Carlos "Mister Cha-Cha Taps" Arroyo Papers
Scope and Contents
Measuring 0.25 cubic feet the collection consists of recordings, promotional materials, newspaper clippings and photographs. It dates from 1947-2005 and documents Carlos “Mister Cha-Cha Taps” Arroyo’s professional life as a notable Latin rhythm dancer. It concerns his activities touring throughout North America, Hong Kong, Argentina, Africa, and Japan.
- Arroyo, Carlos (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright held by Centro.
Biographical / Historical
Carlos “Mister Cha-Cha Taps” Arroyo belongs to a select group of pioneering dancers and spokespersons for dance as a medium who performed on the legendary stage at the Palladium Ballroom, including “Cuban Pete” (Pedro Aguilar), Millie Donay, Augie y Margo, Andy Jerrick, Marilyn Winters, “Killer Joe,” and Mike Ramos, among others.
Carlos Arroyo was born in 1931 on Eduardo Conde Street in the Barrio Obrero district of Santurce, Puerto Rico, an area that was historically a community of runaway slaves, freed slaves, and laborers. He was the son of Carlos Jose Arroyo and Pilar “Lola” Almodovar. His father was a linotype operator, carpenter, and contractor, while his mother worked as a seamstress and domestic worker. They both liked to dance, play guitar, and sing duets. However, it was his grandmother, Marcela, who raised him when his parents migrated to New York during his formative years. She became the most influential person in his life, instilling in him a love of dance that ultimately became the focus of his adult life. From an early age, he grew accustomed to watching her dance and learning the steps that accompanied the beat of the music. During these early years, he studied at the Padre Rufo Manuel Fernóndez and Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón schools in the cangrejero neighborhood of Santurce, Puerto Rico.
At the age of sixteen, he reunited with his mother who was living on 122nd Street between Second and Third Ave in New York’s City’s East Harlem, otherwise known as “El Barrio.” Although he arrived by plane, many referred to him as a “Marine Tiger,” alluding to the last steamship that brought hundreds of Puerto Ricans to New York City after World War II. Like many young Puerto Ricans at the time, he went to Benjamin Franklin High School where students were divided along ethnic lines and fights often broke out between Puerto Rican and Italian students. It was during this time that he started to feel racism in ways he had never felt while in Puerto Rico. He found solace in his job as a fruit vendor at “La Marqueta,” a street market supplying a host of ethnic foods located on Park Ave between 110th and 116th Street, where he earned 13-15 dollars per week.
As soon as he had the chance, Carlos began looking for places where Puerto Ricans and other Latinos were dancing “la rumba,” a type of music whose rhythm was so catchy he was barely able to keephis feet from moving. This incidental encounter indefinitely changed his life’s path. At Park Plaza on 110 th Street and 5 th Avenue and at Club Obrero Español on 102 nd Street and Madison Avenue he could see stars from Latin America, such as the great Cuban musician Machito; the musicians Julio Andino and Marcelino Guerra, the group Alforana X and the Conjunto Capaceti. Although entering these places was prohibited for minors, being inclose proximity and catching a glimpse of these stars of entertainment was both stimulating and encouraging. At times he could hear live music that was blared onto the street, where he practiced and improvised dance steps he one day hoped to use on the dance floor. On other occasions he found ways to sneak into the club, masquerading as an adult by wearing a fake mustache, hat, and dress-shirt. Once inside on the dance floor he always managed to draw attention to himself, quickly becoming the focus of onlookers who cheered him on as he moved to the beat of the music. He and his spectators were frequently broken up by security guards, who insisted on removing the minor despite the crowd’s enthusiasm.
When he was finally of age, he felt liberated because he could finally enter the temples of music and dance he had so often dreamed of. The only thing left to find was a partner in crime. At the Savoy Ballroom, Carlos and his partner Ramoncilla started monopolizing the dance contest championships with a $25 prize, until Bob Buchanan, the owner of the club, prohibited them from competing. Nevertheless, he hired them to do a dance routine that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. His next goal was to dance (onWednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays) at the Palladium, the most famous of all the Latin clubs.
Federico Pagani, a show promoter, had established mambo dance competitions to select the best dancers. At first his partner was the African American Dottie, and later it became Puerto Rican Carmen Cruz with whom he won many competitions and with whom he was anonymously immortalized in the film Mambo Madness. Carmen was also his dance partner in performances at el Teatro Puerto Rico, Hispano, Triboro and at Mount Maitre in Canada, among others. His professional representation was initially handled by Charlie Raab, and later his manager was Fred Landers (the same person who managed Tito Rodríguez for many years). Finally, Carlos was living his dream; what had started as a hobby had turned into his passion and his livelihood.
In order to succeed in any field one needs to be talented, creative, and work arduously to achieve your goals. Without a doubt, Carlos was an ambitious young man who wanted to standout in the world of performance and had a tremendous disposition that helped him overcome obstacles that presented themselves. Essential to his success was the development of a style that ultimately defined his career as a dancer. He was inspired by the Nicholas brothers, tap dancers from the ‘30’s whom he idolized, and adapted it to the Latin rhythms that were becoming popular in New York City and throughout the world. He added taps to the bottom of his Capaccio shoes, working from 9am-3pm at the Palladium in order to develop choreography for full routines. As a backdrop for his routines, he used music composed by Tito Puente. Initially, he selected a talented young African-American named Andy Jerrick to be his partner. However his partner for the longest period of time was Nicasio Ramos, nicknamed “Casitín,” who worked at a factory that manufactured women’s hats. Carlos baptized his stage name “Mike,” and allowed him to do comic interpretations of a host of famous entertainers dancing the mambo and the Cha-Cha, including: Jerry Lewis, Charlie Chaplin, and even Elvis Presley. Mike, imitating Max Hyman (owner of the Palladium) used to introduce him by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is how Jerry Lewis does the mambo.” One of the acts on Wednesdays was called “Cha-Cha Taps,” and it was an all-around success because it combined tap dancing with the technical finesse of Latin rhythm dancers, as well as for its ingenious comedic elements. Thanks to these routines, Carlos was hailed for having the fastest feet at the Palladium.
At first, his attempts at performing in other cities and venues were met with great resistance. This was the case with entrepreneur Joe Waters from Boston, who rejected many of Carlos’ efforts to present his act at his club. He finally yielded when Carlos presented him with an offer where he would do a sampling of his work under the condition that he would only be paid if it was well-received. The public delivered their verdict when they deliriously hailed the act “Cha-Cha Taps,” and only then was Carlos able to insist that the club speak to his manager if they wanted to use his act in their club. The time for asking for favors had passed once “Cha-Cha Taps” was embraced by the public and by investors. Dancing at the Palladium opened the doors for other contracts: Sammy Davis Jr. contracted them as part of his show at the Harlem Club in Atlantic City. Sid Bernstein even invited them to be part of his show, “Easter Parade of Stars,” which Carlos referred to as the “Sepia Show.” In no time the Cha-Cha Tap show’s fate had been sealed, becoming a well-known international ambassador of new musical Latin rhythms on the dance floor.
The Cha-Cha group tap danced for various audiences in different venues: the Palladium, Teatro Puerto Rico, Club Harlem, Apollo Theater, Baby Grand, RKO, Bronx Casino, Brooklyn Paramount, Honka Monka and many, many others that highlighted Puerto Ricans, Hispanics, and Northamericans alike. They also presented their act in a variety of countries: Canada, Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan, Argentina and Puerto Rico. In the U.S., they toured to various cities, including New York, Chicago, Las Vegas (the Mecca for adult entertainment), Miami, and Atlantic City. In the variety shows of the time, they were featured alongside personalities from all over the world; they included Sammy Davis Junior, Tito Puente, Harry Belafonte, Tito Rodríguez, Pedro Vargas, Mirta Silva, Bobby Capó, Dámaso Pérez Prado, Santos Colón, and many others. Friendships with these famous artists helped to further his career, as was the case when Tony Bennet came to see his show at the Zabra and ended up joining the act by singing along, as well as with Pedro “Piquito” Marcano who recommended them to the Hotel Flamboyán in Puerto Rico. They were also invited to do performances on television stations in New York (the Johnny Carson show, Steve Allen show, and Perucho show), Puerto Rico (Bobby Capó and Mirta Silva).
Their longer international trips were to Buenos Aires, Argentina where they intended to stay for a week but extended their stay to seven months, and their trip to Japan where they also remained for seven months. When they performed in the “Paris of South America” (Buenos Aires), it was at the Zabra alongside the Bucaneers (an African American group), and on Channel 7 with Antonio Prieto. Their most revered performance in Argentina was at the Teatro Nacional with the variety show by Domenico Moduño, in which they interpreted the music hit “Volare” to widespread acclaim. Carlos also met Antonio Barbieri, the Argentine comedian, as well as José Curvelo, one of the musicians who played with Tito Puente and agent for many musicians. On his trip through Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Japan he appeared before Tito Puente and his orchestra. In this last stop, they were so successful that their contract was extended for several months. It was there that he had the accident that almost led to the end of his career as a dancer. During one of his performances, he was doing a number where he jumps and lands in a “split” in the middle of the stage. During the stunt, one of the technicians moved the platform, causing him to fracture his leg, and had to return to the U.S. as a result. Although Carlos recuperated from the accident, he felt his feet were never able to move in quite the same way again.
Dámaso Pérez Prado, the Cuban known as the “King of Mambo,” asked Carlos to choreograph a new dance style – “el Dengue” – which he thought had the potential to replace the “Twist.” They premiered the Dengue at the Bronx Casino in October of 1963, doing multiple previews where Carlos alternated dancing with Mike and Marietta, a well-known dancer at the time. Next they debuted the routine on the Johnny Carson show as well as at the Hotel Tropicana in Las Vegas for several weeks. Nevertheless, the new dance style didn’t catch on the way Pérez Prado had hoped. Carlos advised Pérez Prado that the rhythm was too fast even for professional dancers and attributes this as the possible reason for why it didn’t attract the attention of the public. Professionally Carlos did other performances with Mike, among them at the Club Flamboyán in the Condado district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he appeared alongside the Mexican singer Pedro Vargas and the Puerto Rican singer-composer César Concepción. During this time he also worked with Bobby Capó on channel 7. It was in Puerto Rico that Mike decided to remain and work instead with the group el Gran Combo; meanwhile Carlos Arroyo returned to New York, where he paired up with the African American dancer, Mark Scott.
During this period he tried to make his mark as a musician with his group “Sextette” performing at the Palladium Ballroom. Nevertheless, he ditched the idea of having said group and dedicated himself to the “Cha-Cha Taps,” extending his career as a dancer until 1970. He did performances at the Alameda Room with Mirta Silva, el Teatro Boulevard in the Bronx, Club Harlem in Atlantic City, Corso and Honka Monka with Ray Barreto and Johnny Pacheco.
Carlos Arroyo dedicated twenty years of his life to working exclusively as a successful professional dancer. His passion for dance took him all around the world, introducing him and collaborating with some of the best Latin and Northamerican musicians of the ’50s and ’60s. Moreover, he can be described as one of the greatest Latin rhythm dancers of the period, as evidenced by his collection of documents at the Centro Archives. Despite having “retired” as a dancer in order to dedicate himself to other interests, he reappeared as part of an homage to Tito Puente at Yale University in January of 2000, alongside Mercedes Ellington (Duke Ellington’s granddaughter). In September of 2005 he was recognized by the Pierre Dulaine Dance Club as one of the dance celebrities of the Palladium dance era.
Carlos Arroyo, “Mister Cha-Cha Taps,” is a legend in the Latino and Puerto Rican community that has left a tremendous legacy for lovers as dance in the generations of today and of the future.
0.25 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
Metadata Rights Declarations
Carlos "Mister Cha-Cha Taps" Arroyo grew up in El Barrio in New York City and went on grace the legendary stage of the Palladium and travel around the world as a professional dancer for over twenty years in the 1950s and '60s. His collection documents his time on the stage with promotional material, photographs and news clippings of his storied career.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Carlos Arroyo.
List of dance partners
- Carlos "Mister Cha-Cha Taps" Arroyo Papers
- Pedro Juan Hernández with assistance from Ana Rosa Perez.
- August 2020
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- May 2022: Notes revised and physical collection reviewed by Herbert Duran and Lindsay Wittwer.