Deloris, with the mayor of Estepona at the unveiling of the square named in her honour.
More than 50 years dancing in Estepona

More than 50 years dancing in Estepona

American dancer, choreographer and model Deloris Perlmutter talks about how she became one of the Costa del Sol's best-loved dance teachers

Ash Bolton

Friday, 26 March 2021, 17:28

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If you ever take a stroll through Estepona's Plaza Deloris Perlmutter and wondered what the story was behind the name - well read on.

Deloris was born in Washington DC in 1940 and grew up with two brothers, a truck-driver dad and a stay-at-home mum.

At nine years old she found a passion for dancing and started classical ballet classes - something which she continued until the age of 20.

But the United States was racially segregated at the time, meaning it was difficult for a black woman to become a ballerina. So in 1957, at the age of 17, Deloris moved to New York City, where, thanks to her talent, she won two scholarships, one for the New York City Ballet and one for the Katherine Dunham School, where African Americans were accepted at the time.

Deloris, 81, told SUR in English: "So the talent was there, it was just the racial factor.

"Back then if you were black and wanted to join a ballet company, it was literally impossible."

After realising that her skin colour could prevent her following her dreams, she began to learn modern dance, and focussed on Afro-Cuban rhythms.

At the time the 18-year-old was performing in a theatre and two Cuban boys, who were in the audience, liked her style. They ended up forming a dance act called The Wattusi Trio.

The act proved quite successful and in 1959 they got a contract to perform in Mexico and South America.

Over the course of four years, they were opening acts for famous singers such as Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr and Nat King Cole.

"That's the first time I left the States, and we just never went back again," she added.

In 1963 the trio went to Spain, where their fame grew after touring Barcelona, Bilbao and Madrid.

Deloris, who by now had got married to a Dane and had a two-year-old daughter in tow, said: "We were really successful in Spain, the country only had one television channel, so if you were on the TV, everyone knew about you. So our name quickly spread throughout Europe and the Middle East.

"We visited Paris, Stockholm, Iran, Israel, Italy, Germany, but Spain was always our base and we kept an apartment in Madrid."

One of the most memorable moments of her career was in Jordan, when she ended up giving an impromptu performance to the king in 1967.

She explained: "We were about to go on stage in the theatre, and all these cops came in backstage and said we had to go and perform for the king right then and there. So they had a lovely big limousine for us, they took us over to the castle, we performed, they took us back, and we went on stage at the theatre like nothing had happened.

"But I was like 'wow, do you realise what just happened?' That was incredible."

Then in 1968, the family moved to Estepona - where Deloris has been for the past 53 years.

Deloris recalls: "I really liked the ambience on the coast. I was just accepted so well, and it was wonderful that I was able to continue my career and people were so interested."

In 1971 Deloris opened up the Jazz Ballet School in Estepona, where she taught hundreds of youngsters until it closed in 1978.

It was the first school dedicated to dance in the town and specialised in the fusion of African rhythms such as Afro-Cuban, funk, gospel and ethnic-jazz, where she taught, among others, the Spanish actress Silvia Espigado.

She explained: "After 1978 I continued teaching privately along the coast. I wanted to see if I could get how I felt about dance over to people, and it worked, it was very successful."

Around the same time she started modelling for designers such as Elio Berhanyer, a big name in the Spanish fashion world, and was working as a choreographer on several television programmes.

The family briefly moved to London from 1979 to 1981, as they wanted their daughter to experience what it was like to live in a city, before returning to Estepona.

Popular petition

Last October, Deloris hit the headlines again after local residents voted to name a square in her honour. Some 200 people turned up for the event in the old town, after a petition was signed by hundreds of locals who wanted to thank her for more than four decades of teaching dance in Estepona.

She recalled: "I could barely talk when the town hall told me that people had voted to name the square after me.

"It felt quite amazing to have recognition for all the work I've done over the years. It really is wonderful and an honour."

As for what the future holds, Deloris has no plans to retire just yet.

She added: "I'm still teaching dance to adults - I like it better as they already come to you with a style. I will continue this as long as I can and maybe even do some more workshops.

"But I also want to visit my daughter and grandson more in San Francisco."

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