For many, May 24th, 1978 was the day they discovered the hustle. Although the motion picture "Saturday Night Fever' was released the previous year, it wasn't until Floyd Chisolm and Nelly Cotto maneuvered the dance floor on national TV that the hustle was born. The man in the white tuxedo magically slid his partner across the dance floor and into our hearts. Nobody had seen the likes of these two before. Viewers from around the world wanted to learn how to hustle, how to emulate Floyd Chisolm.
Born in Harlem New York, long legged Floyd, joined the performing school dance group, while still in Elementary school. It was an opportunity for the young man to display his creative side. Still under age, Floyd began to go clubbing. "There, I found a whole new world", explains Floyd. "A fun, friendly atmosphere where everyone just wanted to dance". The '310' was a popular place where you would find him, but it was at the 'Footsteps In the City' night club that stands out in his mind. A new song took the air and the crowd reacted to it. Simultaneously the dancers began to move, as though in a coordinated pattern. "Rock The Boat" had them stepping right, then left and swaying back. These were the early steps of the hustle. Floyd took hold and instantaneously connected with the dance. With a variety of early partners, each was talented in their own rights, Floyd was focused on taking the basic hustle dance to a new level. "Pat was during the Boomba days. It was fun dancing with her, she just floated across the dance floor", remembers Floyd. Other early partners included Myrna and Evelyn, but nobody quite measured up to Annette Rivera. "Annette brought class and grace to the team, she was awfully beautifully and commanded attention on the dance floor", recalls Floyd. "She and I spent the day with Boxing great, Muhammad Ali and his family at his training camp", shares Floyd. Annette and Floyd would take on the indubious task of competing in New York's most prestigious annual contest, The Harvest Moonball. This event would haunt him to this day for the inability to make the break through. For three years in a row, he would take second place. But Floyd & Annette would learn an invaluable lesson - winning isn't everything. Unbeknown to the competitors, movie directors/producers Ismael Merchant & James Ivory were sitting in the audience looking to cast the winners of the Harvest Moonball in their upcoming motion picture "Roseland". Although the young dance couple danced away with second place, a few days later, Floyd received a call from a gentleman by the name of Don DeNatale. He offered them the starring role in the film. "The making of "Roseland" was a great experience. Annette and I had so much fun", explains Floyd. " In the scene after we lost the competition and Annette was crying, believe it or not, she was actually laughing uncontrollably" recalls Floyd. "Working with Christopher Walken, Geredine Chapman, Helen Gallerger and the rest of the cast, was a time I will remember forever. I will always treasure Annette for being a giant part of that chapter of my life." Always moving and planning four steps ahead, like a chess match, Floyd was on the prowl for a new partner. He would pursue his new prospect for sometime but was rejected on more than one occasion. With fabulous foot speed and unbridled potential, Floyd had his eye and heart on Nelly Cotto. She was quite beautiful and had everything he was looking for in a partner. By December 1977, Nelly finally agreed to try out this “dancing thing”. "We began to practice in my apartment", shares Floyd. " Nelly would bring along two friends named Eddie and Lourdes". It was now the time to mold and transform Nelly into the premier hustle dancer with the assistance of good friend George Vascones (from the Latin Symboics). "George would help Nelly with her hand movements and footwork. All along, Floyd was single handedly revolutionizing the hustle. They would frequent numerous clubs like: Roseland, Ipanema, Fresh, Abbey, Ice Palace, Red & White, Boombamaciao, Barney Googles, Cork & Bottle, Latin Times, Copa, Starship, Inferno and Infinity, just to mention a few. The studio scene was hot as well, dancing and practicing at Alexis, Julies, Jo-Jo's Dance Factory, along the west side of Manhattan. Nelson Flores (RIP) was an integral part of Floyd's early dance process. He would attend the practices and assist with the routines. Floyd and Nelly had choreographed a new routine to the song "Too Hot For Love". "Prior to the break in the song, I would spin Nelly away, she would then, fall to the ground with her hands behind her back", explained Floyd. "Nelson, hidden in the crowd, would squirt lighter fluid in both her hands and set fire to them, just as the choir is singing 'too hot for love'," shares Floyd. "She'd lift her hands with fire spitting out of them. Well… a funny thing, since Nelson wore glasses and didn't have them on that day, he inadvertently got the fluid all over her skirt too, so yes, Nelly, that day, was too hot for love".
Only four months had transpired since the couple joined forces and had their eyes set on an upcoming dance competition. There were preliminary contests being held all over the city. The winners would advance to the New York finals. It was the talk of the town. Floyd and Nelly would win the prelims at “Latin Times”, on 43rd street, qualifying to compete in the finals being held at the Copacabana in April of 1978. By the time the finals rolled around, all the elite couples had earned their way to the Copa. Floyd and Nelly had limited money to invest in costumes so they enlisted the help of his sister Ruthie, to make them. " She has always had a knack for sewing," shares Floyd. The other teams competing had a longer dance relationship than the newly kindled Floyd and Nelly. At the time, they didn't even have a set routine, Floyd would secretly whisper into Nelly's ear the moves to execute. As underdogs they took command of the dance floor and out performed all the other couples utilizing their signature moves, including the slide, neck spins and spinning roll. They dominated and earned the right to advance to the 1st Annual Casablanca Records Dance Contest being televised on the Merv Griffin TV Show. The all expense paid trip to Hollywood would be a life changing, pivital point for this young couple. "Once we got out there (Los Angelo's) we were told this contest was to help in the promoting of the new motion picture "Thank God It's Friday", explained Floyd. Prior to the release of the soundtrack album, they had the opportunity to listen and pick two songs from the record for them to dance to. They instantaneously selected "Find My Way" by Cameo, and a song that the other couples skipped over, because it started off slow, Donna Summer's "Last Dance". Ruthie designed the legendary slits in Nelly's white jump suit which was worn on the popular talk show. Their performance on Merv Griffin was legendary. The hit show received its highest ratings of all time. The couple’s routine was in one word, Amazing. The world was taken by surprise as Floyd and Nelly danced, performing lifts and tricks never seen before. With showmanship and sophistication beyond their years, Floyd would strike like a snake, snatching Nelly with one hand, with lighting speed, pulling her into him for a final kiss. The audience gasped, spellbound by what they just witnessed. It was an eye popping performance that caught the country off guard. On May 24th 1978, on national television, Floyd and Nelly were crowned the King and Queen of Disco. They turned the disco world upside down. Merv knew he was on to something big.
The show made them house hold names. It was one of those moments that, you'll remember the rest of your life.
Merv Griffin was prepared to keep the momentum of the disco ball rolling . He asked the new royal disco couple to assist him with the production of a new show he coined "Dance Fever". The young couple helped with the TV pilot that was utilized to promote and market the show to various stations all over the country, in hopes of being picked up for the season. The rest is history, as "Dance Fever" became one of the highest rated shows of the season. Floyd's creativity rose from his early years inspired by the likes of Fred Astaire. "This gentleman was just the greatest...he would float through the air and just make magic", shares Floyd. "As far as touchable, Billy Fajardo by far. Watching Billy and Sandra dance made me want to work even harder because they were just that good" explains Floyd. Behind the scenes Floyd and partners would master their craft with another careful set of eyes, that of instructor Rocco. "I was given the gift of excellence in lifts". Floyd's competitive juices would flow induced by the electrifying level of competition on the dance scene. "Eddie and Lourdes rose to a point where not only could they stand next to us and Billy and Sandra”, shares Floyd, "but they were able to stand alone becoming a force to be reckoned with," reflects Floyd.
With the overwhelming popularity of their TV exposure, which was at a time when the world had disco fever, Floyd and Nelly would return gallantly to NY, ready to take on new ventures. Having earned the bragging rights as the King & Queen of disco, they had their sights set on creating their own dance troop. The Disco Dance Stars was a composition of some of the most talented teams of the era. Artie Phillips partnered with Lisa Nunziella, Danny Llaurado & Carol Famigletti, Ricky Quintana and Lee Rafrano, Eddie Espinosa & Gina Figueroa, Ray Bogart & Maryrose Fontaine, Pat and Evie Hoover, Eddie & Barbara along with Don DeNatale who helped mentor and keep them connected. Floyd and Nelly would continue to perform and compete all over the world. Due to the enormous fanfare the couple received, they were invited back to the Merv Griffin TV show for an encore performance. In 1980 the troop was given one of those unique opportunites, honored with an invitation to perform in Lake Placid, New York, at the Winter Olympics. Just another ground breaking time for this young couple. With too many crowns, trophies and titles to count, Floyd would take a long break from dancing but not before partnering with long time friend and world champion Lourdes Jones. Together they would compete in 1981 for the Harvest Moonball in NYC. The night was intense with some of the hottest couples competing in a jaw dropping event, held at the Felt Forum, in the Madison Square Garden. A gallant effort was made but they would take second place to their Ex's, as in Eddie Vega - now partnering with Nelly Cotto. After a long absence, Floyd is now testing the waters and considering a come back. The white tuxedo with long tails may no longer fit but the magic he created and the memories he gave us will never be forgotten.
While recuperating in the hospital her older sister, Dora, visited her to exclaimed "there is a new dance out" where upon she began to teach her the hot new craze, right there in the hospital. She was only 13 years old. She started studying ballet when she was only 3. Nelly Cotto hasn't stopped dancing since. For almost 30 years, Nelly has dazzled audiences all over the world. She was destined to become the premier hustle dancer of our time.
Dancing in the Bronx, NY, Nelly began to partner with Roy as part of the Latin Symbolics. "We would rehearse and practice mambo and hustle but Roy wasn't ready to perform live yet," remembers Nelly. As the hustle originated in the South Bronx, Nelly explains how the girls, back then, did all the movements, "the hustle had no turn patterns yet. The guy just stood there as the girl did all the movements. We would practice and dance at house parties." In 1974, a friend at the Butterfly Discotheque introduced her to Floyd Chishom. He was tall and slick. After performing in the motion film "Roseland," Floyd was searching for a new partner.
The disco dance phenomenon was beginning to explode. A major tri state dance contest was being held. Nine dance clubs, from three different states, would hold preliminary contests. "We won the battle dance contest at the "Sesame Street Club" which meant we went to the finals at the Copacobana in New York City. All nine finalists from the different clubs would compete for the chance of a life time to go to Hollywood and appear on the celebrated Merv Griffin Television show."
Floyd and Nelly won the finals and were flown out to California. "I thought we were just going to appear on the show and be interviewed..... I didn't know we would be competing on TV," recalls Nelly. With only four months rehearsal time together, this young couple, (Nelly was only 16 years old) would shock the country with their incredible style of dance. Dancing to the sound track from the motion picture "Thank God Its Friday" they would compete on television against regional dance champions from all over the USA. Dressed from head to tails in all white, this young NY couple would mesmerize the studio audience with lifts, tricks and hustle dancing never witnessed before on television. This was her defining moment. Dancing to the songs "After Dark" and "Find My Way," Floyd and Nelly would become the "King And Queen Of Disco," (in 1978), as they were awarded framed Gold Records from the motion picture "Thank God It's Friday." The nationally televised Merv Griffin Show received their highest ratings...ever.
After returning back to NY, the team would continue to hoan their skills. A major contest was being promoted and would take place at the world famous "Regines" night club. The winners would be flown to Hollywood to compete on a new TV pilot called "Disco Fever." Nelly and Floyd once again took first place honors and returned to Hollywood to compete on this new developmental television project. As they marched to the stage to tape their segment for the TV show, just minutes before the camera's rolled, Nelly and Floyd were paged to return to the office. "We were told we could not compete. Floyd was in a frenzy," explains Nelly. "Since Merv Griffin was owner of the new TV pilot, the producers felt it was unfair for us to compete since we had just won on the Merv Griffin show a few months earlier. Floyd was so heart broken he complained and they agreed to invite us back to perform on the Merv Griffin show in 1979," explains Nelly. The new pilot was filmed, (without them), it was a hit. The show was later renamed, "Dance Fever." The rest is history.
The dance pioneers would return to NY and would appear on the Merv Griffin Show in a dance special, as agreed upon, when in Los Anglos. With assistance from dance coach and choreographer Rocco, they now had more experience under their belts. The couple would wow the audience and catch the eyes of many producers and organizers. Regine would ask them to fly to Paris to perform at her other night clubs abroad. With their new found celebrity status, Floyd envisioned starting his own dance troop. "The Disco Dance Stars" were born. After winning another contest in Long Island, Floyd and Nelly were entertained by another young couple that performed their style. Ricky Quintana and Lisa Nunziella had the showmanship they were looking for. Along with Danny Llaurado & Carol Famiglio, Eddie Espinosa & Barbara Procopio, the group took shape. The troop was managed by dance wizard Don Denotalia. Don had an extensive movie and dance resume' and was able to book the troop all over the world. In between tours, they stayed active competing in contests. The traditional club contest would run for a number of weeks picking weekly winners. At the finals, all the couples would be invited back to compete head to head to determine the grand prize winner. After winning the finals at Metro 700, Nelly took a hiatus.
She was pregnant.
Twenty-nine years ago, Nelly Cotto learned to do the hustle, from her sister, while recuperating in the hospital at the age of 13. The year was 1974. Her precision and charm would earn her an allegiance of fans as she "Wowed" the country on the televised "Merv Griffin Show." She was destined to become the premier hustle dancer of our time.
Disco was not quite at its pinnacle in 1980 but Nelly Cotto would eclipse her dancing for six months. She gave birth to her daughter. For the previous two years, Nelly and Floyd Chishom danced on national TV, performed shows, created a dance troop and won some of the most prestigious contests. "I made my living on Dance Contests" explains Nelly. But there were hard feelings between Floyd Chishom and her. Together they had achieved so much but Floyd, the dance giant, was drifting away from dancing.
The "King and Queen of Disco" were no more.