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Editor's Note: You ever wanted to know about the glamour of a dancer's life behind stage. Here Jai Catalano shares with our readers one of his memorial experiences. - Manny Siverio 

You ready kid? An experience with Tito Puente 
- by Jai Catalano

Candy picked up the telephone at a quarter to 2 on that special Monday in late fall 1999. I was in the other room watching television when the phone rang, so I made no effort to see who was on the other line. When Candy finished she took a few moments to come tell me what the message was. I was a bit curious but I was too lazy to get up and hear mundane news like we have rehearsal tonight or would you like to try a free subscription to the New York Times. Then she slowly entered the living room to give me the news. I could see on her face that this was good news, but not the kind of good news you get when you pass your history final or when the dentist tells you that you have no cavities. This was the kind of good news that would stay with you for the rest of your life. Candy finally explained that Maria Torres wanted us to do a show with her, Eddie, and Tito Puente at Brooklyn College. We jumped at the chance to be the only dancers on Stage with Tito Puente and his orchestra. However, there were 2 problems. Eddie and Maria were bringing the costumes and we had 45 minutes until the show started.

38 minutes later we were standing breathless at the dressing room waiting to do a show with "El Rey de Timbal" and "The Mambo King." We had heard that Tito was already there, but not surprisingly, Eddie and Maria were late. That is when I realized I had only a few minutes to change into a costume that Eddie was bringing to me. Now anyone who knows Eddie, and I say this with the utmost respect and love, knows that the words late and Eddie Torres are synonymous. Fortunately, for Candy, she still had the costume that Duplessey (Eddie Torres’ niece) had loaned her the week before, however, she looked like a million dollars and I looked like an over dressed bus boy. We quickly came to the conclusion that I needed to put something around my neck or waist to give the illusion that I belonged on stage with Candy. Now mind you, the band was setting up and there were no other dancers to trade outfits with, so I did what any normal dancer in my situation would do. I started looking through people’s personal belongings for something to wear on stage. Being that there wasn’t much in our dressing room, I quickly ran out into the hallway and that is when I saw Tito. My heart stopped for a second, but not because it was Tito Puente but because I ran out so quickly that I scared the Sh-- out of myself when I saw another person right in front of me. We were arms length apart when he asked me, " you ready kid?" I said, "yes sir whenever you are." He said, "good." Then he turned around and went towards the stage and I started to go through anything that looked remotely like a cloth or scarf. 5 minutes later I heard the music play.

Both Candy and I knew, from doing multiple shows with Tito, that we had 2 songs before we were supposed to dance on stage. That gave us a good 10 extra minutes but I still had nothing to wear. My biggest fear was that Tito was going to tell his speech about music and dancing and how the 2 were inseparable and then, nobody shows up to dance. I quickly ran in to tell Candy that Tito was playing when our prayers were answered. She looked at me with a sleeve in her hand and a grin on her face and said, "let’s use Duplessey’s glove as a tie. I laughed and said, "you’re a genius" as she placed the glove around my neck. Now, the next problem was how to get a glove to look like a tie or at least a scarf and not a fancy, rhinestone filled dinner napkin. Within minutes she had finished, and that is when I looked in the mirror and prayed that Tito Puente didn’t stop the show and laugh at me or make a comment about my indescribably pathetic look. Tito was known for doing things like that, however, there was no time to spare for the second song was at the coda. At that moment we ran into the hallway to go to the stage and as we opened the hallway door, Eddie and Maria were there. I quickly told him the story as he laughed and told me that I had done a good job, but that the outfits I needed were in the bag. I almost wanted to go on stage with a sleeve around my neck for all the hard work we did, when Maria handed me my stuff. As Tito started to make his speech, Candy and I ran to the stage with the stuff in our hands. Eddie and Maria followed to give me my cue as I dressed and ran at the same time. I finally finished dressing when Tito started our entrance song, Mambo Inn.

I stood at the edge of the curtain thinking to myself, that it was just a matter of time before all of this would come to an end for Tito. This show, my experience at Brooklyn College, and the problems Candy and I faced that day, were just moments waiting to happen. Tito was almost 77 years old, and being that my own father passed away at 55, I figured that my opportunities of dancing on stage with him were numbered too. I felt honored and privileged to be 1 of 2 dancers there for him that day. Tito always had faith in Eddie and his dancers. I felt that Eddie too held the same views as we were peaking to go out and please the crowd with Tito leading the way musically. I glanced briefly at Tito to see his beautiful smile and then I looked at Eddie for my cue. The time was now or never as Eddie pulled his arm down swiftly. Candy and I did back spot turns to a crowd of 2500 and a stage filled with one of the greatest Salsa bands that ever played. Tito Puente, his orchestra, Eddie and Maria Torres, and the completely filled audience all watched us center the stage. That’s when Tito and the crowd went wild

Click here for more info on Jai & Candy's Dance Studio.

Click here for their listing in the Directory of Mambo Performers.


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