Dancers remember Patrick Swayze

Fundraiser pays tribute to late 'Dirty Dancing' star

NEW YORK -– Before Patrick Swayze was a film actor, a TV actor and People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive," he was a dancer.

And so it was fitting that a huge, eclectic group of dancers gathered to honor him this week at the annual fundraiser for Career Transition for Dancers, a group that helps dancers develop new careers after age or injury forces them to halt dancing.

Swayze had been chosen as this year's honoree well before his death in September of pancreatic cancer at age 57. His wife of 34 years, Lisa Niemi, seemed to tear up as she accepted the Rolex Dance Award on his behalf, telling the crowd her husband was now "dancing with the angels."

Monday's event at New York's City Center featured a huge variety of dancers of all types: ballet, modern, tap, jazz, salsa. Among the highlights: the "Stars and Stripes" pas de deux by Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette of New York City Ballet; the synchronized tap-dancing of the Lombard Twins; excerpts from Bob Fosse's "Dancin' "; and a salsa performance by unheralded youngsters Alexandra Gutkovitch, 10, and John Gaylan, 14, that brought down the house.

Swayze is best known for his roles in the popular films "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost," but his first professional job was as a dancer for Disney on Parade. He studied with the Harkness Ballet Company and then the Joffrey Ballet before joining the Eliot Feld Ballet as a principal dancer.

He also starred as Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of "Grease" before achieving sudden stardom as dance instructor Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing."