night. Though offers from Espen Salberg to dance with a girl from Japan tempted me I stayed retired for 2 years as I opened my first studio. Missing the excitement, I met Jeanine Glasson, an Australian girl who needed a partner. Although it was a bit foolish to try to get together and be ready for the British in 7 months, we sought out the legends of Swing to develop a Jive that would rock the British, and with Bobby started to develop a style that while it wouldn’t win might impact the direction of Latin. In the end we didn’t want to look unfinished and decided to not dance.
As an amateur I had only had a few group lessons in Ballroom. Wishing to up my game I had my first private lesson with Mrs Bobbie Irvine, the grand dame of the Ballroom world and 12 time World Champion. Though Nina advised against splitting my time trying to excel at both I relished the Ballroom lectures at Blackpool from Benny Tolmeyer, Peter Eggleton, and got their video tapes where I could. Why coaches of this calibre would waste their time with me is one of the great mysteries, but Nina and Bobby Irvine were best friends and I was like a puppy that looks up at you with hopeful eyes. I would always offer to pick up or deliver any visiting pro from the airport, take them to meals freeing up organizers to do other chores. But conversations always turned to dance and I was like insatiable for any story, result, technique, that we might discuss.
Finally along the way you always find special people who helped you without asking anything in return. People who love dancing so much that they share without being asked. Two of those Tango master Felix Chavez and Ballroom master Dan Docherty taught me so much more. And finally John Morton who always opened the Westmor to me and was the role model of studio owner.
The Other Dance World- Part Two
My first job as a pro was working for the Fred Astaire franchise. Because the studios in LA were crooked, I soon left but not before finding a wife. Being a young limited training pro earning a living in a studio filled with a bunch of National Champions was not easy. Taking a cruise ship gig I trained and performed daily for a year culminating in a British Open round of 24 finish.
At that event a young former skater was jumping into the rafters during the Paso Doble. When I got home I found two twin ballet dancers who were former NCAA gymnastic champions and members of San Francisco Ballet. Although they thought I was nuts, Phip & Chip Fuller took my money and trained me to elevate better than anyone in the Latin. At DuPre’s a master Spin class by Rosemarie Rand helped me develop the ability to spin like a top.
Soon after that I found myself back at Arthur Murrays learning the studio business from golden boy Terry Leone. One day though a weekend Swing workshop by the legendary Kenny Wetzel opened my eyes to the world of Swing and primarily West Coast Swing. Teaching me the relationship between, Jive, Jitterbug, Balboa, Shag, and Flying Lindy. Kenny was the door to the dancers of the 40’s & 50’s and the temporary landing place of the Disco Dancers of the late 70s.This was a crowd that danced nightly without the need of prizes or judges. Alongside Kenny, the dancers that created these moves and appeared in early movies. 50 & 60 year olds that could blow the doors off of us young punks. Skippy Blair, Jack Carey & Annie Hirsch. So many others that I met but until their obituaries were read, I had no ideas they were legends. Later on, owning a studio gave me the opportunity to host dance events which brought in the best of the best in every style. In the 90’s I had in residence World Boogie Woogie Champions Marcus Koch & Baerbl Kaufer and Puerto Rican Salsa master Felipe Polanco
One of the benefits of hanging around Bob Medeiros was that no sooner a competition finished, Bobby would take us to authentic Cuban clubs in Miami. As the Salsa explosion took over the late 90s, I found myself suddenly teaching the style of Salsa that we were teaching in LA. Soon traveling around the world we started making friends with dance masters form Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York, Colombia. Bobby introduced us to Casino Rueda and before long we had developed a huge following. At the Rome Salsa Congress we made friends with Cuban masters Chiqui Dixon, Homero Gonzalez, Orlando Alfonso, and Puerto Rican master Felipe Polanco. The three Cubans were teachers at Instituto Nacional in Havana and dancers in the Tropicana before escaping.
One night at a club where there were more people on stage than on the dance floor, this older gentleman said to me “Not bad kid.” as I came off the floor. Thinking him a typical non dancer, when he asked to dance with my partner I thought “oh not another nut.”, But when I saw him dance, my jaw dropped. The guy was Joe Cassini, former ballet dancer, Hollywood Choreographer for stars Ann Margret, Cyd Charise, Nureyev, Tom Jones, and many more. Joe became like a brother. At clubs if he danced I would pull up a chair and study. Eventually we performed shows together. One night a couple years later as I performed with Bobby Medeiros at the Feather Awards ceremony, Joe and Bobby recognized each other and joyfully hugged. Bobby told me Joe had encouraged him to start competing. Over the next ten years we became great friends. Joe never took a dime for sharing his magnificent stories and knowledge. Though Joe was prone to letting people know his credentials, when he said “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever learn!”, he wasn’t exaggerating. It was through Joe that I met many legends including Cyd Charisse, Connie Stevens, and Ann Margret.
The Business Side
Prior to turning professional I was a kid growing up in South Pasadena, California. Catholic schools were kind of expensive for my parents so I helped by getting my first job at 12. Unlike a lot of kids that do A paper route, I did three. And my route was these crazy hills with 1000 papers on my bike. Doing these hills gave me thighs like tree trunks. At 15, before I could drive, I got a job in a gas station. Often, I ran service calls to jump start batteries in a pickup.
At 17 I joined the Police Explorers. I liked it so much I would often work 2 or three continuous 8 hour shifts in a row. After a few months I was allowed to man the radio dispatch, running the photo lab, attending training sessions at police academy and even getting to ride along on patrol. I was role playing bad guys on training sessions for the patrol officers. Later while at USC I took a work study in the Jail Division of LAPD headquarters. More than once I got into a scrum when some prisoner resisted the booking process. Needing more time to study I got a job selling Alarm Systems. I was an expert at showing business owners how I could break in. I sold a lot of systems.
Wishing to go back to fulltime student I transferred to the airport security division at LAX– the precursor to Homeland Security as the grave yard shift manager. My police skills told me the company was dirty and I initiated a DoJ investigation which proved what i said 6 months later. The company was embezzling from Pan Am and importing heroin from China. The former LAPD Chief Tom Reddin offered me a position as a Watch Commander for his newly forming private security company. After about 9 months he asked me to save a prestigious Beverly Hills accounts for him. One of those accounts hired me away as their Security Director. The company was Gucci on Rodeo Dr. After about a year I realized their managers were embezzling and on a surprise visit from Dr Aldo Gucci himself, I turned in the managers. By the end of the day I had the keys to the store, the alarm codes and the safe combination. That month I had also won the US Championship and gone to worlds in Germany. Upon my return, unable to keep commuting to Houston to practice I turned pro and resigned from Gucci. That was my last real job.,
The next day I presented myself at Fred Astaire Beverly Hills. I had been using the studio to practice so they knew me. My favorite part- the owner only hired me because he thought I was GAY. I guess all that preening in the mirror wearing tight pants- oh well! Six months after I started there the studio folded. It was also where I met my first wife and future partner Kate.
Wanting to totally focus on my dancing Kate and I accepted a job performing on a 3 day/4 day party cruise to Mexico. Though Nina Hunt warned me I’d never be heard from again, It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Four shows per week, unlimited rehearsal time and being only a 2 hour drive from Ron Montez when we docked in Mexico meant Kate got really good really fast. Within 1 year we made the Open Latin 24 in Blackpool England-unheard of for a new dancer! After a year, ready to jump back into the fray, we came back to the Westmor. Though I was teaching quite a bit my wife had a hard time. So Arthur Murray franchisee Patrick Johnson, recommended we go to Arthur Murrays and got us an interview with Terry Leone in Beverly Hills. The business in the early 80s was at the end of the Disco era. Drugs and partying were rampant. But Terry was the ultimate charmer. We were number 1-2 in the country with his studio in Dallas. Unfortunately his expensive “lifestyle” caused his managers to cross ethical lines into illegal sales tactics. I was done.
Starting a small operation out of a Parks and Recreation building, we soon outgrew the demand and took a lease on a 5,500 sq foot building with a family investment and opened Let’s Dance L.A. For the next 16 years we grew slowly at first, then exponentially. Classes of 5- 10 grew to 20-30 then 60-100. Pretty soon we were teaching 125 classes per month with huge numbers.
Though we were looking for a larger building to buy for 5 years, we finally found a great option 3 blocks away. The Granada at $1,5M was a great deal. Three stories but really beat up. I put almost half a million into it and soon had a magnificent building. Into that building we created an award winning Tapas Restaurant- Guitarras, LA’s 3rd biggest Salsa club and our dance school Let’s Dance L.A. Four years after I opened it, I turned down $5.5M because the buyer wanted me to stay and work for him. Helping me negotiate the purchase and attempted sale was this amazing self made millionaire named Don Allen. Don not only had come from the inner city, but had made the NFL from a community college. In addition to making millions in businesses from Pizza, to hospital management, to record producing, to building a condo based cruise ship, at the time we met he was Director of the fund raising arm of the Democratic National Committee. A personal friend of Bill Clinton and Al Gore he never told me wrong.
Sometimes we learn from others, sometimes we become the mentors. A gentleman named Lou Schreiber was famous for having the biggest classes anywhere. Once he had been the number one salesman for Arthur Murrays in the world. His parties were 500+. Also a college psychology professor he never stopped studying. Toward the end of his life he was still studying how we had become so successful. I brought him into the cutting edge of music on computers and he joining me in the venture of helping dance studios grow.