Even in death, Jackson inspires local instructors

DOWNEY - Joe Lofton has met Michael Jackson more times than most, but wasn't home the first time the pop icon stopped by his house."Back in 1974, Michael and his brothers were touring in California," said Lofton, while looking down his wide eyeglasses. "My cousin was interviewing them at the time. He told them about me and they drove all the way to Crenshaw and Venice to see me." Lofton, however, was gone. But he returned to find a note on his front door signed by Michael and his brothers. "Michael, to me, was destined for genius. He set a legacy that will be hard for any other entertainer to match," said Lofton soberly. The 69-year-old jazz musician and music instructor is just one of the many local dance and music instructors to express both praise and pain since the death of the King of Pop last Thursday. To hip-hop instructor Tomas Olivera, 24, Jackson was an idol and unmatched talent. At the age of 5, Olivera started emulating Jackson and his signature moves on the dance floor. "I imitated him," said Olivera, while wearing a grey T-shirt that portrayed a teenage Michael on the front. "When I heard he died, I didn't believe it at first, but once I heard his music playing on the radio, it hit me. He wasn't coming back." Now at the Barbara J. Riley Community & Senior Center, Olivera teaches eager kids how to glide, jerk and pop-lock to the latest hip-hop music. His class is just one of many across the city that teach choreography made famous by Jackson. With a class of five students, Ashley Williams, 19, set up her radio. Bending down, she leads the kids in a series of stretches while hip-hop resounded in the background. Williams, who teaches at the Downey YMCA, credits Jackson as the "James Brown of his era." "It's undeniable," said Williams. "He was a man that overcame the many obstacles in his life to take Black entertainment to another level." For one of Williams' students, Enrique Curiel, 16, Jackson did not influence him personally; however, Curiel recognizes that Jackson's music and choreography influenced the hip-hop of today. "He influenced others, who influenced our generation," he said. "We were influenced by him second-hand." Unlike the teens of today, dance instructor and choreographer Humberto Escobar, 44, remembers the Michael Jackson of 1978. "'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough' was one of my favorites. When I was a teenager I would dance to all his songs," said Escobar, who teaches Afro-Latin dances such as salsa, mambo, bachata and merengue. "It was a complete shock. You never expect this to happen," he said. "No one is going to ever dance like him." Brittany Mireles, 23, of OnStage Dance Center has been teaching dance since she was 15 and she admits to borrowing some of Jackson's moves. "We would watch the videos and use his turns, even the pelvis thrusts," said Mireles in a telephone interview. "His style was so original." Mireles teaches her class the choreography to Michael Jackson's 1983 music video 'Thriller' every Halloween. Lofton, who teaches voice, piano and drums at the Downey Music Center, knows that Jackson's legacy will live on. "Michael will be talked about 20 years from now. Young and old, he captivated everyone," he said. "Everyone has a little of Michael in them."

********** Published: July 3, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 11