After a career of working with celebrities and corporate powerhouses like Adam Sandler, U2’s The Edge and Twentieth Century Fox, longtime dance instructor John Cassese was laid to rest last month.

Known as Santa Monica’s “Dance Doctor” for more than 30 years, the native New Yorker first moved to Southern California in 1972 — long before he was a dance instructor coveted by Hollywood stars.

Whether it was for physical, emotional or mental wellbeing, Cassese was confident that the prescription for spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing was always a few (dance) steps away.

“He found dancing therapeutic,” Cassese’s daughter Karen Schwabe said in a recent interview where she discussed the colorful life of her father.

Prior to becoming the professional ballroom dancer he was known as, Cassese competed in a multitude of prestigious competitions and eventually moved to Manhattan, where he taught at Arthur Murray’s studio.

At the same time, Cassese began dancing in off-Broadway shows and revues at the Tavern on the Green and the Drake Hotel, Schwabe said. “He was also into music and formed a rock band,” while he worked on his artistic crafts and operated a nightclub with one of his brothers.

“But his real love was teaching,” Schwabe said, mentioning her father moved to Los Angeles in 1972 to pursue a recording career. Once in Los Angeles, Cassese’s cousin and Hollywood publicist Maria LaMagra “reinvented him as The Dance Doctor.”

Offering private in-home dance instruction, Cassese’s business became so popular he eventually was able to open a studio in Santa Monica that would serve as home to several instructors — some of which still teach a variety of genres including ballet, hip-hop, salsa, tango at the studio.

Although Cassese’s clients varied in age and experience levels, he was probably best known for training couples who are preparing for their wedding, according to Schwabe.

“He could teach and dance anything, but I know he really enjoyed helping couples prepare for their wedding,” Schwabe said. “He was very passionate about giving people confidence so they could have a memorable first dance at their wedding.”

When describing her father, Schwabe said, “He was your typical difficult New Yorker — fast moving, creative and very passionate — but he was so very kind to everyone. He didn’t judge others or distinguish between status. He treated everyone alike — with kindness — and he wanted to help them reach their dreams.”

Schwabe added it was her father’s vibrant, kind and helpful spirit that impressed people the most.

“He touched lives with his kindness, sense of humor and he really just wanted to help others through his dance and music and production,” Schwabe said. And it’s evident he did because there have been many clients and old acquaintances who have reached out asking about Cassese since they haven’t heard from him.

Even a month after his passing, it’s still hard for Schwabe to break the news.

“It was very hard to digest. I went to see him Monday, (October) 14th and Friday the 18th he was gone,” Schwabe said. “He was very health conscious, but little did he know or did we know that he had cancer. It wasn’t until September that he was diagnosed,” which was only weeks before he passed.

Cassese always believed he’d live until 100, “and I thought he’d outlive me,” Schwabe said, mentioning her 74-year-old father was still optimistic that he would recover and teach again up until the moment he passed. “He definitely wasn’t prepared for the end, but he fought — you know. He had such a strong heart.”

Cassese’s family has already held a funeral service, “but he touched so many people,” Schwabe said, the family will hold another service at 11 a.m. Feb. 1, 2020, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, located at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know how to reach the masses to let them all know of his passing,” Schwabe said, “but I invite anybody who wants to honor his legacy and what he’s done to attend.”

brennon@smdp.com

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