Well Known Rockaway Dance Teacher Turns 88
Rabinowitz, who’s been teaching dance for nearly 40 years, celebrated her 88th birthday last month. She shared a card-table-sized chocolate cake with members of the Rockaway Park Senior Center, sponsored by JASA (Jewish Association for Services for the Aged).
Many center regulars say they’re better dancers, thanks to her classes. “Word got around, ‘If you want to learn how to dance, go to Esther,’ ” Rabinowitz says proudly.
“She has the patience of a saint,” says Jeff Sobel, who began learning line dancing from Rabinowitz at JASA in 2002.
He was looking for interesting things to do after retiring from his job as a steno-typist with the federal government, and then working for a while as a physician’s assistant.
Sobel learned his lessons well enough to begin leading his own line-dancing class at JASA earlier this year.
Rabinowitz, whose trademark brightly colored hats, outfits and shoes make her stand out in any crowd, says she has always enjoyed her teaching stints at private parties, senior centers, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes all over the city.
“There’s nothing not to like about teaching dance,” she says. “I’m good at it. I bring pleasure to people, and that gives me pleasure,” says Rabinowitz, a retired X-ray technician.
She began teaching dance in the 1970s, first as a volunteer with the former Hartman YMHA in Far Rockaway, and then as a paid instructor at the Y, at JASA and other senior centers and temples in Rockaway, Brooklyn and Queens.
Sylvia Heller of Rockaway Park credits Esther with teaching her husband, Arthur, to learn how to trade in his shuffling feet for graceful dance steps.
“I couldn’t ask him to take lessons myself because I was afraid it would lead to an argument,” Heller says of her late husband. “He never liked me telling him what to do. But when Esther suggested it, it was fine with him,” she says, adding that dancing together brought a lot of fun into their marriage.
Many at the center fondly recall Rabinowitz’s former summertime gig, “Dancing under the Stars,” at the boardwalk and Beach 86 Street, beginning in 1980 and continuingfor 15 years, first sponsored by the New York City Parks Department and then Lew Simon, now District Leader.
Among her successful pupils is Arthur, her husband of 69 years. He’d been too busy working as a glazier on Long Island housing construction sites to do much dancing. But when his line of work dried up and unemployment beckoned, he took early retirement at age 62.
The couple, who are parents of two sons, moved to Far Rockaway from Brooklyn in 1954, and have lived in Inwood, Long Island, since 1986.
“That’s when my wife taught me to do line dancing,” says Arthur, who was fine at ballroom dancing with his wife, but shy at large gatherings.
Soon after joining Esther at her gigs, he became more outgoing; and after two years, he became adept enough to teach line dancing on his own at the Hartman Y.
“Women came flocking to him,” Esther recalls. “It was a wonderful thing for his ego. Many of them were widows and they liked having a man to dance with.
He gave them attention. I didn’t mind,” she says. “He became King Arthur.”