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 Nellie 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.
Another popular dancer, in and out of the night clubs, was also searching for a new partner. Eddie Vega was experiencing turmoil with his dance mate. A new partnership was formed. "Eddie was a natural" explained Nelly. It was a seamless transition. The winnings kept coming. They took first place at the United States Ballroom Championships and at Anthony Lee's 1983 "American Star Ball."
Standing only five feet tall and ninety-five pounds, the trophies towered over her. As the competitions became more political they directed their energy towards shows and performing. "In the 80's the USBC's and Harvest Moonball became too political for us."
At an early age Nelly was able to develop incredible dance speed. Her movements had such quickness.... whether she was executing multiple spins or a triple flip in the air. As a dance couple they always pushed the bar higher as they raised the degree of difficulty in their lifts. When they achieved a double it was time to push for a triple.
This set her and her partners ahead of the pack. And to crown the dance, the costumes were always first class, designed by Tony Pena' , they were nothing less then breath taking.. hand made they rivaled those of the Las Vegas show girls.
In 1999, Nelly was honored with the Eddie Vega award. Then in 2000, she was invited to partner with Arte Philips when they performed for Prince Rainer in Monaco. This was another highlight of her life, one she is grateful to Arte for making happen.
In 2001 she entered the national Newport Dance contest. Competing in the finals in Florida, against 200 couples in all forms of dance, she won the $20,000. first place prize with long time friend and dance partner Kenny Gonzales. Kenny and Nelly have been friends since they were both 11 years old. Kenny is her daughters God father.
As we fast forward to 2003, her daughter is now 22 and finishing up college.
Nelly is a young 42 and still living in the Bronx. Next year will mark a 30 year odyssey thru hustle dancing for her. Still graceful and able to fly only where superman dares.... Nelly remains dedicated to her dancing. She still performs but has dedicated the last 15 years of her life to working with kids at "After School Programs" teaching kids to dance. "Kids are humble, no egos they enjoy and appreciate dance" explains Nelly. My goal is to continue working with the kids. I see a number of up coming dance greats but many of them take two classes and think they are great, their aura is all wrong." Nelly is also concerned about the lack of creativity, "today they are just not original." She encourages dance couples to take it to the next level. In her words, "show me a flip with 8 turns."
Nelly just recently under went the knife having gallbladder surgery. But, she is back and on top of her game. At only 104 pounds, she is still air borne ... a true living daredevil. She just finished performing in the show "Sexaholics" along with John Lucasomo.
Over the years, Nelly competed and performed with the finest Hustle dancers in the world. She helped expose the country to the hustle and a level of performing not commonly seen. In a certain way, it helped kill the "Saturday Night Fever" myth -- there is more to hustle dancing then just pointing your finger.
(Two years ago we did a Spot Light feature on Nelly Cotto. Her contributions to the Hustle dance are endless. This awesome, fearless dancer has had numerous partners....Floyd Chishom, Eddie Vega, Kenny Gonzales.....regardless of which partner she danced with, she was always magnificent. When I first saw Nelly and Floyd appear on the Merv Griffin show (in 1978), they were crowned the King & Queen of Disco, it gave me the same uplifting feeling reminiscent of the day Ed Sullivan introduced us to the Beatles. Her dancing captivated our minds and hearts. Here is an update on Nelly and the challenges she has had over the last year).
It's been a year that I haven't danced. On January 11, 2005 I was hospitalized for a month and a half. I don't know if u remember on October 1989 in Zachary's semifinals after I competed in the contest with Kenny Gonzalez the ambulance came and whisked me away to Nassau County Medical Hospital. Everyone thought that I was on drugs and that I overdosed. Very far from the truth. After multiple testing at the hospital, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I've had it for 17 years now. It's been dormant until January 11, 2005. I had an exacerbation of MS and had to be hospitalized and learn how to walk again. I was in a wheelchair for 3 months and needed extensive rehabilitation. The Doctors had the Visiting Nurse Services of New York come to my house for about a month and a half and give me physical and occupational therapy, after a while I was able to go to outside therapy on my own. I owe All Glory to "GOD" who has guided me through all my trials and tribulations all the days of my life and still to this day. I highly recommend him to everybody! It doesn't get any better than him. AMEN! As for what I'm doing with myself, I enrolled in a business school in June of 2005 and I just finished taking my final for my second semester. I passed my final and will be graduating in September on this year. I am no longer in a wheelchair but I do walk with a slight limp. I don't know if I'll be dancing any time soon? but my love for dance will always be in my heart. I want to "THANK YOU" RON for keeping my name ALIVE! although I don't participate much in the dance events like I use to, I will always always be grateful for what the hustle has done for me. The experience was awesome and nobody can ever take that away from me. I earned that one. And thank you for keeping the "HUSTLE" ALIVE as well, through your column and your daughter Little Nelly that's who she reminds me of. Great Job! I would like to Thank all my dance partners Roy, Floyd, Kenny, Arty, Billy Martin, Mario Diaz, Ricky, Sammy(Mambo), Lawrence Rush and of course Eddie Vega, who I truly miss and I'm sure the whole world misses him too. Special Thanks to Maria Torres who always looked out for me, I Love you Maria keep up the good work and to Eddie and Maria Torres who kept the LATINA in me alive through their personal love for me and through dance. And a special "THANKS TO YOU RON." UNTIL WE SPEAK AGAIN! PEACE
Nelly Pacatun Cotto
DISCO QUEEN! FOREVER