Hollywood and the world of entertainment have a long history of hard luck, good luck, tough luck, rags to riches and everything in between. In many cases, shown in biographies and documentaries detailing events from a rough start to a birth of a star, the stories usually end in a triumph of overcoming long odds, personal hardship, and various obstacles imposed by the nature of the biz, to achieve success. In some other cases the story may end on a less successful note, usually an accident or accidental overdose.
That’s why John Cassese’s story is more than inspirational. It warms the heart. He’s not only one of the survivors who beat the odds, overcoming issues stemming from childhood, which in most cases almost always dooms the person, but he ended up following his dream and becoming a highly respected professional in the industry.
Cassese is perhaps the most talented and sharing icon in the world of entertainment, but his story also has a number of layers that can teach and help generations after generations, and those who dare to care. He’s a multitalented creative artist who has excelled in the musical arts through sheer will and unquestionable talent, but who also is a magnetic and creative master of new age, classical and ballroom dance with a talent so unique it has made him become the most sought-after dancing and musical megastar of our time. He is known as the Dance Doctor, a well-deserved and hard earned title, but one that surely makes him a legend. Watch any of his videos and you will see that this man was born to dance. Not a surprise that he taught some of Hollywood’s biggest names to dance and appeared in countless shows as well as wrote some. But, John Cassese does not stop at dancing; he’s also a fabulous vocal performer, with a number of recordings that deserve a wide audience and even Grammy mention.
But things weren’t always so great. John Cassese grew up in a working class home in Lake Mahopac in upstate New York, the youngest of five sons born to a traditional Italian family. John’s father was hard nosed and old-fashioned, and expected his sons to follow him into the construction business.
That wasn’t going to work for young John. At an early age, at about ten years old, he realized that his heart and soul lay in another field, in the musical arts and, specifically, song and dance.
“There was always music in the house,” John says, “and I just started singing along. My mother was fond of musicals, Broadway soundtracks, and singers like Mario Lanza. I used to go to matinees with her and we saw the movies she loved together. I used to love watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance. I just wanted to be Fred. One of the most indelible memories of my life was seeing Marlene Dietrich at Radio City Music Hall in New York when I was a kid. She was an absolute vision in a stunning gown and trailing fur stole. I was just mesmerized.”
Bitten by the glamour of the movies and stage, John asked for dance lessons at the age of ten. He had an intuitive understanding of what made boys popular with girls. “I had heard that the best way to a man’s heart was though his stomach because a man loves to eat,” John says, “but I knew that the quickest way to a woman’s heart was through her feet because a woman loves to dance.” John’s father wasn’t so understanding and was often hard on John, physically abusing him at times in his frustration with John’s interests. It’s a trait that we see many times with the biggest names in history. There is something about wanting to overcome that environment by becoming successful. It is almost an invisible, unlooked at driving force.
Despite the tough times at home, John continued dance lessons and knew intuitively and instantly that was what he wanted to do. It wasn’t long before he became a local dance sensation, burning up the dance floor in competition. He quickly became popular at school dances, and began winning dance contests at a local dance emporium, the Village Barn. In high school he acted in numerous school plays and sang with the glee club. “Those were my fields of interest,” John says, “I loved music and dance, but not so much straight drama.”
Attempting to redirect his son’s career, John’s father persuaded his son to try working in accounting at a construction company. That only lasted two weeks for young John. The world of show business was out there, waiting, and for John Cassese, song and dance was going to be the ticket.
Arriving in New York City with a full measure of burning desire and talent, John Cassese quickly became involved in as many creative musical projects as he could. While he got a job selling women’s shoes by day, by night he was a man about town, playing rock ‘n’ roll in a band called Pegasus, auditioning for dramatic parts in local theater, and dancing wherever he could. He auditioned for Turtle Bay Music School, and was accepted on full scholarship, and became the first to introduce rock music to a classical music school cracking the traditional barrier for the first time.
Dancing took him to performances at Tavern on the Green, where he met his dance partner Nancy, and they quickly became one of the most popular dances teams in the city. But it was at the Plaza Hotel where perhaps his most significant breakthrough occurred. “I was opening for Judy Garland, and I invited my parents down to see the performance,” John says. “It was after that performance that my father finally recognized that his son was an artist, and had become successful as a dancer. That was a wonderful moment for me. His acceptance and proving myself to my parents was everything.”
Life in New York for John Cassese was good in those days. “I started out poor, in a small one room apartment, but I was determined to make it. I just knew I had the talent to succeed and took whatever jobs I could.” Cassese’s dance card was continually full, with live dancing performances, musical theater and even work on the Merv Griffin Show.
“I had a brother who had relocated to Los Angeles,” John says, “so I got intrigued and decided to come out and give it a try.”
John moved to Los Angeles in 1972, and starting out as an unknown musical artist proved to be challenging. “I just went all over town, meeting people, making contacts, teaching people to dance, doing whatever I could to get involved in the business.” He met a lot of people, worked with a songwriter and sold some material to Motown Records, and kept adding to his resume.
The breakthrough in southern California occurred when John decided to place an ad for dance lessons in a local paper. “My cousin, who is a publicist, suggested I take out an ad for in-home dance lessons and call myself the Dance Doctor,” John says, “you know, as in someone who makes house calls.”
He placed a small ad in the back of Los Angeles magazine in 1984 and the new name clicked. The word began to spread, and John Cassese was soon in demand all over town, giving dance lessons to anyone who wanted to learn. His calls took him from the humblest beginners to the homes of studio executives and celebrities. For a lot of people dance was therapeutic, a way to exercise and was also emotionally liberating.
I recently wrote a piece on a new movie (due to come out later this year) in which it is explained how “fear dance” is a psychological tool to get rid of unconscious fears and traumas. This is a scientific recognition. Mainly due to the fact that the body does not lie! Your mind may lie to you (and most of the time it does, as it really does not know the truth except it remembers a recorded feeling as the result of a certain experience, which feeling maybe so intense that it renders you into therapy for years, yet without any real results,) but the body will always know the truth. And, that is what you get from dancing. It is a healthy outlet to keep the flow of energy going, and prevent blockages whether emotional or physical. It gets rid of a problem before that problem has a chance to set in. When you dance on a regular basis you are a lot less likely to ever become depressed over any issue. Dancing people are happy.
As his client list grew, he found himself giving lessons to a couple where the wife, Beth Ann Krier, turned out to be a writer for the Los Angeles Times. She decided to do a story on John and the full blown feature put John Cassese, the Dance Doctor firmly on the map in Los Angeles and business began to boom.
From his humble beginnings in Los Angeles, giving lessons in his living room, to an expanded studio of 1,000 square feet next to JiRaffe Restaurant, Cassese was now finally able to move into his current studio, a 3,000 square foot gorgeous and well equipped facility on Fourth Street in Santa Monica. It’s a bustling center of activity, with 12 instructors and dozens of classes, and it’s become a go-to place for dance instructions in Los Angeles. Over the past thirty years in television and film, there’s hardly a venue in Los Angeles that hasn’t called on John Cassese, the Dance Doctor for his dancing expertise. Chances are if there’s a dance sequence in a TV or movie production, John Cassese has been involved in either creating choreography or coaching the performers. And John himself is often personally involved in dancing at many local functions, including movie premieres, celebrity birthday parties and local charity events. “I’m enjoying every minute of my life,” says John with a big smile on his face, which only makes him more handsome than he already is.
For John Cassese, following his muse, the art of dance and song, has allowed him to live his dream. But with all that success, there’s still more he’d like to accomplish.
In the picture: John Cassese with Holly Madison
“I still have a lot of ambition,” he says. “I’d love to have another successful TV show, and for me another goal would be to create a version of my life story in a feature film, and we’ve actually had some interest in the screenplay. I’ve had a lot of success, but I’ve also had to overcome a lot of personal pain to get where I am. I think it might be helpful to other people if that story was told.”
“As one more achievement, I am thinking about writing, choreographing, directing and staring in a Broadway musical about my life,” he says with that intriguing but humble smile. “I’m sure my mother would just love that.”
John is also actively involved with many charities and believes that giving from the heart is better than receiving. It is in the giving that we receive. He is an active patron of a charity that shelters homeless teenagers and as he gets daily invites to contribute to various causes, he never says no.
Vocals and Performance by John Cassese
I can count on one hand the number of people I have ever met or known of, who had the charisma, ambition, smarts and invaluable human virtue: determination to evolve that John Cassese has, which is what the 21st Century is all about. Humans need to evolve onto a whole new level if we are to make it into the next century. Cassese has that “third eye,” the understanding of the higher power and purpose that we all have within but may be unaware of. He sets an example to all of us by his unwavering determination and the clear focus of knowing one’s path. This is the story that needs to be told. This is the story that parents want their children to know and gain an understanding from that “no matter what happens you keep on in the direction of your destination (destiny.)”
Einstein said, do not become a man of success, become a man of value, and John Cassese did both. He proved that those who risk, win, and that talent eventually wins over everything else, no matter what! That is the law of the Universe!
About the Author: Adrienne Papp is a recognized journalist who has written for many publications including Savoir, Beverly Hills 90210, Malibu Beach, Santa Monica Sun, The Beverly Hills Times, Brentwood News, Bel-Air View, Celebrity Society, Celeb Staff, It Magazine, Chic Today, LA2DAY, among many others. She is the President and CEO of Los Angeles / New York-based publicity companies, Atlantic Publicity andAtlantic Publisher. Adrienne writes about world trends, Quantum Physics, entertainment and interviews celebrities and world leaders.