My friend, Jack

My friend, Jack

My friend, Jack

I learned just recently of the passing of a dear friend, Jack Duddy.  I feel bad or at least sad that I had not learned of his death earlier.  He went to big floor February 25, 2010 at the young age of 80.  It is in many ways indicative of much of society to ignore those that built many of the foundations on which current business models operate, only because they failed to or had no desire to achieve stardom.  While anyone who knew Jack knew that he needed and most probably deserved to be the center of attention, his desire for recognition was founded on the principal that people came to a studio to dance and to have fun and it was his job to make sure they did so.  Anybody who met Jack would at some time feel they too were stars.

His uncanny ability to remember what each lady wore as an outfit dancing a Tango or whatever in a Showcase six months past as well as the scores or marks he gave her was just one personal way he made each participant feel like a star.  He recognized that not every person who competed could win.  He knew that you could feel special and be treated like a star without being a winner of anything.  He felt that those that couldn’t be competitive could still be important.  He knew that through dancing, you could meet new people, experience a new life and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

I still have my “I survived a Jack Duddy Trip” T-shirt and suspect that many others do as well.  While you were with Jack, there would always be a new activity, and another way to push the boundaries.  Sleep was something you could do later and dancing at the local clubs and to the local music was a lesson in how life should be enjoyed.  I remember once, going from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios in Jamaica and along the highway one of our group remarked how some poor guy was sitting in a hammock with coconuts all around him, waiting for someone to stop and buy.  The person in our group remarked as to how hard his life must be, and Jack immediately said that we were all spending thousands to go down there and experience this guy’s life for a few days, and this guy’s biggest problem was getting from the hammock along the road to the one clearly visible a hundred yards closer to and along the beach where we assumed he lived in a small hut, still bigger than our expected hotel room.   A few days later as we were returning to the airport, this same guy mused as to whether the man with the coconuts might want to change places.

I remember sitting in the old DuPont Hotel in Puerto Rico listening to the Cuban music of Damiron, and Jack would sit with his trademark Vodka and Tonic (another story here) and explain to and tap out for new teachers the subtle and obvious differences in rhythms in Mambo, Cha-Cha and other Latin Dances.  He could take the man who said he had no rhythm and sit him on a speaker and explain the difference between rhythm and timing in just a few seconds so the man would never again miss the beat or fail to find the ‘one’ beat.  Jack never claimed to be a great dancer, but was always a fun dancer and a great leader.  He could make his partner feel special and at the same time entertain those around him he never met, and still walk away with every other man many wondering just what happened.

Most coaches and consultants remember the well healed and truly talented.  Jack could take a look at the expertly choreographed routine by the champion du Jour and realistically remind the teacher of the flip head over heels part that was never going to work or look good on a particular student and replace just that part with the understanding that good execution by the student is as valuable if not more so than fancy choreography by someone else.  Jack would remind studio operators that they had an obligation to make their own staff the stars and encouraged us to teach them how to be better, instead of hiring an outside show.  Not that he did not recognize talent, and encouraged us as operators to set up time for staff members to use the visiting pros to develop their own dancing and teaching ability rather than using consultants to go around the teachers as often happens today.

Jack was never politically correct, and when much of the industry was in hurry to embrace anything with an accent, Jack noted that the people we met in their native countries were never as rude or arrogant as they would become when they came to the United States.  Yet as each came to know the other some of his favorite teachers and admired dancers were those from overseas.  He travelled enough, Australia to Hawaii, all around the country to Europe to know that fun as well as entertainment could be local and glorious without being provincial.  He felt that politics could be taken out of competitions by hiring people from other countries who knew no one as long as they were not allowed to sit with or speak to judges and coaches who are all are beholding to someone.

Movies tend to show dancers congregating and then meeting in the big coliseums, amphitheaters and later clubs and discos and other grand venues.  They listened to the Big Bands, met their sweethearts and lived the rest of their lives happily ever after.  I don’t know, maybe that is how Jack and Joan Duddy met.  In fact, many more people came to the dance or a dance studio, with a partner in hand or the hope of finding one, where one or more was looking for a safe place to meet, and a chance to find out about the other and a way to escape if necessary.  The community of dance friends you developed was group that were brought together by people like Jack Duddy who knew that you too could be the star in your own life, and it was our job to make that life a little more interesting, sometimes a bit more spontaneous, and always filled with a few jokes, a few good friends, and many good times.

Many may not remember how they met, but if you met Jack you will remember that life was more fun having known him.  In the 50 +/- years that he was associated with the studios of Arthur Murray’s from the time of Arthur himself, the number of students that were in one way or the other influenced by his ever friendly demeanor, his memory of the littlest details, the support he would offer everyone and yes the jokes he would tell over and over will be in the thousands.  The lessons learned and passed on to the next generations of studio operators who influenced their teachers, the teachers who passed on lessons to students and students who enjoyed better lives with their families is a number too high to estimate and too significant to forget.

Next Friday at happy hour, let’s all raise a toast and tell a friend of your fondest memory of a dear friend.  Remember him often and don’t be afraid to live the real lessons learned.

Michael Reichenbach

Dance Week


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *