Every street has two directions, but in the South Bronx, both can lead to potential destruction. It takes a brave, creative teenager to channel his "gang banging" energy into a positive path, dead center on the dance floor. Willie Estrada knew that he could continue to fight on the mean streets but ultimately end up in jail, an obit in the newspaper or utilize his dance talents in a civilized manner. He chose the latter. Born in Puerto Rico, at the tender age of two, he arrived with his family to New York. "I've been dancing since I was 5 years old", shares an enthusiastic Willie. "I even have a video of me from 1961 dancing with a girl my age while dressed in a suit and tie". Willie comes from a musical family as his father was in a band that performed for all occasions. "My Dad was the singer, but he was also a great dancer, as was my mom whom I danced with at Roseland on a couple of occasions during the mid 70's", explains Willie. Dancing to his fathers live music, his family realized early on that Willie was a natural when it came to dance.
Five years prior to John Travolta pulsating on the big screen, creating a hustle fever, Willie had his temperature under control helping to take the house party dances to the formidable night clubs. In 1972, Willie and his friends frequented house parties where some of the teens were integrating their slow grinding steps (called the 500) into a more acceptable 5 step dance.
"It was simple in nature and intended to bring male and female partners together by way of a social dance, which was more acceptable to parents in terms of house parties and the way their young teenage girls danced with the boys," explains Willie. In the early stages the dance lacked turns and intricate steps. The first rendition was sensual and sexy, dancing very close with the partner. "That first version was short lived, as the dance morphed into what was known as the Push and Pull Hustle, which utilized the 5 step approach of 1973". Later, that same year, the first 6-step hustle was created, which was better known as the Rope Hustle, implementing simple turns and spins. Then, in 1974, the Latin Hustle was born. The new derivative was a 6-step dance combining turns, fancy spins and amalgamations. A new era of dance was born in New York City, spearheaded by the Latino Community. After a half year stint in the Marines, Willie returned and the Hustle had outgrown it's pampers. St. Mary’s was the place to dance. "There were smiles everywhere you looked, and the scene was surreal," shares Willie. He was taken back by the style, grace, elegance and maturity that the dance had evolved to. "Oh sure!... you saw Latinos dancing Salsa, and Mambo, and before that the Boogaloo, but there was never a dance like this created by the Latin community before", explains Willie. The dance was exciting and beautiful to watch and had more then just steps; it had feet, as it was running across the country. With its huge popularity gave rise to dance contests and media attention, developing magic on the dance floor. Some of the most popular artists were capitalizing on the disco explosion using all the buzz words in their lyrics like "Latin Hustle", "Spanish Hustle"...... "As the music caught up with this dance craze, the competition became a lot more intense, and inevitably, the Hustle gained global prominence on the pages of History. A few of the 1st generation Hustle dancers led the way, such as Floyd Chisolm. They started adding lifts and tricks to the Hustle, taking it to a whole new level. The Latin Hustle remains to be the last Original dance ever created in New York City", shares Willie.
Gaining attention for his creativity and dance style, Willie was recruited by George Vascones to join the popular dance troop the 'Latin Symbolics' in 1974. "We had many dance teams within the Latin Symbolics, in all categories," recalls Willie. The dance troop gave many young Latin dance stars the exposure to shine and experience the art of performing throughout the states.
The South Bronx was becoming the epicenter for a dance that began as the Rock and migrated into the Latin Hustle. The Rock-Hustle gave dancers the freedom and autonomy to make the transition from freestyle to touch dancing. The interest level in the dance and the music that supported it was limitless. Like a TV remote control, you could flip the dial to find the right nightclub venue. The choices were endless. Fusing his skills from The Symbolics with the evolving hustle, Willie became an early riser in the Hustle world making all the right turns on the dance highway. He would frequent clubs like The 310 1/2 in the Bronx, "this is where all the best hustle dancers hung out" shares Willie. The Red and White, The Fresh, the Kontiki, The Forbidden Fruit, The Ipanima, Barney Googles, The Corso, The Boombamacaoo, The Charisma, The Copacabana, The Loft, The Palladium, The Continental Baths, the Bon Sua, Roseland and the Starship Discovery... keeping good company with the likes of legendary dancers Floyd Chisolm, Willie Wip, Tony Febles, George Vascones, Debbie Benitez, Gladys Rodriguez, and fellow members of the Latin Symbolics dance team. Initially, Willie partnered with Maggie Solis and later on with his girlfriend Elba Santiago who turned their romance to the dance floor as they coined their professional name "Touch Of Elegance". Over the next few years, Willie trained and developed new partnerships, including Millie Silva, another member of the Latin Symbolics. The young Marine would always have multiple projects under his belt. He would have partnerships in all forms of dance including his street roots. His Rock Dance partners, included Willie Rivera, aka “Willie Wip”, and Robert Feliciano. Keeping his creative juices flowing, Willie along with his rock dance partner joined forces with Hector Berrios and Pete Martinez, creating the first four-man rock routine in New York. Inspired by the creative minds and feet of dancers like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, The Nicholas Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines, Willie had that fire and put his skills to the test in contests up against the best including the likes of Floyd Chisolm, Billy Fajardo, Dante, Jose Domenicano and achieving victory. With the Latin Symbolics he performed at many clubs throughout New York as well as TV shows, the most notable was a show called "Night Life". Willie stacked up many home runs, but other opportunities were knocking. His name was on every promoter’s “A list”. As a hustle trailblazer, he was recruited by David Maldonado in 1978 to help promote and market nightclubs. Very cerebral, after a couple of successful years promoting concerts and shows, he was recruited by Ralph Mercado, the biggest Latin Concert Promoter in NYC, to run his City Wide Concert promotions. From there, the innovative Willie was offered the opportunity to become the House Promoter for the biggest nightclub in New York, "Bond International Casino" on 45th St. and Broadway. He single handedly turned "Bond’s" into the number 1 nightclub in New York which had a capacity of nearly 5,000 people. “Willie Estrada Presents”, soon became a household name in New York, and it stayed that way for the next decade, hosting one successful event after another. Back in the 80’, Willie switched direction and began to produce and promote concerts in addition to managing artists. "After many years of club and concert promotions, I started working with my old friend Juan Toro, and started booking artists for the Relentless Agency in New York," explains Willie. After a couple of years Willie set out on his own. After successfully forging great relationships in the entertainment field it was time to release his own company. Latin Empire Entertainment Group was born. Promoting the biggest names in the Latin field of arts. In 2009 Willie was honored by Latin Pride Magazine as the Latin Music Impresario of the Year, at the Latin Pride National Awards, held in Boston. This award was in recognition of his outstanding work with some of the premier Latin Artist in the United States. In 2010 Willie joined forces with SoulRican Entertainment as the President working alongside of CEO Kevin Rivera, producing and promoting concerts in several genres including Funk & Soul, Hip Hop, R&B and Latin. Willie hosts an annual event to benefit the youth of the South Bronx, entitled "Teach the Children Festival", which is the foundation and platform for promoting the importance of education an literacy to our younger generation. He completed a European Tour in 2011, a 12 day Mexico tour in January of 2013, and has 3 more European Tours this year traveling to Switzerland, United Kingdom, Austria, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Slovenia, Paris, Italy, Sweden, Wales, Germany, with more offers on the table. Still as active as he was as a kid on the mean streets of the Bronx, Willie has made many sharp turns and ultimately steered in the right direction. During his younger years, Willie flirted with the dangers of street gangs but turned that negative life style into a rewarding career in dance, helping to change the mindset of younger people. He hopes his message about dance will resonate with others. His mantra: “Work hard, rock and hustle, the perfect recipe for success. The synergy of combing the music with the dance and energy.”
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