Jacqueline Cruz - Hustle / Disco WCS + Salsa Jacqueline Cruz -
by Ron Bess

She was a mere 8 years old when her father took her to compete in her first dance contest. It was held at El Tropicolo, a Latin club, in New York. After she finished dancing, the Master of Ceremonies told her father that 'she had a special something'. Jacqueline Cruz, at such a young age, didn't really understand what he meant, but the dance world would cease the opportunity to witness a tiny rose blossom into an incredible  performer. Jackie's father was a musician & singer who would regularly take her to his performances. Growing up in a family from the entertainment field had a profound impact on her. While in elementary school, Jackie would perform in the talent shows in the' Boogie Down Bronx', "I continued performing in talent shows even in middle school I.S. 52," recalls Jackie. That is where she met future partner, Hector Berrios. He was in 8th grade, one year ahead of her. " I remember playing 'hooky' from school and going to hooky parties and seeing him and everyone else dance the hustle", explains Jackie. One evening Jackie's older brother took her to a place called "The Atmosphere", in Hunts Point, the Bronx. This was the first time she experienced Hector performing, she was mesmerized by the show.  That very same night she got a double dose when she observed the dance floor literally part, "like the sea for Moses " and out appeared Billy Fajardo & Sandra Rivera, adorned "in white suits" doing the hustle. It was at this point Jackie was determined to master the hustle. She had a secret weapon, her older brother was the key to her hustle success. He began to teach her the fundamentals. Together, they would rehearse and gravitate to the parks where music would be playing and everyone danced. With dedicated determination, Jackie developed the confidence to dance in public. Along with her first partner, Angel, they auditioned for The Latin Symbolics. An overwhelmed Jackie was selected. Dancing was now beginning to consume her life. They would spend endless hours in the studio's rehearsing.  As her passion for dancing grew she would make it a point to study the "big dogs." One night, on a visit to the disco 'Latin Times', she was watching Perico & Edie and Eddie & Lourdes when Hector approached her to dance. "He danced with me, Jackie explains, but I couldn't keep up with him." He later insulted Jackie to his sister.  This was heart wrenching for her, but she wouldn't let it become a set back, she had the inclination to turn it into a positive. Literally lighting a fire in her belly, Jackie was determined to excel and, hopefully, change his opinion.  She continued to frequent clubs like the Latin Times and Starship, when once again she crossed paths with Hector. Her favorite song "Doctor Love" came on when Hector grabbed her for a dance. This time she was prepared and focused to keep up with his spins and fast turns. She was electric. Hector was so impressed he asked her to enter a dance contest being held at the Boys Club. His current partner, Debbie Benitez was unavailable to compete. Jackie already was aquatinted with Debbie as she was a member of her jazz team, "Sugar & Spice."  With her mothers approval to compete, they now had less than one hour for Hector to teach her a routine. " I remember competing in the contest and being chosen as a finalist," explains Jackie, "I didn't expect to place but we did. We practiced some more and prepared for the finals." On the evening of the finals, Jackie was very composed, although the place was packed with the premier dancers. One of the most popular, red hot teams  was in the house, but inspite of Eddie Vega & Lourdes Jones performance, Jackie &  Hector took first place.  Instantaneously, people started to take notice. They became the "new" couple. Franc. "Perico" Reys, one of the more experienced dancers was a member of the prestigious dance troop, the Disco Dance Dimensions. Perico encouraged Hector to dance with Jackie. Hector & Jackie would compete in another contest where dance champion, Billy Fajardo was judging.  At this contest, Eddie & Lourdes captured first place while Floyd Chishom & Nelly Cotto took second. Although Jackie & Hector came in third, Billy was very impressed and subsequently gave them their first break. One evening, when Billy & Sandra weren't available to perform at the Concord Hotel, Perico asked Hector & Jackie to fill in and the rest became history. From that point on, they became members of the Dance Dimensions. For Jackie it was a life changing experience. The troop was highly sought after as they traveled extensively performing shows all over the world. They would entertain on The Jerry Lewis Telethon, at Carnegie Hall with Liza Minneli, Bob Hope, Grace Jones, the Village People, Sister Sledge, and with practically every popular entertainer of the day.  Tours and performances would include the popular televised show, 'Don Kirshner's Rock Concert'. The troop was featured each week performing synchronized dance numbers and solo acts. Jackie, with her hypnotic smile became a core member of the troop. In between shows the couple would still compete and  won a local dance contest which catapulted them back on television's " Soul Alive". Once again, they impressed the judges and won the hearts of the audience taking first place. As graceful as an elk, her arms flashing and legs kicking with lightning speed, Jackie was simply elegant. One of her personal victories was performing at the Fania All Stars in Madison Square Garden with Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. She had never performed in the round, as people viewed them from all sides of the stage. " When I was dancing, I will always remember looking up and seeing on a flashing screen,  'Dance Dimensions' , I felt like a star", explains Jackie. "Who would ever guess that inner city kids from the boogie down Bronx would go so far," asks Jackie. With an overwhelming sense of positivity Jackie experienced the unique opportunity to perform in the remake of the "Saturday Night Fever Tour". Along with Lisa Nunziella and Perico , they toured all over Europe and Morocco. As the dance craze began to die down, both Jackie & Hector's romance and dancing flickered as well.  They would part ways in preparation for college. Jackie received her Bachelors in Psychology and her Masters of Science in Counseling and Development. After 9/11, she resigned and acquired a Guidance Counselor position at The High School For Contemporary Arts, located in the Bronx.  Although she lives in the suburbs she has returned to the place that it all started for her. Married now, along with her daughter Grace Sophia, Jackie still senses that fire in her belly, and probably always will.  "Although I have hung up my dancing shoes, I long to create the same type of  program for my High school students that the movie "Mad Hot Ballroom" did with middle school students," shares Jackie.
With her determination and love for dance, I think we will see this hustle diva continue to inspire others.

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