The Empire State building reaches above the clouds, a height at one time never imagined. New York, the most popular city in the world: Radio City Music Hall, Wall Street, Broadway and the birth place of the hustle. No man waved the hustle flag higher and with more pride then Eddie Vega. He was unique.
Whether he danced, competed or performed, he was unstoppable. His quickness, flexibility and strength were unmatched. He partnered with some of the finest diva's of the hustle generation - Lourdes Jones, Nelly Cotto, Maria Torres and Lisa Nuziella. But to be frank, he danced with everyone: young, old, beginner, professional, black, white or candy stripped. Eddie was hospitable to everyone, he didn't have a mean bone in his masculine body. Eddie Vega became the most recognizable name in our dance. He became a New York landmark.
Born on May 25th, 1965 at Lincoln Hospital, located in the Bronx, Eddie was the youngest son in the Vega family. He had four older brothers and two sisters. His parents enjoyed the art of dancing but it was primarily for casual fun. They would touch dance and take part dancing at occasional family get togethers and parties. Eddie took note. When he was just 7 years old, his family made plans to move to California. The Vega's had family there and decided to settle down on the west coast. Eddie loved to swim. California was perfect for him, "where ever there was a pool, Eddie was in it, and boy could he swim," recalls his oldest sister Smiley (aka Maria). His pool hopping days were short lived. Just a year after the family migrated to the golden state, his family reluctantly made the move back to the New York. His Uncle was killed in a tragic car accident. Young Eddie would readjust to the east coast and hang up his swim trunks but would now lace up his roller skates. He was great. At only 8 years old he was the best skater around. He simply excelled at everything he loved. Directly adjacent to where the Vega family lived in the Bronx, was a community center called the Casimaria. The center hosted nightly dances. People would dance on the roof of the Casimaria during the spring and summer months. Eddie, as a young boy, could gaze out his bedroom window and view couples spinning and dancing all night a top of the building. He was mesmerized by the dancing and would view them for hours at a time. Eddie had never taken formal dance lessons as a child, "he was born to dance", explains Smiley. Where ever Smiley would go to dance, Eddie would follow her. Although there was a five year age gap, he adored his older sister and became her moving shadow. Eddie was only 10 years old at the time but he would some how figure out how to get into the adult night clubs including the popular "Playpen". He would sneak into some of the most exciting discotheques for dancing purposes. He loved the "Limelight", "Club 310", and many of the Latin clubs. One of the hottest places to dance at the time was St. Mary Park Recreational center in the Bronx . Eddie could be seen there dancing at times with as many as 3 girls. "Even back then he was an incredible hustle dancer," shares Luis Rivera, a fellow member of the Disco Dance Dimensions. "Eddie must have been no more than 11 years old."
While attending a dance, Eddie met his first partner, Lourdes Jones. At the time, Lourdes didn't know how to do the hustle. "Eddie liked it that way," explains Smiley, "he had a premise, that if you didn't know, he could teach you his way and not have to retrain them." He didn't' want a dance partner with bad habits. Eddie preferred to train his partners early on. At the age of only 10 years old, he was already coaching his dance partner and developing his only dance patterns and style. At such an early age he had found his calling in life. As he became a little older, he became even more serious about his dancing. He took a couple of classes here and there, but for all intensive purposes, he would create his own dance art. With insurmountable talent, by the age of 15, everyone in the Bronx dance scene knew of Eddie Vega. In 1980 one of the most popular clubs was the "Atmosphere". They hosted a major "discotheque" dance contest which Eddie & Lourdes would excitedly compete in. This was the beginning of a run of numerous contests which the young couple would take on. Eddie would either win or place in every contest from that day on. They were awarded first place at the Atmosphere contest and were quickly recruited to become one of the featured dancers in the Latin Symbolics. The Symbolics were one of the most prestigious Latin dance troops of the day. He would befriend many other dancers while in the dance company. When Eddie was 16, his family moved to Kingsbridge. For Eddie, school and games were all put on hold. He was driven to dance and perform. His focus was exclusively on dancing. Along with Lourdes, their next step was becoming members of the legendary dance troop, the Disco Dance Dimensions. This would include traveling all over the world to perform and dance on television. This is where Eddie felt at home.
Although there was a minimum age requirement to appear on the syndicated TV show "Dance Fever", this did not discourage Eddie. He got on. After winning the preliminary round at Regines in NYC, it was off to Hollywood with Lourdes to represent New York on TV. They would not only dazzle the audience but would go on to win the quarter finals, semi finals and the Grand Championships on Dance Fever during the 1982 season. He always brought his A game and simply made everyone else look flat footed. Dancing was riding a major upward wave and the viewership for Dance Fever made it the number one show, according to the Nielson ratings. It was the Holy Grail of dance shows.
"Eddie Vega, to me he was the most incredible, influential, and sharing dancers in the Hustle world that I have ever met", shares the late Arte Phillips. "Talent wise" he was the Baryshnikov of the Hustle. I truly had great respect for him".
Eddie would then display a rare skill as he would change dance partners. This would begin a non stop rotations as he would compete with different female partners and continue to win. The transition from partners was seamless and without flaw. In 1983 he would compete at the United States Ballroom Championships and win with Nelly Cotto. He would return the following year, this time back with Lourdes Jones, and once again bring home the gold. Broadway super star Juliet Prowse called him "amazing". Eddie took every aspect of his dancing to the highest level. He wanted to deliver nothing less then perfection from his music selection, choreography, death defying lifts/ tricks to his bejeweled costumes that in many cases he himself hand made.
"He and I were roommates where he impressed me in many ways", explains close friend Arte Philips. "For instance, one day while we were riding the subway he grabbed the straps that you hold on to in order to steady yourself on a moving train and he flipped himself upside down. He then did an upside down split on the ceiling, with no effort.
(the continuation in 2 weeks)
A child prodigy, Eddie fascinated the country with his performances on Dance Fever.
Over the next few years, he would continue to rotate partners: Lourdes Jones, Nelly Cotto and Maria Torres. Eddie was active on the competition circuit. He competed in dozens of contests against hundreds of couples. One of his biggest female rivals was also physically one of the smallest competitors. Lisa Nunziella performed and competed against Eddie for many years. Friends since the mid 70's, Lisa was always impressed with his high energy and true love for dancing. It would take a decade for the two to finally combine their talents and work together. "Until the timing was right for us, then we partnered up, " Lisa shares, " We were quite excited to work together". They began performing on stage at the "Cat Club" in New York City, on an on-going basis, when Lisa made a critical, life changing decision, to relocate to Los Angeles. During the summer of 1986, Lisa moved forward with her dreams and flew to LA, and about one month later, Eddie joined her. They auditioned for the nationally syndicated television show "Star Search". The producers were amazed by them and asked the team to prepare immediately for filming for the September season premier. With shooting starting in just days they had to work fast. The new partnership was beyond words. It was pure magic on the dance floor. Instantaneous chemistry took place, coagulating the two premier dancers of the time. The first show for the new season of "Star Search" aired in 1987 with an overwhelming victory. They remained on the entire season winning 13 consecutive shows. Their success from this major accomplishment required them to quickly retain the best agents and professional representation. They began working with some top choreographers including Kenny Ortega. "We did a lot of work with Kenny, including the filming for singer/actress Cher and her videos, the "System of Survival" video by Earth Wind and Fire, Disney Specials and The Latin Quarter Show in Las Vegas, which actually belonged on Broadway", explains Lisa. Together they were the featured dance team at the Latin Quarter show, performing a 4 minute eye popping mambo. The audience was moved by their dancing. They received glorious write ups and their photos covered the weekly trades in Vegas. The shows remained sold out night after night. After the closing of the Latin Quarter show, Eddie would return to New York. He wasn't feeling the same and desired to be closer to home. Eddie had a keen outlook towards dance and business. He would use his winnings to become an investing business partner in a New York limousine company, implementing the importance and value of diversification.
* Long time friend and competitor Arte Phillips reflected on many of Eddies achievements.
His work has yet to be reproduced in full to this day, not unlike a Franky Manning in the Lindy world. Eddie did more in dance by the age of 17 than most professionals have achieved in their entire career. Along with Lourdes Jones, his first partner and childhood sweetheart, both under age with fake identifications, proceeded to win Dance Fever. A great inspiration to the television Hustle competition world. Due to his training in Ballet, Jazz, and his creativity in the Hustle, dancers are still attempting to recreate his brilliance. When he auditioned for Star Search he was accepted and then made history in that he won every show/competition the entire season along with Lisa Nunziella. Amazing!!! He danced with some of the best female partners of the Hustle world, the likes of the legendary Lourdes Jones, Nelly Cotto (the Queen of Hustle, a title given to her after her win with Floyd Chisolm on the Merv Griffin Show), Maria Torres one of the best of best of the Hustle world, and actually my humble self, winning many competitions every Monday at a club called the Ice Palace in NYC. * Dear friend and troop member from the Disco Dance Dimensions, Jackie Cruz
Eddie performed with Jennifer Lopez and Brenda K. Starr. I went to the Cat Club to see his show. He had so much more to do. He would have been on television like Maria Torres and Franc Reyes. He was such an inspiration to other dancers. Eddie was also so giving, he would welcome everyone. He was funny and never acted like a snob. Do you know that after he won a car on Dance Fever he gave me a ride, I was like Eddie it is fabulous car but it didn't mean a lot to him, he wanted more in life. Eddie loved life and didn't want anyone smoking and would argue the importance of good health and living. He knew that a cure would not be during his lifetime.
* Mentor and competitor Floyd Chisolm on the impact Eddie made.
I remember first meeting Eddie Vega and Lourdes Jones, they were close friends with my new partner Nelly Cotto. Nelly would bring them along to my apartment for us to rehearse. Eddie would float around my living room with his own style and ease. At first Eddie would use many of our moves, lifts and routine, I was deeply flattered that he chose me. Eventually Eddie and Lourdes would come into their own and quickly become the force to be reckoned with. I will never forget watching him bring Dance Fever to a stand still. In one of their over head lifts he actually has Lourdes do an overhead cartwheel, land perfectly on her feet and as always they both fell right in step with each other. Eddie gave the hustle a whole new meaning with his quick feet and multimillion turns. If I was fast, he was lightening. The last time I competed was at the Harvest Moonball, that was the year that Eddie teamed with my ex partner Nelly and I teamed with his ex partner Lourdes. Lourdes and I came out ready with an entirely new routine and new lifts. Eddie and Nelly came fully ready to claim the evening for themselves and they by far deserved it. I had never seen Nelly so at ease and that's because Eddie made her comfortable and put her in that state. He had a knack for making everything flow so easily. God Bless you Eddie, I will always hold a special place in my heart for you, knowing you have made such a difference in so many peoples lives. You'll always be missed.
* Dance partner and childhood friend Nelly Cotto shares her love and admiration.
Eddie was talented in many ways. He use to make our costumes when we first started dancing in our teens. We would buy material and in two point two seconds our skirts were made. He use to fix our hair and put make-up on us.....Stilettos were mandatory, Ahh the memories. About Eddie dancing with sneakers, well that's a fact, many of the dance floors were very fast and just to slippery to dance with capezio's and that's where the sneakers came into play, and how Ironic, years later they have capezio sneakers. It's no wonder why Eddie Vega is so Fabulous, "A League of His Own" Simple the Best!!! He should have patented his sneakers . Eddie Vega you are truly missed, you are forever in my heart and I wouldn't have it any other way. Your Pictures hang on my wall Forever and Ever till this Day!!!
Eddie's dancing was a window to an intelligent, loving and creative mind. His leaps, kicks and spins were the voice of a true artist. His talent shined in every performance. Observers were never let down as they achieved the satisfaction of a great experience.....brilliance. His work transcended to a higher level. Eddie has left an erasable mark on the dance world. Today, we have incorporated in to our general dance and routines his signature movements, proving that they have stood the test of time. During my time speaking with Eddie's family and close friends, many wonderful stories were shared as well as the common theme - "Eddie was a terrific human being, he would take the shirt off his own back to give it to someone in need, without thinking about it". That was his nature. His life work reflects all the wonderful characteristics of a world class leader regardless of their occupation. Eddie Vega was voted into the "Hustle Hall Of Fame's" - Life Time Achievement division in 2005. That was the first year for this recognition. He was one of only 5 recipients, that year, classified as the elite dancers of the generation. In 2006 DanceTalk held its first Readers Choice award for "All Time Favorite Dancer". Readers casted their votes and Eddie won hands down. I look to Eddie as the Bruce Lee, Pele or Michael Jordan of the hustle. He wasn't just good, he was superior. I don't know why he had to leave us so early but I do know that the impact he made will live on through our dance. Eddie lifted us to a higher place and for that he will always be remembered. We need more Eddie Vega's.
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