Profesional Dancer Career

by Pedro Juan Hernández
Translated by Victoria Álvarez

Carlos was an ambitious young man who wanted to standout in the world of performance and had a disposition that helped him overcome obstacles that presented themselves. Essential to his success was the development of a style that ultimately defined his career as a dancer. He was inspired by the Nicholas brothers, tap dancers from the ‘30s whom he idolized, whose style he adapted to Latin rhythms that were becoming popular in New York City and throughout the world. He added taps to the bottom of his Capezio shoes, and worked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Palladium in order to develop choreography for full routines. As a backdrop for his routines, he used music composed by Tito Puente. Initially, he selected a talented young African American named Andy Jerrick to be his partner, however his partner for the longest period was Nicasio Ramos, nicknamed Casitín, who worked at a factory that manufactured women’s hats.

Carlos Arroyo and<br />
MarkCarlos baptized his partner with the stage name Mike and allowed him to do comic interpretations of a host of famous entertainers dancing the mambo and the cha-cha, including Jerry Lewis, Charlie Chaplin, and even Elvis Presley. Mike, imitating Max Hyman, the owner of the Palladium, used to introduce him by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is how Jerry Lewis does the mambo.” One of the acts on Wednesdays was called "Cha-Cha Taps," and it was an all-around success because it combined tap dancing with the technical finesse of Latin rhythm dancers, as well as for its ingenious comedic elements. Thanks to these routines, Carlos was hailed for having the fastest feet at the Palladium.

At first, his attempts at performing in other cities and venues were met with great resistance. This was the case with entrepreneur Joe Waters from Boston, who rejected many of Carlos’ efforts to present his act at his club. He finally yielded when Carlos presented him with an offer where he would do a sampling of his and would only be paid if it was well received. The public delivered its verdict when the audience deliriously hailed "Cha-Cha Taps" and only then was Carlos able to insist that the club speak to his manager if it wanted to use his act. The time for asking for favors had passed once "Cha-Cha Taps" was embraced by the public and by investors.

Dancing at the Palladium opened the doors for other contracts. Sammy Davis Jr. contracted the pair as part of his show at the Harlem Club in Atlantic City. Sid Bernstein even invited them to be part of his show, “Easter Parade of Stars,” which Carlos referred to as the “Sepia Show.” In no time the "Cha-Cha Tap" show’s fate had been sealed, becoming a well-known international ambassador of new musical Latin rhythms on the dance floor.

Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Image Credits: Carlos Arroyo Collection | All Rights Reserved