It has occured to me that most people that know me from the dance world don't really know me at all. I mean, you see me dancing and teaching, and you may even have heard whatever rumor about me was floating around...but do you really know my story? You may not even care about it, but to those who do, here it is.
I was born in 1973, in Angola. That's in Africa. My dad was stationed in the Army there and met my mom, who was born there. The rest, as they say, is history. We had to leave the country, due to the break out of the civil war, and left to Portugal. We didn't have a very warm welcome and were treated as second class human beings. I lived in Portugal from 1975 to 1988, in a tiny hole in the world called Curia. I had a great childhood, had great friends, went to Catholic private schools, played football all day. One day, my dad said: We're going to America!. And so we did.
In June of 1988, I arrived in America. I was 15 years old. My dad settled down in Hayward and there we stayed until I graduated HS. It was quite the culture shock coming from a very small town to the immensity of the US. I was blown away by the size of the cars, the highways, the houses. I didn't know what fast food was nor drive-thru ATMs. That September I started school at Hayward HS. Let me remind you that I only had 3 years of classroom English under my belt and was set loose on a mainstream school. The first quarter was tough but, since the US school system is easy compared to the Portuguese one, I quickly got in a groove and aced HS. Since I had a heavy accent, I became really shy and withdrawn. I did make some great friends in HS and I keep in contact with most of them to this day. They helped me a lot socially. I played football ,aka soccer, and tennis in HS. Made Soccer Varsity team as a Sophomore because, let's face it, I'm European ;). At the age of 17, I made the U19-US National Soccer Team. Unfortunately, my dad didn't want to pay for me to participate and I ended up not joining the team for the U19 World Cup in Germany. More on my dad not being supportive later. Don't get me wrong, I did love him a lot but he was never supportive of my goals and aspirations. Also had a chance to join the Junior ATP Tour but, once again, got shot down by the old man.
Then came college. I went to Cal State Hayward, now called Cal State East Bay. I refuse to call it by that name...it's just ridiculous! My college experience was pretty low key. I lived with my dad, went to school, did my homework, went to work. Didn't join a frat, or went to the college parties. I started out at Chabot College then transferred to Cal State Hayward. Declared a Computer Science major at first and, for some odd reason that I still can't really explain, decided to change it to French. I started learning French in Portugal, in the 5th grade. I did take French in HS, which was a joke because I knew more than the teacher, so I was pretty fluent by the time I took French in college. At CSUH, I took all French courses and other languages as well. My goal was to return to Europe and work as a translator or teacher. That was a pretty unhappy time in my life. I started feeling that I didn't belong in the US. Just couldn't relate to the culture any longer.
While that was going on, I discovered the world of dance. I started dancing in 1994, at the age of 21. A buddy of mine wanted a wing-man to keep him company at this dance venue. As the good friend I am, I accepted the challenge. It was a Country dance venue, called The Cowboy Country Club in Pleasanton, CA. I saw what they were doing, and who was doing it, and thought to myself...hey I can do that! People ask me why I started dancing. Most expect a very philosophical reply, but truth be told, the girls were super cute! It was the girls. My first dance experience was Line Dancing quickly followed by the Couples' Dances, which included West Coast Swing. There I met Robert Royston and Laureen Baldovi-Mason. They were/are so good and it was very inspiring to watch them dance. Once I found out that they were World Champions, I started taking their group lessons and eventually took private lessons as well. That was my start. I practiced every day, and improved really fast. I started teaching Line Dance classes at the Cadillac Ranch in Concord, CA a few years later. That really was the start of my teaching career. I also taught for Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Hayward for a few years. I enjoyed teaching there, just not their business practices. So I left. It was then that I realized that I really, rreeallllyyy enjoyed teaching. I decided to drop out of college to pursue that endeavor, and also to piss off my dad since he wasn't supportive at all at my new found aspirations and love of dance. He was an engineer and found The Arts as a complete waste of time. Looking back now, I should have at least graduated from college. That piece of paper does mean more money and better jobs, but I didn't know that then. That really started the decline of our relationship. It did get better, as in speaking terms, for short spells and then it would go down the drain again. He passed away October of 2013.
I've only been married twice, please get that straight :). My first marriage was to Mana in 2001 and we were married for about 8 years. Some good, some bad...but that's marriage. I was 28. I don't regret it. We, well she, had Alex in December of 2001. We had a simple life then. My mom came to help us out with Alex and stayed until he was 4. We attended dance events and I still taught in the evenings after working my construction job. It was great to have my mom around, both for the help with Alex and also because she was so far away living in Portugal.
I made the jump to Strictly West Coast Swing in 2003. Mountain Magic Dance in Lake Tahoe was my first WCS only event. I won the Int/Adv JnJ. After that, I moved up the ranks fairly quickly and landed in All-Stars, the dancers' purgatory. Mana and I started making a name for ourselves in the dance community and began getting hired for dance events, workshops, etc. I wasn't the nicest person to be around back then. I've been thinking about it lately and can see now that I wasn't happy with myself. I've always been a loner and love my alone time. Very hard to do when your life starts to revolve around dance events and weekly dances. I felt I was being forced to be social in times when I just wanted to be alone. And when I decided to be alone, I was seen as an asshole and anti-social, just angry at everyone. I just wanted some space but didn't have the words, or the courage, to just say that. So I put up a wall that is still up to this day, but is not as high. You can actually see over the wall now. It was/is a defense mechanism, emotionally, to keep me safe. I put on a "bad ass" exterior...a "don't fuck with me" attitude. I was polite and cordial...I do have manners. If you crossed me the wrong way, good luck to you, as I wrote you off my world entirely. And good luck coming back to it....there are dragons and lava fields you must cross!
Living like that, day in and day out, is very exhausting. I got burned out and started to not love to dance and teach like I used to before. So, I took a few years off but never really stayed away. Just was around less often. After my divorce to Mana, I met Amy. We were together for 2 years, engaged, and towards the end of that time, we had a son, Max, in January of 2011. If it wasn't for Max, that was a complete waste of two years. I love my son but what a freaking headache she has been. Enough about that. Back to dancing. During that time, I found my love for dance and teaching again. My business was growing, my dance was improving. But I was still unhappy with it all. I can see that clearly now. I was still trying to be what I thought society, the dance community, wanted me to be. And I wasn't getting any younger either, but my competition was. Did I mention that I'm super competitive? Well, I am! In everything I do. Maybe it's my way to seek that sense of approval from my dad that I never got. Deep, huh? That's what I get from living with my wife, Sarah, who has a Master's in Psychology.
I married again in May of 2013. Sarah and I started dating in May of 2011. And no, I didn't leave Amy for Sarah as those of you so interested in telling my story to others have mentioned at certain dance events. For your information, I was already sleeping on the couch. Do I seem angry? You bet. Please focus on your own lives, or is yours too boring? I have come to terms that people will talk and formulate their version of what they want to hear or say...or think about me. Can't change that. I'll come back to Sarah in a bit.
I started dancing with Yenni a few years ago. I wasn't getting many job offers from events and it seemed that they were all hiring couples that competed in Classic or Showcase. So I took that road too, to stay competitive and in the thick of it. My years with Yenni were great ones. Even though we didn't achieve what we set out to do with our partnership, I did learn a tremendous amount about myself with the help of our coaches; Royston, Deborah, Rutz, Lindo, Benji, and Frank Flores. I do want to thank each of them for challenging me, but most importantly, believing in me. But within that time, I also felt a growing doubt. One that would, and is, chipping away at my confidence on the dance floor. Am I still good enough? Do I have what it takes to keep going? These, among others, are the questions that plague my mind. Look, I know I'm good...pretty damn good...to be dancing in the Champion Division. But the WCS world is one that, in my opinion, doesn't judge dancing. It judges peformance. Now, I don't want to start a discussion...this is just my opinion and I'm entitled to it. I'm not blaming it for my short-comings. It's just a statement. I'll keep this brief...it's really hard to see lesser dancers get recognition for whatever they do than better dancers. This is a general statement and I'm not alone in that. Maybe I'm just the one with enough balls to say it, or I just don't give a shit about it anymore. I'm sick of the "suck up" and "kiss ass" behaviors I see out there in order to get noticed. How about you just dance better? But, as my lovely wife said one day, at the end of the day no one cares who took first or made finals or is teaching somewhere exotic. Am I jealous of them? I'd be lying if I said no. But why? It all goes back to wanting that approval that I am good enough.
So, you may ask...Why do you keep dancing and competing, especially if you have a negative outlook? I'll tell you why. Because I don't feel like that any longer. Yes, it still sucks to not make finals or to not get hired in lieu of the "flavor of the month"...but it is what it is. Life goes on and the world keeps turning. Here's where Sarah comes in. She has been an enormous influence on me and helped me reach a point of clarity in my life. We have had very heated discussions about what my goals are in life and what do I really want out of life? Is it to do so well in my dancing that I get hired to teach all over the world? Do I really want that kind of lifestyle? Or do I only seek that stupid sense of approval that I never got from my dad? Is that what it's all about? Just to get a "good job!!".
I do love dancing and most of all I LOVE teaching. More now than ever really. I like to keep doing it for as long as my body will let me. I really want to start putting forth art of movement and expression that I WANT to do. I no longer care what "they" may think. I'll love it and that's the important part.
Here's my life now: I'm married to a wonderful, caring, super smart and sexy woman. I have two healthy and beautiful kids. I live one block from an amazing beach in a great, quiet and safe neighborhood. I belong to the tennis club. This IS my life. This IS what's most important to me!!
Thank you so much for reading this.