Donna DeSimone - Hustle / Disco WCS + Salsa


Donna DeSimone -
by Ron Bess



With unbridled energy, she is a major mover and shaker in the Dance world. While some dancers peak at an early age, forced to unlace to prepare for the next chapter of their lives, this dancer just keeps getting better and better. Donna DeSimone has become the face of Long Island. A professional instructor that competes, choreographs, performs and can lead or follow.......there's not much she can't do.
Born in Brooklyn, Donna was surrounded by the arts. Her mother was a professional singer and her parents frequently went out swing dancing. A Marine sergeant, her father provided a structured, organized and disciplined environment for Donna, that would stay with her the rest of her live. Before the age of 5, Donna was already doing plie's and pirouettes in Tap and Ballet. Her mother continued to be a driving force encouraging her to audition and expand her dance vocabulary to Jazz, Lyrical, Broadway Theater, Ballroom and even the Martial Arts. Before her 16th birthday, Donna had already envisioned her future. She knew where her heart was leading her. She had secured her first teaching job at a local dance studio. Within a short period of time, she had explored the new disco craze and was quickly teaching the Rope hustle at the studio. The hustle dance was exploding with all the national exposure creating a fever to learn this exciting new dance. One very memorable moment for Donna was working on the legendary set of the television show "The Soap Factory" broadcast in Palisades, New Jersey. "Jeff and Donna Shelly were the featured performers. I was truly inspired by their grace and elegance as they floated across the floor so effortlessly," shares Donna." It reminded me of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. It is a memory that has stayed with me to this day". Other early influences for Donna included the likes of Maria torres, "no one can match the power, agility, conviction and emotional intensity of the dance like Maria Torres,“Warrior Queen of Hustle”. "Lisa Nunziella is another one of my favorites", explains Donna. Watching her on Star Search with Eddie Vega making the dance look easy and effortless, true dance athletes at their best". In 1977 Donna became the proprietor of her own Performing Arts dance studios. Still a young adult, she owned and operated two performing Arts dance locations with two different partners. Like a kid in a candy store Donna couldn't get enough. Excited to teach but flying even higher to compete and perform. Shortly after, she moved on from the daily role of running her businesses to purse ballroom training and to develop others in the performing arts as an independent instructor. Hungry to expand her dance knowledge, she would take formal classes at Phil Black, Jazz & Broadway Theater, Finest Young. On her own she would frequent many of the dance clubs in New York to do her own research. "I do remember going to a dance club in Huntington, Long Island NY called “Chaz”, recalls Donna. "There I saw three young guys clearing the dance floor as they demonstrated their amazing dancing ability with each other and their female partners. Eventually a couple of years later at a club called 'Sr. John’s' I had the opportunity to walk up to them and introduce myself. It turned out to be 3 brothers, Roberto, Michael & Eddie Pagan." At the time Roberto already had a successful Ballroom studio in Seldon, Long Island with his then Fiancee Donna Marie Portelli, called “ New York Express”. Donna was so impressed she started training with them just days later. Expanding her horizons, Donna began studying various styles of dance including American Rhythm, American Smooth and International Latin. This experience would lead to performances and competitions taking her on a journey all over the country. Her creative approach to dance and fascinating style is a culmination of diverse training, influences and pure emotion. Donna's hard work ethic, and non-stop energy, would continue to open more doors for her. She joined the "New York Express Dance troop" in 1983. "I loved being a part of a dancing family," shares Donna. "The first time I saw Roberto & Dona Marie dance, was a Theater Arts routine called “ When I first Saw You” from the Broadway play “Dream Girls” it was the first time I cried watching a dance number," recalls Donna. "No performance up until that time ever brought me to tears". Her aggressive studies and determination lead her to numerous competitions and gold trophy's. For nine years (1983 - 1992) Donna competed in ballroom and hustle. One of those special moments was at the United States Ballroom Championships in NYC held at the Waldorf Astoria. Donna along with Roberto Pagan took 5th place in American Rhythm out of a group of 25. Two years later, Donna would capture first place in that very same division, with Nathan Daniels, in Miami Florida, becoming the 1986 USBC American Rhythm Champions. Donna has that sparkle that lights up the stage and along with popular dancer Vincent Antonelli, a former New York Express dancer, they competed in International Latin, and burned up the floor together for almost 7 years. One of the most prestigious annual competitions was held at Zackary’s in Long Island. The best dancers of various dance styles would compete. After winning one of the weekly preliminary rounds and the semifinals, they qualified to advance to the finals along with six other couples. One of the dance teams that inspired her just years ago, also advanced to the final round. One of the all time greatest hustle dance teams, Eddie Vega and Maria Torres would execute their lightning speed hustle with all the ariel lifts and tricks. Donna and Vinnie performed their Theater Arts Mambo that she choreographed to Barry Manilow’s “Hey Mambo”. " In my mind I didn’t think we had a shot at winning. Their names, talent and reputation (Eddie & Maria) could win it alone" shares Donna. Undeniably one of the best, Donna did not arrive at this explosive dance level overnight. The audience at Zackary's was caught off guard. This relatively unknown couple took charge. "We went out there and danced without expectation and straight from the heart" recalls Donna. The scoring was very close but by just one mere point, Donna & Vinnie were victorious. Taking first place at Zackary’s entitled them to advance to a Regional contest (sponsored by “Night Life Magazine”) now competing against all the other winners from the tri-state area dance clubs. With a powerful expression that provides a window of enjoyment for all those watching, Donna would not be denied. They once again took first place. In 1993 Donna and Michael Pagan started their own dance troop entitled “Dance Odyssey”. It was at this time that Donna and Vinnie decided to retire from the competition ranks to focus primarily on performing. The troop started out with 4 couples mostly performing art dancers and gymnasts. They were contracted at local clubs and events. Roberto approached me with an offer to assist him with his upcoming dance tour in China. He was obligated to fulfill his performance contracts in the US while he would be in China. So Donna Marie, now married to Roberto, and I teamed up and ran the troop at home. For the next ten years the two Donna's would run their entertainment business. Donna would choreograph and perform with numerous partners over the years including Tab Niece, Sanj Hira, Fernando Salles and James Hamm. The troope would perform all over and included many other established artists like Lori Brizzi, Manuel Rojas, Bonnie Diaz, Pat Taverna, Jeff Shelly, Tybaldt & Hazel Ulrich, Lou Brockman, Heather Gehring, Mark James, Lucas Jamie, Yanna Samkova... A testament to her hard work ethic, Donna co-choreograph ballroom routines for varity of events and shows including Carnegie Hall ( Cole Porter’s 100th Birthday Celebration), "An invitation to Dance” with the NY Pops Orchestra, “Entermedia Historical Playhouse” in NYC, Hershey Park and on Cablevision TV “Touch Dancing with Alfanso”. Now, picture yourself attending a competition along with 500 other dance enthusiasts, and 1000 eyes are focused on you. That's the excitement and anxiety she enjoyed when teaming up with long time friend Derrick Allen as they joined forces to compete in 2005. Taking first place at Diane Nardone's World Hustle Competition they now prepared for Lori Brizzi's annual 'New York Hustle Congress'. " We worked very hard putting together a routine that complimented both our styles and with our coach and close friend Bonnie Diaz I think we made that happen", explains Donna. Dancing to “Last Dance” on Labor Day Weekend in 2006 at the Hustle Congress in NYC, they were again victorious. The following year, they were both honored with the prestigious "Augie & Margo Rodriguez Award" at Billy Fajardo & Katie Marlow’s IHSC Competition. They would recreate their winning number but it was their Last Dance together as competitors. A year later, at Lori Brizzi's "New York Hustle Congress", Donna was the recipient of the "Inspirational Icon Award". Then the following year at Diane Nardone's "World Hustle Dance Championships" Donna was presented the "Christopher Nardone Humanitarian Award". In 2012, the extensive readership of "DanceTalk" voted Donna the "Best of the Best - Favorite All Time Dancer" in the annual readers choice awards, solidifying her place in dance history. "I have been blessed by angles and thank everyone who shaped, inspired and challenged me to always do better," shares Donna. "I could not have done any of it without the love, support and insight of my parents. Heartfelt thanks to my family, friends, students and supporters". With unbound energy, Donna continues to maintain a rigid schedule. For over 20 years she has been the Entertainment Director for the 'Stardust Dance Weekend's in the Catskill Mountains. In addition, she runs 3 of her own dance parties each month, (Brookhaven Lab, Long Island DancXchange at Bet U Can Dance in East Northport NY and DancXchange Lounge at Paul Pellicoro’s DanceSport in NYC). Never letting the dust settle, Donna has once again laced up her professional shoes, as she is now partnering with professional ballroom dancer Joseph Smith. Friends for a number of years, they have decided to team up for some upcoming shows. With great anticipation, audiences were thrilled to see them perform a hot contemporary Cha Cha Cha/Hustle just last month. Her DNA is hard wired, everything comes out perfect. Watch for the talented, oh so talented, Donna DeSimone perform again this fall, at the next Stardust Dance Weekend, September 20th-22nd for their “Saturday Night Fever”.

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