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Ballroom community mourns St. Paul dancer killed by Green Line crash

 

The ballroom dance community -- both in the Twin Cities and nationally -- has lost a rising star, a passionate performer, a dedicated teacher and tireless volunteer. Nicholas Westlake (above), an instructor at the Dancers Studio in St. Paul, was a high-ranking national competitor on the ballroom dance scene. He died July 17 after his car was hit by a Green Line light-rail train near University Avenue in St. Paul. Westlake was 29.

“He was passionate, but he was also compassionate,” said Cody Arndtson, Westlake’s coworker at the Dancers Studio. “He gave so much to something he was passionate about. It was truly inspiring.”

One of three brothers who are all ballroom dance enthusiasts, Westlake got into dancing at the University of Minnesota. His brother, Peter Westlake, was president of the university's ballroom dance club when he invited Nicholas to an open dance party at the Dancers Studio in 2010, according to owner Marcy McHenry. “Nic fell in love with it,” she said. “Since that time, he’s been integral to what we do.”

A software developer by day, Westlake would often rehearse until 3 a.m. with his partner in life and on the dance floor, Neli Petkova. The pair recently traveled to Milan, Italy, to study dance, with plans to return for further instruction.

Westlake also volunteered with U Partner Dance, a nonprofit that supports the University’s ballroom club. He spent hundreds of unpaid hours working for the organization, according to Nels Petersen, head coach for UMBDC. “He was excited to get people introduced to ballroom dance.”

Westlake and Petkova were ranked seventh in the country through the U.S.A. Dance competitions. “They were just at the tipping point,” Petersen said. "Their hard work and training meant they were just starting to dance at the highest level." 

Westlake had “tremendous energy and constant hunger for improvement and inspiration,” said another one of his trainers, Mariusz Olszewski.

Daisy Howlind, a former dancer who runs a traveling dance apparel business, remembers how Westlake would always kiss his partner’s hand before they started dancing. “He was a classic gentleman,” she said, "very gracious.”

“He was right on the cusp of skyrocketing internationally,” said Vincent Zhang, Howlind’s husband and business partner.

Besides teaching, volunteering and competing, Westlake also served on the steering committee for Sheer Dance Magazine, a national publication produced in Minnesota. He also worked as an announcer and DJ for American dance competitions. 

One of Westlake’s students, Bonnie Burton, said Westlake taught her and her husband, both 55-plus, how to move like 20-year-olds. “He had a unique capability of making each student feel they were his only student,” Burton said. “He had uber-confidence in his ability and he shared that with students.”

According to Arndtson, the original Facebook post about Westlake’s accident reached an audience of 45,000 people, from all over the United States and also Europe. “The outpouring has just been great,” he said. “The comments and the support of the dance community have meant a lot to us at the studio as well as to his family.”

Hundreds of people attended a memorial for Westlake at the Dancers Studio last weekend, including many people who traveled from other states. “It was three hours, and two hours of it involved stories people told about him,” said Ember Reichgott Junge, founder of Heart of Dance studio.

“He really had a heart of gold,” she said. “You didn’t have to know him long to know he was something special.”

 

Salvador Dali's mustache is still in Spain, but his art is on view in Minneapolis

Salvador Dalí, Spanish, 1904–1989. "Aphrodisiac Telephone," 1938. Plastic, metal. Minneapolis Institute of Art, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund 96.2. © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art

The body of famous Surrealist painter Salvador Dali has been under ground and decaying since 1989, but his signature eccentric mustache is still intact. This shocking discovery was made last Thursday when his body was exhumed in order to collect samples for a DNA test that a judge ordered last month, to find out if a woman claiming to be Dali’s daughter actually is. 

“The mustache kept its classic 10-past-10 position,” Lluís Peñuelas, the secretary general of the foundation that oversees Dalí’s estate, told reporters on Friday, according to reports from the New York Times.

Dali’s body, which was buried in 1989, was exhumed from a crypt beneath the museum he had designed in his hometown of Figueres in the Catalonia region of Spain, after a woman named Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old Tarot card reader, claimed that  Dali was her paternal father. Abel says she was born of what she has referred to as a “clandestine love affair” that her mother had with Dali in the late 1950s at Port Lligat, a fishing village where Dali and his Russian-born wife Gala, built a waterfront home.

Abel filed the lawsuit against the Spanish government and the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in 2015. If evidence proves that Abel is the daughter of Dali, she will be able to claim part of his estate, left to the Spanish state, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In light of this news, there’s no better time than the present to go see Dali’s works of art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which hosts several of Dali’s works on view in Mia Gallery 376, along with other Surrealist works. True to Dali’s legacy, his artwork is as surreal as this lawsuit. 

Salvador Dalí, Spanish, 1904–1989. "Portrait of Juan de Pareja, the Assistant to Velázquez," 1960. Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Mrs. John Sargent Pillsbury, Sr. 84.5 © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art

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