The (Hidden)History of Let's Dance L.A.

You might want to pour a glass of wine and put your feet up. We’re talking 20+ years of great stories and fun, because as long as the Enio, Terryl, & Robert were involved, it was going to be a great ride.

This is not the history of how or why the studio started, it’s probably the reason though, why it lasted 23 years and why people still remember it so fondly. The stories are not in any particular order and hopefully they will trigger some memories and you will send them in so that we can add them to the list

The Mayor @ Our Ribbon Cutting

The Best Story Ever

We have many but try to top this one. Robert had just returned from England with his new partner (the future British Champion and winner of England’s Dancing With the Stars) Miss Karen Hardy. So to open the show we ask two students to help us set the scene.

Kurt Rudolph a teenager of normal size and hormonal, and Terry McCalpin, a former semi pro boxer of the extra large variety. The plan was to have Kurt, the hormonal teen, flirt with Terry’s girlfriend throughout the evening. When the dance set ended before the show, Terry was to create a huge ruckus, kind of throw Kurt around and finally pull out a toy 45 pistol point at Kurt and yell “Bang! Bang!” as a  delayed cartoon shooting with ricochet sound effect plays.  At which point Kurt is supposed to fall daintily to the floor and expire. Ok, scene set…

Enter Hubert. Hubert was a very sweet student from Cambodia. Everybody loved Hubert. Hubert stood 5’4″, Terry 6’4″. Hubert weighed 140 lbs wet, Terry probably 230. At the moment that Terry yelled Bang!Bang! Hubert jumps up from behind Terry and jumps on his back like a Koala bear cub on his mamma. Hubert is riding Terry’s back yelling “Terry don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” It took a few seconds for the crowd to process this surreal scene. They thought Hubert was part of the plot. I am supposed to say on the mic “Is there a doctor in the house?” Instead I am laughing so hard, I am crying- it took me three times to say a complete sentence. Everyone is getting that something was not as planned and the waves of laughter start to build. Of course, our hormonal teen runs with it and his expiration is more like the dying scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Poor Hubert is now red-faced, realizing it was part of the show. Little English Karen now comes out on cue dressed like Jessica Rabbit in a sexy mini nurses uniform. Karen has padded her top so she looks very busty. The plan is to take the almost dead teenager’s temperature, so she turns her back and bends over to reach into her doctor’s kit, at which point her bottom is directly above said hormonal teenagers face. An almost dead teenager sits up like he was cardio-shocked before he falls back now hopefully dead. Our sexy nurse now calls for Dr. Beat and out comes Robert to the opening notes of Gloria Estefans Dr. Beat.

But oh no the fun doesn’t stop there. Robert continues to reference Hubert’s bravery in between every number as did I. Of course the laughter is contagious and poor Hubert is burying his face in his hands. Robert takes care to tell Hubert that the Paso Doble does not really involve killing the bull so to please stay seated. More laughter

Hubert became famous that night. We recounted the story for weeks and whenever he was in class we introduced “Hubert The Hero” and he would always blush and laugh.

The Most Famous LDLA Student You Heard About But Never Met

I only have to say two words and most of you will instantly remember the story we told once a quarter for over a decade. Those two words “AMERICAN PARTY” Well finally, here she is- the famous Yoshiko

For those of you who never heard the story, here it is. Right before I opened Let’s Dance, I was teaching at Westmor Studio in Koreatown. As I

 was raising two very young boys I was only teaching at night. This very beautiful elegant lady from Japan was taking three lessons a day from us three champions. In the morning ballroom with US Ballroom Champion Victor  Veyrasset, in the afternoon Mambo from US Rhythm Rising Star Champion Ramon Rojas, and in the evening, Latin from me. The problem was that Puerto Rican goofball Ramon was teaching Yoshiko English bad words (badly). When I would come in, I would then quiz Yoshiko on what she had learned from Ramon. This one day she told me that she had learned a very bad word from Ramon… “oh gee”.  I explained to Yoshiko that that was like saying ‘my goodness.’ “No” she said, “Ramon tell me very bad word.”

 So at that point I call Ramon ( and Victor) over. Ramon being the Puerto Rican equivalent of a ‘blonde” could not remember what he had taught her even after she repeated it several times. On about the fourth try we realized she was trying to say ‘ORGY‘. and the three of us teachers started laughing. Yoshiko looks quizzically at us And says “What Ogee please? I tried to explain “Yoshiko, Orgee= many – people-sex. Victor being a wise guy says “Yoshiko, you know ‘American Party’?” Yoshiko, suddenly closes her eyes as if blindfolded, crosses her wrist as if they were tied and holds them high over her head as she says Oh Yes! Oh Yes! we fell on the floor a hysterical mess. 

My going away present to Yoshiko- an American Party top

But We're Not Ugly!!!

Here is a great one from Terryl:

I was answering phones one day and I got a particularly interesting info call pertaining to private lessons. A male voice on the phone informed me that he and his wife had been taking ballroom lessons for a while, but that their teacher had recently moved back to England so they were looking for a new instructor. Usually, at that point, I would have asked who the instructor was, and I will forever be kicking myself because I didn’t ask who it was and where they were taking their lessons.

He went on to inform me that they liked to take their lessons in the nude. 

I kept my professional voice as I politely asked him to confirm that he had said ‘in the nude’. He said that yes, they liked to take their lessons in the nude, but I could remain dressed if I would prefer. I explained that it was an impossibility because we had large glass windows that open onto Main Street and school kids walk past. When he asked if we had a back room or something, I lied and said no. So yes, I lied, but how many of you would have wanted to walk in on that lesson? Anyway, he then asked me if I would then consider coming to their house to teach them. My mind was racing, he was being very polite, and he seemed to be legitimately wanting to continue his lessons. I knew that there was no way I would even consider such a possibility, but we had a teacher that might. Steve Vasco was currently teaching at our studio, and not only was he a well trained teacher, but he also was a well trained Tae Kwan Do master instructor. I figured he would take the gig, and if it went south, he would be able to take care of himself. I told the nude guy that I may have a male instructor that would be willing to go to the house. Nude guy declined saying they only wanted a female instructor.

That might have been the end of the story if it hadn’t been a few weeks before my birthday. My birthday lands near to several other lady instructors, so we sometimes get together and celebrate, we did that year. On or around the third drink, one pops up and tells us about the unusual call she had gotten concerning private dance lessons in the nude. It turns out that all of us had fielded the same call! Who knows how many teachers this guy called. By the time he got to Jackie Kuka he was must have been getting frustrated. She had also used the ‘one room’ excuse. He responded ‘that not only that they didn’t mind if the people around them had on clothes, but that they (the nudists) we’re not ugly people!’

The most frustrating thing is that none of us had asked him who his English teacher was, or where they had taken lessons. I’m still curious.

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Melissa Dexter and Giacomo Steccaglia fresh from the World Showdance Championships where they were 2nd, were doing a 5 dance show for us. As is typical the guy talks while the lady changes from one sexy costume to another. 

Being Italian, Giacomo spoke briefly but Melissa needed more than 2 minutes to change. So of course Enio and Giacomo start up with the trash talking about how Women take so long to get ready (When it’s really the opposite according to Terryl)

When All the "Trouble" Started

Another one from Terryl:

I had got myself set up for a pretty good gig as a substitute dance instructor.  Since I was cross trained in multiple styles, I could cover for teachers that were traveling, sick, pregnant, or injured.  I would teach for a few days or weeks at one studio, then at another.  I was in a position where I could pick and choose when and where I wanted to teach.  

When Enio broke his foot the first time, he was very concerned because he was the primary teacher at the Studio. He didn’t have a large staff, and they couldn’t cover for him.  I offered to teach his classes, but he informed me ‘HIS students were very particular and they don’t take to substitutes very well’. So I offered to be the Dance Dummy, he would teach the classes the way his students were accustomed, and I would demonstrate.  He agreed. 

This worked very well… for a while. 

I deferred to his greater experience in the latin dances, and used the opportunity to expand my own knowledge.  But Ballroom was a different story.  Even though he had been a high level Latin competitor, he also had some training in Ballroom. But, he had been retired for a few years, and I was actively competing and taking lessons.  My knowledge was more current than his and Ballroom was my specialty. 

So sometimes he was teaching something that was currently considered out of date and contrary to current thought.  He would say something and it would make my eyes twitch. I was quiet for three weeks, not one word out of my mouth.  For those that know me, I know you find that shocking and unbelievable, but it is true. Proof that I have remarkable discipline. Anyway, after three weeks, we were in the middle of a Waltz class and he taught something that I felt needed clarification, so I spoke up – “There are other points of view”. The room froze, all eyes on me.  Then they looked at Enio for his response. He was dumbstruck. Little did I know that this would be one of the few times in my life that I would see him speechless. He was gracious and asked me to elaborate.  

True to Enio being a constant learner and a teacher wanting his students to have the best knowledge, he was open to my continued contribution into his classes.  We found that we had differing teaching styles that, when combined, gave the students a greater understanding. I became Enio’s most dedicated student, taking his teachings to heart, dissecting them and translating them to the students that had different learning styles. During this time Enio rebroke his foot, causing him to be on crutches for 9 months.  At the end of that time, the class sizes had doubled. Our Yin and Yang style of teaching was working for the students.  But most importantly, we were having fun, the students were having fun, and they were learning to be great social dancers.  A partnership was born..

Glitter Boy

Enio’s reputation as a big kid is well earned. Hector Llamas had only been a LDLA student a few weeks and we had planned a competition pairing the teachers and our junior team members for a 4 dance competition. Hector being new, he was paired with Terryl. Hector used to like playing basketball down the street at LA Fitness. When Hector came in for his lesson he was wearing a knit beanie and Terryl pulled it off his head and put it on a table by the music system. As usual Hector like to trash talk with Enio who was just finishing a lesson. While Terryl was beating on Hector, he did not notice that Enio was next to his beanie. Enio had placed a pea size glob of glitter gel inside the cap and gone into the office. As soon as Hector finished his lesson, he grabbed his beanie, put it on his sweaty head and ran out the door to play some basketball before classes that night.

 

Twenty minutes later Hector stormed into the studio wanting to know which of the other team members had done him wrong. He accused the other boys one by one which only made him madder as they began to laugh at the glitter now smeared through his short hair. Enio innocently observed the procedure doing his best not to laugh. Finally, Hector running out of suspects to the crime, turned to Enio. Slowly Hector realized that he had been punked. Not knowing what to do he recounted that while playing ball, he had looked at the guy guarding him and noticed the guy had glitter on his arm. Hector asked the guy “Hey what’s up with the Glitter?” The other guy looked at Hector and responded “It’s coming from you Glitter Boy!” About 5 minutes later one of the other boys came running into the office yelling “Enio, you better go see your car, Hector is bending you antenna and windshield wipers!” Figuring he definitely had earned the payback, Enio was indifferent to the news, Terryl on the other hand ran towards the parking lot only to be rescued by the same boy, who stopped her a foot short of the back door. Hector had climbed up on the back door overhang and was waiting for Enio with a 30 gallon trash can full of water and almost doused Terryl instead- which would have meant being turned into a toad by Terryl’s magical powers had it happened. For weeks after Hector was referred to as Glitter Boy both at the gym and in the studio.

The Streaker

One summer night, class as usual, the both front and back doors open for any breeze, we had finished the warm-up and were just getting everyone into our normal teaching circle. All of a sudden I looked up and out of the corner of my eye, from the Main Street door, someone, face covered in a paper bag, and wearing only tighty-whitees, (although they were a bit grayish and droopy) was bolting in the front door. Onto the floor, between a the circle of students, coming right at Terryl and I. Given that we were about 4 feet apart, he ran right between us and continued straight past Nini at desk out the back door and into a waiting car

Maybe We Should Get A Higher Ceiling

X- Marks The Spot

Once again Annetje had a part in this. A form of Swing Dancing unique to Europe is called Rock and Roll. The music is very 50s Bill Haley. It involves high aerial lifts and throws. Some of the moves have names like High Death and Skull Crusher. The girls are all trained in acrobatics so as they reach heights of 14’ or more, they often will do somersaults on the way up or down. As the Dutch Champions wanted to come to Los Angeles for a holiday, we were happy to offer the a chance to perform. I had seen the World Championships so I knew what to expect. In order to allow them a safe space, we took out 8 of the 2’x4’ ceiling tiles and a couple of the cross members. Jack & Collarette Eggles, were not fazed and practiced a couple times under the center of the open space. It was the coolest thing to suddenly see Collarete disappear on the way up, Invert and then come down head first out of the ceiling space.

 While You’re Up There, Could You Change That Light For Me?

For our 1994 New Years Show, I had gotten a call that my dear friend Sharon Savoy and her husband David were going to be flying from Washington DC to China. Wanting to pick up a show on the way, I was thrilled to offer her an opportunity. David & Sharon Savoy had won the British Theatrical Championships several times, The Worlds, The US Championships and the US Swing Open many times. Their lifts are spectacular. But with them arriving the same day as the performance, it only gave us a couple of hours to see where here big lifts would go and remove  the ceiling tiles in that spot. It was critical that they be under that or the lift would not happen. Fortunately they are ultimate in professionalism and nailed it. For their excellent performance they were rewarded with a surprise show by Enio and a few of the students (look for RUBE Ballet story below)

World Champions - The Savoys

Can You Take Just A Little Off the Top?

No one did more shows at Let’s Dance LA than Natalie Mavor.  She had already done at least 7 shows with other partners including 3 with Enio.  When she paired with Curtis Collins to go onboard Crystal Cruises they were pretty new and their first show did not have any lifts. After about a year at sea they came off the boat for a break and I invited them to do a show. What I did not know was that they had added a whole bunch of lifts into their show while they were at sea. (Natalie’s mom and dad had been World Cabaret Champions and the kids had been dancing in the family show as soon as they could walk. That included being tossed high into the air by dad Roy) 

Their number Story of My Life, involved Curtis hoisting Natalie into a T Press over his head and proceed to helicopter her as he pivots around the floor. Curtis had gotten ridiculously fast in his lift spin. As they did a their first lift, I realized the dozen or so ceiling fans were spinning on high speed. I rushed to the back and turned off the fans but hoping that they would come to a full stop before Natalie went up again. As they came to the finale lift the fans had slowed to almost imperceptible movement, Phew! The ceiling at 216 was 12’8” at the Granada 23’. 

We Definitely Need A Higher Ceiling!

Bruce Lee Never Kicked Over a Tree

The scene: Annetje our Dutch teacher was so creative at decorating with for holidays with the simplest of materials. One year she cut flat christmas tree shapes out of cardboard boxes, painted them green, cut holes in them and inserted real Christmas balls tied with fishing line. They were about 4 feet tall and she hung them with fishing line from our 12’8” high ceiling.

For our Christmas party we hired 7 time US Latin Champion Liz Curtis and her new dance partner Colton Green. They had been parents in a stage musical and were just putting a show together. With my long standing relationship with Liz as a classmate and later one of my coaches, I was thrilled to have her debut her show for us. Well Liz had a nickname that had been well earned- Calamity Curtis. She was kind of the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Watch at 1:40 

 

First due to another event they were attending, they arrived at the end of our party. Fortunately, no one had left. After the first couple numbers went well, their third number included a lift with Liz being lifted by Colton as she does a front scissor kick over her head. Yep, you guessed it Liz manages to kick one of the Christmas trees. BOOM! the tree explodes off the ceiling and comes crashing down on her as the 10 Christmas Balls separate from the tree and roll across the floor in every direction. Of course being friends we ribbed her as she took the microphone after that number.

Canadian Ballroom & Latin Champions

 Messing With Celebrities pt 1

In 1994 Dance Action Magazine’s Cay Cannon asked me if Canadian Champions Jean-Marc Genereux and France Mousseau could do a show for us. Being that I had competed with them and we were friends. I quickly agreed. The plan was that they would do both a Latin and Ballroom show. When they arrived that night we had a full house. Before they performed the Ballroom set, I announced that since they were FRENCH-Canadiens, we would play their National Anthem, much like they do at International sports matches. What they didn’t realize is that Robert and I had planned to have a little fun.

 

Before they had changed into their outfits for the Latin set, We played the Star Spangled Banner and everyone stood at attention. Then we announced we would play the Canadian National Anthem. Jean Marc snapped to attention.- Only to hear us play the FRENCH national anthem the Marseilles. We cut it out after a few bars and apologized for the mistake saying we would be right back with the correct song, but back to dancing in the meantime. As they were ready to start the Latin set we announced we had found it. This time Robert started playing the famous Can Can Offenbach. Jean-Marc looked at me and knew the game was on. After his first two numbers I told Jean Marc that we were still looking.

This time Robert played Frerer Jacques to great laughter from the crowd. We kept asking Jean Marc if these were correct and he would just shake his head. After they completed their Jive, they returned to the dressing room to change into their formal ballroom outfits. Giving them just enough time to undress, Robert played Oh! Canada at full volume. Out comes Jean Marc in formal shirt, NO PANTS, he heads straight to the center of the dance floor and stands there at attention singing Oh Canada at the top of his lungs while we the crowd is roaring hysterically.  

 Messing With Students pt 1

Everybody Out

Our mid 90’s parties became so good that lots of non students were joining us and the floor got packed. Unfortunately the San Gabriel Valley had no nearby Salsa clubs and some students did not like driving late on weekend nights to the Westside. With the growth of Salsa, we thought it would be fun to organize a “Destination Unknown” group outing to one of the many clubs on the west part of LA. The outing was met with energetic response and so our bus sold out. Since we kept the location a secret, any others wishing to join us had to follow the bus. A full bus with Salsa music playing, champagne flowing, and people trying to guess where we were going was rocking through town. As we exited the 101 freeway in Hollywood, directly in front of the bus is the big white building Tropicana

 

In any other city, the name Tropicana would create images of Havana, Cuban Vegas type shows and elegant nightclub patrons. In LA, though, the Tropicana had become a very popular women’s MUD WRESTLING club. As we pulled to a stop in front of the Tropicana, the buzz suddenly got very loud. The driver opened the door and I said “Ok, everybody out.” The howls of protest from the ladies was quite pronounced but everyone slowly de-boarded. I deliberately took my time lining everyone up in a orderly line, and we marched up to the front door as the buzz got louder. As I got to the pay window I turned around and yelled, “Just Kidding! Everybody back in the bus! Oh the signs of relief. The laughter as we then drove to the Sportsmens Lodge lasted for the next 15 minutes as everyone realized they’d been pranked.

The Tropicana Hollywood

 Messing With Students pt 3

Look Who I Found Sitting Here in the Front Row…

One reason our shows were so popular was that people never knew what to expect. They were always different than the typical studio type where the couple shows up, does a few competition routines, takes the mic for some pleasantries and gone. One night I opened a show with Natalie Mavor. It was a Mambo and about half way thru, I spin her off and proceed to do an over the top solo. Natalie gets bored standing there and proceeds to pull my brother Robert out of the crowd. I realize that I’ve been dumped and after several failed attempts at getting Natalie back, I pull 7 time US Latin Champion Liz Curtis out of the side and we begin to do a side by side routine as a foursome.

 

Elaine Burkow as Princess Jasmine

 Princess Jasmine

Enio’s son Brian was 5 years old when he decided that he wanted to learn some swing.  I started teaching him basic West Coast Swing.  He had been learning for a couple of lessons and knew Sugar Push and a couple of passes when we had our Halloween party. Most of the time when the kids were with us during a party they would hang out in the office and play games, but this time Brian came out because he wanted to dance. I had danced with him a few times when he wanted to know who else he could dance with.  I looked around the room for someone that might be willing to give up a song and dance with him.  I saw her, a nice lady that gets lots of dances, likes kids and was a friend.  She was young, pretty, and dressed as Princess Jasmine, she looked hot. 

 

 I asked her if she would give him a dance and she smiled and said that she would. Brian was elated, he was grinning from ear to ear, so proud of himself.  I was a bit concerned when he went back to her several times on his own, but she seemed to get a chuckle out of it and danced with him each time he asked.

A bit later in the evening I was in the DJ booth with Enio when Brian came running up to tell us about his most recent dance with his princess.  “Dad,” he says, “I’m in love with her, will you marry her?” referring to Princess Jasmine.  I then said to him “ If you love her, why don’t you marry her yourself?” Brian answered as only a five year old can – “I would, but by the time I’m old enough, she’ll be old and dead.” We fell over laughing, not just old, but old and dead. What does that make me now? 

 They Never Noticed

That Pink Makes Your Eyes Just Pop!

When Enio and I decided to open our own club, he had all these great ideas.  I told him that I would go along with pretty much everything if I got two things: 1) women had to feel safe, from the parking lot to inside the building, it had to be a safe place for women and 2) the woman’s bathroom was nice.

During the build out for the Granada, Enio spent more time at the old location and I stayed at the building working and overseeing the contractors. The old set up for the building had a long hall, the first door was the men’s bathroom, the second door was the ladies bathroom, the third door was the walk-in beer cooler and the fourth door was an office.  The mens bathroom had grey tile, three urinals, one toilet and a sink. The door opened so that anyone in the hall had a direct view to the urinals. The ladies bathroom was floor to ceiling pink tile, with two toilets and two sinks. I knew that it was way too small and there would always be a line in the hallway in front of the men’s room, with a view of the urinals. This was not going to work. Being the only woman on the construction site I pretty much saw the entire crew use the urinals.  I knew that this had to change.

 

We decided that we didn’t need the beer cooler or the office so we would convert those spaces to the new ladies bathroom. Construction began, the fourth door was bricked over and I designed the ladies bathroom from scratch. I gave it five stalls, four sinks, hollywood lighting, both full length and makeup mirrors, matching slate tile on the walls and floor. It was beautiful.

Our plan for the men’s bathroom was simpler.  We bricked over the first door so that the view of the urinals from the hallway was gone.  We then opened a door in the wall between the men’s bathroom and the former ladies bathroom. So now the men entered their room via what used to be the ladies room – with the powder pink tile – and had use of the facilities of both spaces. The first part is baby powder pink and the second part is grey. We had tile picked out to retile the two rooms to match, but reality had other plans. 

It is not unusual for construction to have unexpected costs.  Making the new front door ADA compliant blew through our budget, so we postponed retiling the men’s bathroom. The bathroom was functional,  it was no longer a priority, so we never did get back around to putting in new tile. The funniest and best part of this story is that EVERY single man I’ve told this story had the same response.  They never noticed the powder pink tile!

Stealth Nonna!

 Princess Jasmine

Stealth Granny

Many of you had families that responded different ways to the time you spent at LDLA, but one of the ones I personally found most entertaining was the Stealth Granny.

As many of you know, Enio’s big joy was the kids classes.  Often the kids came to the studio right after school to practice, do their homework and get picked up by their parents that evening. Many of the kids grew up in the studio, several went on to become instructors themselves. One of those kids was Lauren. 

Lauren started with us when she was 5 years old when we were still at 216.  Her Nonna lived at the end of the block and was a frequent visitor to the studio. Since Lauren and Enio’s son Brian were best friends, and spent virtually every day together, we got to know and became quite fond of Nonna.  Lauren grew up, on her own moved to England for a while, and then returned.  So when she started teaching at the Granada years later, she wasn’t a little kid in need of supervision, she was a woman who had been on her own for a number of years.  But tell that to an Italian grandmother!

 

One afternoon as I was entering the parking structure, I noticed Nonna walking up the ramp looking at all the cars. I parked on the 3rd level but didn’t get out right away.  Lauren drove a distinctive kelly green mustang and I happened to have parked to where I could see it clearly.  Nona made it to the third floor. She walked around the car, cupped her hands against the tinted windows and peered inside the car.  Then she walked over to the balcony and watched the Granada for a few minutes. She peeked in the car again, then started to walk away. She turned around, walked back to the car and wiped off the fingerprints! I was laughing so hard when I relayed the story to Lauren, who teasingly confronted her grandmother. Of course it was denied!

Nonna didn’t just deny the destruction of evidence of spying, she also denied accusations of stalking.  Across from the studio was a small fountain and seating area.  When Lauren was at the studio, Nonna would often pace the 30 foot space, watching the studio, for 20-30 minutes. Being the front of the studio was all glass, everyone – the students and staff – could see her. Lauren would call Nona on the cell phone and tell her to just come into the studio and say hi, but Nonna would just say no, and that she just happened to be walking past the studio on her way home from shopping and just coincidentally ‘happened’ to be walking past the studio!

Ever since that time, I have lovingly called her Stealth. You just can’t get anything past a grandmother, especially not an Italian one!