Bert, originally from Germany, started his show business career as a young boy with the European circus. Eventually he migrated to the United States, where he had danced in Las Vegas. In the 70’s, when I started classes with him, Bert lived on a small farm in the country an hour away from San Francisco. He had to drive to San Francisco every Friday night for his class, but he never seemed to mind.
When teaching, he wore his cowboy boots and jeans and simply tied up his shirt at the chest. His gentle German accent gave us encouragement, words of wisdom, and stories. We danced to Baladi, Bolero, Chiftateli, 7/8, 6/8, and 9/8 rhythms. We rarely did floor work or separate finger cymbal patterns. Instead, Bert would teach us a combination of steps, and then around in a circle we would go, repeating them until we learned them. Often, he would choose one or two students in the class to demonstrate the step or combination as it looked when done well. The dancers would have completely different styles unique to themselves and their body types, so the combinations looked very different on each person. Bert consistently and emphatically supported the individuality of every dancer, a quality of his teaching which strongly appealed to me.
Bert was who people studied with when they wanted to get jobs in the clubs. The talent scouts for the local night clubs would occasionally come to class to watch. They loved it when Bert had the dancers demonstrate his steps. On those nights, the more advanced dancers would wear their finest outfits and hope to get hired. Then the scouts would choose people to perform at one of the famous North Beach clubs such as the Bagdad or the Casbah. It was both exciting and intimidating for us newer dancers. At the next class we would feel the absence of the lucky women (I don’t remember men in that class, except of course for Bert), usually the best, who were now working on Fridays and so were unable to attend class.
©2022 Marianna Mejia