In his 62-year career as a ballroom dance instructor, Lou Schreiber held sway over a studio aptly named “Walk In Dance Out.” Schreiber estimated conservatively that he had taught 50,000 Southern Californians to fox trot, rhumba, salsa and swing. His specialty was teaching people who had never danced a step in their lives to feel confident on the dance floor.
Keith Gayhart, Lou's student for six years in the early 1990s, was one of them. “He was the perfect dance instructor for someone like me — a guy with no natural sense of rhythm. He taught people to dance by simplifying popular ballroom steps and reinforcing them through constant, cheerful repetition. I wouldn’t last long on 'Dancing with the Stars,' but at a wedding or a bar mitzvah, I feel like Fred Astaire ... at least after the second glass of wine.”
Schreiber died on June 8 at age 80. Just days before, he'd taught his last dance class and danced a rhumba with his long-time partner, Luz Diaz, at an event held by USA Dance to honor him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Lou Schreiber was a masterful teacher who brought the joy of ballroom dance to thousands in the Southland by creating a warm and friendly atmosphere in his classes, making it fun and easy to learn, help build confidence and giving people an avenue to meet one another through the common denominator of dance,” says Jerry Hernandez, president of the Los Angeles chapter of USA Dance and a ballroom dance instructor. “He was admired by his peers and mentored many in the industry on his methods of teaching, and maintained the awareness and importance of ballroom dance.”
Schreiber gave a start to the careers of many Southland dance teachers, including Debbie D’Aquino, a popular social dance instructor in the South Bay, and Francisco Martinez of Dance Family Studio in Pasadena.
“It was Lou who launched my teaching career as a dance instructor,” says D’Aquino. “I worked along side of Lou three nights a week, every week, for nine years, and we were teaching over 1,200 students every week. He had an amazing system developed to get people dancing who had never danced before and believed less in proper dance technique and more in having fun on the dance floor. Lou was a dear friend and certainly my greatest mentor, and I will miss him greatly.”
Schreiber started his career as a ballroom dance instructor at Arthur Murray’s when he was 18 and rapidly moved to the position of Master Trainer of Dance Instructors, winning First Place in Arthur Murray’s National Dance Teacher’s competition when he was 20. He went independent in 1959, opening Walk In Dance Out. And he had a day job, as professor of psychology and business management at Los Angeles Harbor College for several decades.
Tall and imposing, Lou alternately cajoled, joked and chastised his students. And it worked. He taught a veritable ballroom dance corps of more than 50,000 people, most of whom, like Gayhart, still feel like Fred Astaire on the dance floor. “I have no doubt there are thousands of people spread across Southern California who feel exactly the same way,” Gayhart says. “Not a bad legacy.”