An Interview with International Hustle and Theatre Arts Champions, Billy Fajardo and Katie Marlow

I met Billy and Katie in 2000, when they were busy organizing the yearly International
Hustle and Salsa Competition in Miami Florida. Both are high-energy, "in
shape" performers and choreographers with more years of experience behind
them than the members of the dance team combined!

Originally from New York, Billy Fajardo is an accomplished trained
dancer with experience in Ballet, Jazz, most of the social dances, and theatre
arts. His tall, handsome figure compliments his partner Katie's petite build.

Katie Marlow is an accomplished professional theatre arts dancer with similar
background in ballet, jazz, ballroom and social dances.

Watching them compete and perform is like eye-candy. Their lines are impeccable,
and their style, breathless. Billy has such poise and character, complimenting
Katie's beautiful ballet background. The years of hard work, dedication, and
training truly shines through as you watch their bodies flowing to every transition
and peak of the music.

Their timing is perfect, and their moves flawless. The lifts, spins and tricks
are brilliant. They were so impressive I hosted a special Lifts, Tricks, and
Techniques workshop for them while they were in LA competing at a local competition.
Put it this way, when Billy and Katie take the dance floor, people stop, and
watch. They are truly a site to see, and a match made in heaven.

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing Billy Fajardo, and Katie Marlow!

Questions for Billy:

How long have you been dancing? I've been working
as a professional for about 26 years.

Where did you start? In the nightclubs in New York
City, doing a form of dance called "freestyle rock", which is a predecessor
of breakdancing. I had a backround in martial arts, so it was a natural. I then
moved on to Mambo and Hustle (when it was first starting).

What type of dance background do you have? I started
out in the nightclubs of NYC primarily as a mambo and hustle dancer. I then
started studying ballet at American Ballet Theatre, and Jazz with Phil Black
in Manhattan.

Have you competed? If so, where? Do you have any titles to your
name?
I started competing at the age of 17. First in local clubs
in the Bronx doing "freestyle rock" contests. I then started competing
in Hustle contests. Some of my titles back then included 1975 US Hustle Champion
awarded by Billboard Magazine. Ipanema Hustle Dance Champion, Roseland Hustle
Champion. By 1976 I was working as a professional, and then I didn't compete
much anymore.

Do you teach? If so, where? I teach Mambo and Hustle.
I mostly teach privately, except for a group class I hold on Monday nights at
Dancesation Studios (which is our studio). I recently started teaching a group
on Wednesday nights at a local nightclub called The Palladium. I also travel
and teach at large conventions.

Do you have a website? The "Billy and Katie"
website is currently under construction. We're hoping to have it up within the
next month. The Dancesation! company has a website at www.dancesation.com.

Tell us about your performing experience. My first
professional job was at Madison Square Garden in 1975. I was dancing with a
group called NY Hustle Incorporated. We were the opening act for Gloria Gaynor.
A year later, I formed my own company, "The Dance Dimensions". We
started out performing in nightclubs in NYC, then went to large hotels in the
Catskills as an opening act for headliners like Buddy Hackett, Joey Bishop,
John Davidson, etc... Finally in 1977 we were signed as the exclusive dancers
for a show on NBC called Don Kirschner's Rock Concert that aired every Saturday
night. This went on for 4 years. In between shootings we would tour Europe and
the US. The Dance Dimensions performed for 10 years as a company. It was a great
learning experience and it gave me a very strong foundation as a performer,
producer and choreographer. The Dance Dimensions primarily did Hustle, but during
the late 1980's I started to perform as a soloist. I did this in Cabaret Revue
style shows. It added another facet to my career. In the 1990's I re-united
with an old friend of mine while filming the movie, Carlito's Way, Ralph Mercado.
I knew Ralph since the late 1970's when the Dance Dimensions would perform at
the large concerts he produced at Madison Square Garden with Tito Puente, Celia
Cruz and other well known Latin artists. I ended up being hired as the choreographer
for the Combinacion Perfecta tour. This started out at Madison Square Garden
in 1993. In 1994 I became the director of the RMM Dancers. We travelled the
world performing at his Salsa concerts. Then I stopped dancing for a few years
until I met my partner Katie at Hustle USA in 1998.

I saw you on the Combinacion Perfecta video with the RMM dancers.
Tell us what that was like.
The RMM dancers were a lot of fun
to work with. All of the dancers were basically hand-picked by myself and a
girl named Bettina. We pretty much evaluated the different strengths of our
cast, and then used my past experience with staging and costuming to present
salsa/mambo in a new way. I drew from my past experience with Hustle and decided
we should add lifts and tricks to our opening number to give more volume and
impact to our movements since the arenas we were performing in had crowds of
up to 100,000 people. I think we were successful, since I am now seeing this
influence around a lot more today than I did when we put the show together back
in 1993.

Has dancing taken you anywhere globally? I have performed
in Europe, in Africa (we did a command performance for King Hussein and family
in Morocco!), in South America, the Caribbean. I'll be going to Singapore in
June to perform with Jami Josephson and Katie where we will be part of the show
at the Singapore Superstar International Dance Championships. Katie and I also
have been invited to compete at the World Exhibition Championships in Blackpool,
England at the end of May.

How, when, and where did you meet your current dance partner Katie?
We met at Hustle USA in 1998. Katie needed a partner to work with for her shows
for Dancesation! I had gone back to college and hadn't been performing or dancing
for a few years. I was considering coming back to performing and we just happened
to meet. It was fate.

What gave you the idea to hold an International Salsa and Hustle
competition?
Back in the 1970's Hustle was mostly being danced
in the Latin and Black clubs in NYC. The other popular "touch" dance
back then was Mambo (or Salsa).

A lot of the turn patterns we use in Hustle evolved from the turn patterns we
did in Mambo back then. Today there is a large Salsa population down here in
Miami. It really makes a great match, Hustle and Salsa. We are hoping for lots
of crossover, because ultimately for either dance to survive, we'll need that.

Have you done events like this in the past? Katie has been involved in the special
events industry for a number of years, so this was not the first time for her.
I used to produce nights at various clubs in NYC, and I also have a lot of connections
in the Hustle world. Between the two of us (along with our partner Randy Atlas,
who also has produced other dance events), we felt we had enough experience
to put it together.

We were all very impressed with the stunning show Saturday night.
What gave you the idea to produce and choreograph literally a BROADWAY SHOW for the event?
We brainstormed, and realized that we had the resources
to make it happen. The Dancesation! Company does large shows like this fairly
often. And, with our association with Jami Josephson and Arte Phillips, the
idea just kept getting bigger and better. It ultimately became what you saw
that Saturday night.

Do you produce shows like this often? Yes, Dancesation!
does things like this pretty frequently.

Was this your biggest show ever? No, it wasn't. But, we really had a lot of
fun collaborating with Jami and Arte. And we were all so thrilled with the audience's
response.

Are you planning on showing this production again? If so, where?
We'll be doing a modified version of the show at a hotel on Miami Beach over
the summer. It will have a smaller cast and have a little more emphasis on theatrical
dancing and singing rather than partner dancing since Dancesation! is primarily
a theatrical dance company.

What was the biggest thrill of the entire event, in your eyes?
Definitely the end of the show when we were taking our bows and everyone started
throwing roses. There were a lot of people there who are very important in our
lives, and that moment was a real high! But, the whole experience in the end
was also very gratifying -- we have received such wonderful feedback about the
event in general. We were so happy that everyone had such a great time!

What are your plans for this year? For next? We're
busy right now getting ready for Blackpool and Singapore. And, Dancesation!
has some shows coming up, including the show at the hotel. We're also on staff
at some conventions coming up, like DiscoAmerica in Philadelphia. For next year,
we are starting to plan the IHSC 2001.

Do you have a date for next year's event? (so we can all start planning!)
It looks like it will probably be the first weekend in April. We are just ironing
out some of the details. We are hoping to announce the official date and location
within the next few weeks.

If you had to live your life all over again, what would you have
done differently?
Nothing really. If I hadn't done everything
I did, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I have no regrets.

Questions for Katie:

How long have you been dancing? I've been dancing
professionally for about 20 years.

Where did you start? I actually started out as a child
with the usual ballet, tap and jazz classes a lot of kids take, with the yearly
recitals. I then went on to gymnastics, and became a competitive gymnast in
my teens. I stopped competing after my freshman year in college due to injuries.
Saturday Night Fever opened right around that time, and the disco craze was
happening. One night I saw hustle dancers in a nightclub and I was hooked. I
ended up going to school during the day and dancing hustle all night, every
night of the week!

What type of dance background do you have? Mostly
jazz, but I had to take a lot of ballet when I was involved with gymnastics.
I also do some tap. I studied in Florida, and also in New York City.

Have you competed? If so, where? Do you have any titles to your
name?
I did some hustle contests in Florida "back in the
days" as we say. However, I mostly just performed as a professional dancer.
I've really done more competitions with Billy than I ever did before.

Do you teach? If so, where? I primarily work producing
shows. But lately I have been teaching some private students Hustle at the studio.
I also assist Billy when he needs me.

Do you have a website? Right now, just for Dancesation!.
However, as Billy mentioned, we're hoping to have the "billy&katie"
website up pretty soon.

Tell us about your performing experience. The funny
thing is that I never intended to be a professional performer, but it just keeps
working out this way. My degree is actually in Business Administration. During
college, my dance partner and I were booked at local studios and things like
that. But, right after I graduated from college, I saw an audition notice one
day on the wall. I went on my lunchbreak from work just for fun. I ended up
booking the job, and I became a dancer on a cruise ship for about 4 years. It
was the most wonderful experience, and a great training ground for me as a performer.
We did long cruises, so we had a huge repertoire. We did cabaret style revues
as well as condensed versions of Broadway shows. I sailed around the world on
that ship, which was also a fantastic education. After that, I pursued television
and feature films. I booked some commercials and then some movies, and even
a few print jobs. I ended up getting my SAG card (Screen Actor's Guild) and
I moved to NYC. I got involved with corporate entertainment in 1990. I really
like it, and that has been my primary focus since then.

Has dancing taken you anywhere globally? When I was
on the ship, we travelled all over the world. I've been been to every continent.
Also, I choreographed a show that went out of Australia to Japan. With Dancesation!
we do work over the country, though not so much internationally. But Billy and
I are starting to travel internationally.

How did you meet your partner Billy? We met at Hustle
USA in 1998. I had been searching frantically for a new partner, and there he
was!

Have you both competed? Billy had more competition
under his belt than I did -- at least as a dancer. Most of my competitive experience
had come from gymnastics.

What made you decide to become partners? We both knew
what we were looking for in a partner. We both knew we needed a person who had
experience in both hustle and theatrical dancing, as well as adagio work. That
is a mix that's not that easy to find. We both feel blessed that we found eachother.


What gave you the idea to produce an International Salsa and Hustle competition?
Billy pretty much answered that one. But for me, I also felt it was time to
give back. In a roundabout way, I owe my professional dance career to hustle
dancing. I didn't mention this before, but I decided to take some jazz classed
my last semester in college. I went to a prominent modern company to take classes,
and the director of the company remembered me from the local Dance Fever auditions.
I ended up becoming a junior company member and studying all summer. That was
where I saw that audition notice on the wall.

Have you done events like this in the past? I was a partner in another dance
event a year ago. And, I have been involved in the special events industry for
a while.

We were all very impressed with the stunning show and performance
you did on Saturday night. How many hours of work did it take you to come up with your fabulous routine?
We rehearse a lot -- I don't know
if I can count the hours, since we have a number of different routines that
we do. We do love that one though. It's a lot of fun to perform.

Were you involved in the choreography or production of the event?
Yes, I was.

What was the biggest thrill of the entire event, in your eyes?
The answer from Billy is the same for me.

What are your plans for the remainder of year? For next?
Again, Billy and I have the same answer for that one.

Who do you plan on inviting to next year's event?
Well, you for one! We're actually discussing that now. It will be a lot of the
same people you saw this year, plus some new faces. There will be less of a
swing presence next year, however.

What should people expect for next year, and where will it be held?
We are trying to finalize our plans right now, and hope to have the official
answer to that question within the next few weeks.

If you had to live your life all over again, what would you have
done differently?
I don't know. I'm pretty happy with the way
life is turning out. Even the negative experiences have taught me things.

If you had the opportunity to sit yourself down, and hold a conversation
with your ?self?, what type of advice would you give ?Katie
Marlow??
To think clearly. To do the right thing; the fair
thing. To do the kind of work that brings you joy, because then it isn't work.
I don't know that these are original thoughts, these are things my mother told
me. She gave great advice though.