Word on the street is, if Jerry Springer ever wants to give it a second go-round on Dancing With the Stars, his people will get in touch with Dave Sepulveda’s people to set up a few lessons first.
Recalling Springer’s herky-jerky, out of breath performance on the hit TV show that pairs off so-called celebrities with bouncy, shapely dancing machines in tight outfits, Sepulveda sits back in his stream-of-consciousness, Dumaine Street pad off Bayou St. John, screws up his lips and ponders the challenge, until a “why not” grin crosses his face.
They call Sepulveda the “Line Dance King” and when “Achy Breaky Heart” drones out over the dance floor at wedding receptions all over the New Orleans area this weekend, Springer-wannabes will be glad Sepulveda came into their lives, confident they won’t be zigging left, while everybody else is zagging right.
Sepulveda earned his title the hard way. Over the past 16 years, the French Quarter native has taught fathers of the bride, overweight aunts, uncles going through a mid-life crisis and just plain folk the intricacies of the line dance … and West Coast Swing, the Cha Cha and the Cajun Two-Step.
“I’ve been teaching dancing for the past 16 years,” Sepulveda says. “It’s something I just love doing. I know people love it. I may have as many as 1,000 people in a line dance class and, when everything is going right and the session is over, a big roar goes out from everybody. That’s a real high. I can’t get enough it.”
Apparently not, since Sepulveda teaches the latest moves five days a week at places including the Archbishop Rummel High School, the Louisiana Federal Credit Union Picnic and the Ropers Country Club in Metairie. For the second consecutive year, he’ll teach at the Jazz and Heritage Festival. Before and after that you may find Sepulveda showing others how to dance at the Jewish Community Center or at the Clearview Mall. In fact, you can usually find him just about anywhere you find somebody with two good legs and a partner they want to impress.
“People want to dance,” Sepulveda says. Remember, this is a guy who spends his “off night” on Saturday cutting a Cajun Two-Step rug at Michaul’s on St. Charles Avenue. Sepulveda sells real estate by day but his heart is always on the dance floor. “I love to bring it to the people. I guess I’m just like a singer; I’m sharing a happy part of yourself with them.”
Fifty-four-year-old Sepulveda admits that, although he grew up in the French Quarter and was immersed in music, dancing and happy times, he was a “late bloomer” when it came to actually getting out there on the dance floor. He “just started dancing about 15 years ago” when John Travolta made cowboy boots and hats and Country-Western dancing de rigueur with his movie, Urban Cowboy.
“I was just good at dance from the outset and I really got along with everybody there,” he says.
So much that the owners of Mudbugs, a now defunct West Bank dance emporium that came and went about as quickly as the Travolta-generated fad, asked Sepulveda if he might be interested in teaching what he obviously was so good at. The owners didn’t have to ask twice.
“I was a customer just like everybody else there,” Sepulveda recalls. “They liked my rapport with the people and that I seemed to be well liked. I said I’d give it a shot to see if it worked out.”
Mudbugs bit the dirt. But Sepulveda has prevailed – and that’s putting it mildly. He is as in demand as any rock star on and off the stage.
“Hey, women love a man who can dance,” Sepulveda says. “None of these ladies are throwing their keys at me or anything like that. But I lead what might be called a ‘lively life.’ Let’s just put it like that. It’s the nature of the beast! And I tell all the young guys, ‘Hey, if you want to be a big hit with the ladies, learn to dance! A woman loves to be with a man who can dance.’”
Sepulveda leads a friend on a tour through his closet of dance outfits: including Saturday Night Fever leisure suits, costumes from the aforementioned “cowboy days;” silks, cottons, two-piece suits, three-piece suits, shirts with straight sleeves, shirts with lacy sleeves, shoes, boots, everything of every color imaginable – blues, greens, pinks, browns, reds – a veritable Hollywood back lot costume warehouse right there on the second floor of his home.
“I’m always prepared,” the dance king says. “I may have a contest or be in a contest or go to somebody else’s class. There may be a new technique out there or a new twist on an old dance. I have to know these things. I want to know them. I may see something new that I want to try. I want the people I teach to know the very latest.”
Back downstairs, Sepulveda points out a photo from his distant “non-dancing” past, but quickly returns to his first love: making those moves on the floor that set hearts aflutter.
“Dancing is back in a big way,” he says. “I have two friends who are teaching tango up on Magazine Street. That’s really caught on. And I tell people all the time, in addition to being a great way to meet others, dancing is a great way to stay in shape. You don’t have to sweat it out with weights. You can have a great time and stay in shape. I just read an article that said that dancing is the best way to lose weight. Just one hour of doing the salsa burns up 400 calories.”
Move on into that line, right there next to Jerry Springer.
A sad note: “Local Color” has always given its readers a look at a “different kind” of person who makes up the heart and soul of New Orleans – or perhaps, a look at a person who makes the heart and soul New Orleans different. In the last millennium, on the death of “The Prayer Lady,” a woman who walked around the French Quarter praying aloud and carrying a cross, “Ruthie the Duck Lady,” who’s also considered different, told somebody, “There ain’t many of us left.”
Today, we are one less … and sadly, perhaps a little less different.
Dr. Robert Maestri Brocato, son of the late “Diamond Jim” Moran, one of the cornerstones of New Orleans’ reputation as “the city that marches to the beat of a different drummer,” passed away in late January.
Although a respected and pioneering dentist in tiny Many, La., “Dr. Bobby” was nonetheless a colorful part of New Orleans who never left the city of his birth and youth … not that “respectful” and “colorful” are mutually exclusive terms.
Dr. Bobby was the only one of Diamond Jim’s sons who retained the family name rather than change it to “Moran,” a nom de guerre used by his father when he was a young boxer.
Dr. Bobby’s accomplishments in the community would fill this entire publication: first team dentist of the New Orleans Saints, formulator of dental trauma guidelines for the National Football League, founder and chairman of the International Medical Dental Research Foundation, director and chairman of the New Orleans Board of Health, chairman of the New Orleans Department of Vital Records and Statistics, president of the Louisiana Brangus Cattle Association and on and on …
Still, the kid who once piled up nothing but “Fs” in dental school because he was busying following the winning exploits of a race horse named after him (he later returned to Loyola University Dental School and graduated with honors,) never lost touch with his colorful French Quarter roots.
Dr. Bobby’s funeral rites were conducted in Many but his body was laid to rest in New Orleans, next to the father he revered throughout his life.