CEO AT LEISURE: The Chiefs Of Cha Cha

It doesn’t take much to get Arista records President Clive Davis bopping on the dance floor at a party. “He’ll [...]

April 1 1990 by Amiad Josef Finkelthal


It doesn’t take much to get Arista records President Clive Davis bopping on the dance floor at a party. “He’ll dance to anything that’s Arista music,” notes deejay Bob Pileggi. “Anything.”

Pileggi provided Davis with a proposed playlist for an Arista party, and then the two argued over whether Pileggi should play anything besides the record company’s music. Finally, Pileggi gave in and agreed that five continuous hours of Arista music was a great idea. But Pileggi put on some Motown anyway, “which made the place rock.”

Davis and his employees were dancing up a storm at the party in the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel when Pileggi took a wireless microphone and shouted, “All right everyone, let me see your hands up in the air, come on-let me see ‘em!” “At the same time, the Broadway show Me and My Girl was performing in the theater next door,” Pileggi recalls. Suddenly the stage manager appeared at the party and ran over to the deejay booth, pink faced and breathless. “Listen,” he cried, “your wireless mike is transmitting to our theater. Every time you shout, let me see your hands up in the air,’ the theater audience thinks they’re being asked to applaud, and for the last 10 minutes, they’ve been interrupting the most important scene in Me and My Girl with thunderous standing ovations!”

A worried caterer approached Pileggi at a Shearson Lehman party in Bermuda and said, “I don’t see how we can get anyone to dance; the ratio of guys to girls here is 10 to 1.” Pileggi’s solution: turn it into a fraternity party “with lots of Animal House music.” Result: “Instead of ending at 2 a.m., the party just went on and on, until 3:30 a.m., when the caterer begged, ‘Please Bob, end it already.’ I stopped the music. Well, when the guys heard the party was over, they started going nuts. One guy went out and drove a moped into the swimming pool, another took a security guard and threw him in the pool, a couple of people pulled fire alarms, and everyone kept shouting, `We want to dance till the break of dawn!’ “

But let’s not get carried away: For many CEOs, dancing is a serious business. Says Martin Turk, CEO of National Equity & Development, Falls Church, Va.: “Women like men who dance because when a man leads a woman on the dance floor, he sweeps her up in his arms and carries her along with him. A good dancer’s poise can impress business associates, too. A dancer gets used to standing straight, putting his chest forward and smiling, so when he strides into a client’s office, he just looks confident.”

Turk became convinced he should take dance lessons when he let his wife dance with an 80-year-old man at a party and in exchange, the man told Turk, “Take my old lady for a whirl.”

“I didn’t know how to dance, and after a couple of minutes, the old lady got annoyed and shouted, ‘Listen, boy: You got two feet-use ‘em.’ “

Back then, Turk never dreamed his passion for dancing would drive him to build a 1,000-square-foot ballroom adjacent to his house. But the project has just been completed, making Turk perhaps the only person in the world with his own personal ballroom. Turk apparently had no problem getting neighbors and community leaders to approve his plans; National Equity & Development specializes in zoning, land development and assemblage. The ballroom should end his worries about being cramped for space.

Richard Parker, CEO of Gulf Coast Pipeline in Fort Lauderdale, is even more space conscious since his wife wears a 40-foot feather boa when they fox-trot. As a result, the Parkers try to avoid dancing in crowded supper clubs, particularly the ones with dance floors that are barely 10 feet across. On one occasion, however, when Mrs. Parker had no choice but to go to a supper club, she simply cleared away the chairs and started boogying.

Parker became so enamored with dancing that he cofounded a new chapter of the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association with Brooks Watson, CEO of Building Engineering and Greenwood Realty of West Melbourne, Fla. The Melbourne chapter co-sponsors an international dance contest for college students and encourages students to enter by helping them find inexpensive ball gowns. “Dancing can be an expensive hobby,” Watson says. “Amateurs spend as much as $20,000 a year on things like fancy outfits and contest entrance fees.”

But the rewards can be great, too. After only four months of dance lessons, Watson won nine first prizes at the Houston Pro-Am. Exclaims he: “At first I thought I was just lucky, but when I soon went to another contest and won nine more prizes, I started thinking someone was pulling my leg. I believe some judges give out prizes just for showing up.”

Turk says some judges’ decisions mystify him. “I won all the dance categories at Arthur Murray’s northeast regional championships except for the tango, which I thought I really had nailed. I don’t understand the judges’ decision-I was right on the music and I was snappy and sharp where I had to be. But judging dance is very subjective-it’s judging art. When you win a dance contest, the judges don’t tell you what your strong points are-it’s not like pulling off a business deal and knowing exactly why you succeeded.”

Turk learned the tango at his local Arthur Murray dance school, where students celebrate their progress by dressing in frilly costumes like people in an Argentine tango house. In keeping with Arthur Murray’s belief that students express their passions through dance, Turk also learned “Dirty Dancing,” a Hollywood version of Latin dancing emphasizing erotic hip gyrations. It’s based on the movie Dirty Dancing, in which Patrick Swayze plays a dance instructor oozing raw sexuality as he leaps about in a black cutaway tux. Turk is equally dashing in a sequined, puffy-sleeved Latin shirt that makes him look like a veritable Don Juan.

Latin dances were “dirty” even before Dirty Dancing’s 1987 premiere. The mambo began in Haiti as the ritual dance of voodoo, and the merengue with its mixture of African and Spanish styles means “to dance with wild abandon.” These dances were widely popular in the 1930s and later suffered a decline until Dirty Dancing came along and revived the public’s Latin passion.

There’s also renewed interest in ballroom dances from the 1920s-as evidenced at the B’Nai B’Rith Anti-Defamation League’s recent fund-raiser. What could have been a dull charity event turned into a Roaring Twenties bash when the party producer, Chez-Zam Entertainment of Deer Park, N.Y., released its “dancing girls” on the CEOs in attendance. The normally staid Irwin Greenberg of Hess’s department stores approached a woman in a Great Gatsby getup, flung his arms around her, and swept her up in a spontaneous Charleston. Chez-Zam also came up with an appropriate theme for a party honoring New York real estate developers: “It’s a Jungle Out There.” When Tishman Chairman John Tishman entered the ballroom, he heard jungle music punctuated by animal screams as dancing girls dressed like cockatoos, lions and zebras enticed him onto the dance floor.

But at a Broadway-style salute for Loews Hotels, President Jonathan Tisch took the lead while his dancing girls merely followed. Tisch came out dressed like Fabian and danced the twist before leading a chorus line of long-legged beauties around the ballroom, while deejay Bob Pileggi played “One Singular Sensation” from the Broadway show, A Chorus Line.

Even Donald Trump and Mew Griffin are getting into the nostalgia trip. Their role: backing the establishment of a Big Band Hall of Fame in Palm Beach, Fla. Helen Boehm, chairman of Boehm porcelain and a longtime supporter of the proposed hall of fame, says she’s amazed at how quickly CEOs have caught on to big hand dancing once again. “It seems like only yesterday I was dreaming of being Ginger Rogers,” she remembers.

The following planners can choreograph your show: Mickey Harmon Productions, (212) 541-4700; Bob Pileggi’s Disc Connection, (516) 351-6471; Howard Lanin Productions, (212) 752-0960; Capricho Inc., (504) 525-2801.