Unconventional Wisdom | The moving man, king of the dance floor

The other night, a friend asked me to go dancing. "Why not?" I said.

Time was, my dance-floor stylings were lethal, an F-5 tornado tearing through a trailer park.


"All's I know it was big, loud and Italian," a frightened park resident might say. "Oh, the humanity."

I had to correct that.

A high school pal of mine runs a dance studio in New York (it's called, with Brooklyn bluntness, You Should Be Dancing, not so much a suggestion as an order). He once told me every man should know how to fight, order in French, and tango.

As a young man, I took to beating up others (only when provoked, of course) with great aplomb. The other refinements, however, escaped me.

Until I met Chez.

Chez Cavana (rhymes with Havana) was my worldly mentor in the dancing arts. Owner of a dance studio outside Cleveland, he gave me a few ballroom dancing lessons for a friend's wedding.

Ah, but Chez taught me so much more than where to put my ungainly 12 triple-E feet. That's because Chez understood the power of dance.

A dapper 63 when I met him, Chez knew the price of holding women close. Three times he'd been married.

"This business of teaching dancing is too hard on marriage," Chez told me. "It's one thing to hold a girl. But to hold her to a piece of music you have sensations from - it intensifies the feeling."

His name and smooth moves suggested Cubano elan. That Cavana really was an Irish guy from Kentucky who dropped the final h in his name disappointed me only for a bit. Chez charmed regardless of the mundane nature of his lineage.

It was Chez's contention that women will fall for just about any man who can dance.

He would teach using music from the 1960s. Not Dylan or the Doors. He preferred the other '60s of Bedrock America - the people who turned in when others turned on, the group for whom Italian-born Annunzio Mantovani was not merely the godfather of elevator music, but the mood merchant of Venice.

Chez did not deny that many dance instructors are 10W-40 gigolos, oily ballroom operators who mambo for rich women's money. They take advantage of the juju of motion, the heat of the mad fandango, and corrupt the romance that's inherent in the dance.

Chez told me he was not like that. He was a life coach who derived pleasure from elevating a mere man into a ballroom god with just a few well-choreographed moves.

"The man's job is four times harder than the woman's on the dance floor," he'd yell out to us neophytes as "Guantanamera" played on the tape machine. "To do these dances, you must have knowledge. Guts alone won't suffice."

Chez now dances in an Elysian ballroom somewhere. But the lessons he imparted - that the tango melts women and that a dancing man garners admiration - stuck with me.

Dancing men, Chez correctly intoned, are never alone.

Contact columnist Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.