Wednesday 23rd April 2014
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Willie Desatoff

Willie Desatoff

In Loving Memory

Born on the 23rd of December 1921 in East Los Angeles, California. William Desatoff was without a doubt one of the greatest and most individual Balboa dancers of all time.

His parents were Russians who came over to America in the early part of the century. He was one of two children with his brother John surviving him. His family were craftsmen and the young Willie studied Russian and helped in his uncle's cabinet making business. He even spent a while working for a casket (coffin) maker. He often delighted in telling everyone how he used to take lunchtime naps in one of the coffins and practiced his slides on the sawdust covered floors. This early work lead to carpentry becoming his life long profession.

He first started dancing at his Junior High School at the tender age of 12. Initially he learnt the "box step" a local version of the Foxtrot but soon picked up LA style swing dancing too. He saw Balboa danced for the first time at the age of 16, marking the beginning of his lifelong love affair with the dance.

It was around this time that he started entering dance competitions. By the age of 20 he was going out dancing 5-6 nights a week and had a growing collection of winner's prizes from numerous dance competitions. Despite the distractions of the dance floor he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1940. With the onset of the 2nd World War he enlisted in the military forces. He joined the US Coastguard in 1942 and served with them for 4 years.

He married four times. His only daughter Manya was born in 1966 from his third marriage. In 1984 he met Lila Gavin at Dean Collins' house and made quite an impression on her. She later started taking dance lessons from him and they were soon engaged. They married on 14th June 1985 and Willie said "She was my best student, so I decided to marry her"! As a couple they became mentors and role models to many of today's best known Balboa dancers and teachers.

He continued dancing through the 1980's and 90s although he wasn't aware of the worldwide resurgence of interest in Balboa happening at that time. His health began to deteriorate and he was unable to continue dancing as frequently. In 2001 his health deteriorated further and he came very close to death before surprising his doctors by making a miraculous recovery. His health went from strength to strength and he began to go out dancing again.

It was a blessing that he was given another 4 years of life to enjoy. It was only in 2002 that he started to become aware of the worldwide interest in Balboa. He started to spend much of this time with people from the new dance communities. He loved to watch so many young people enjoying the dance that he loved so much. He appeared as a special guest at many dance camps across the US. Amongst other commitments he had planned to visit London for the first time to attend the London Balboa Festival.

Sadly, his health took a turn for the worse in September and he passed away in his home on the 1st October 2005. His body will be cremated at the Riverside National Cemetery on the 21st October.

He had gained a legendary status in the Balboa community due to the unique styling and techniques that he created for himself. He very much found his own way, drawing inspiration from his idol Fred Astaire and ending up with an aesthetic admired the world over. He was a major inspiration to the new generation of Balboa dancers of the revival years.

He will be sadly missed, yet live forever in our memories...

 

 

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