Steve Gabino
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Steve Gabino

SSQQ Halloween Photographer & Swing Dancer Extraordinaire!

Story written by Rick Archer
First Published: February 2009

The SSQQ 2007 Halloween Party was a phenomenal event.  We had over 400 guests, easily a recordThis party was also special because it marked the debut of our exceptional Halloween photographer, Mr. Steve Gabino.

Steve had emailed me earlier in the year to volunteer to take pictures. Since finding a photographer for our party had become a big headache for me, I was very relieved.

from the 2008 Halloween Party

Steve and Maureen Swing Dancing
in Key West, 2004 Cruise

2004: What is that in Steve's hand?
And where's the hair?

2003: Is that hair on Steve's head?

More Hair - 2002 Halloween

Steve, Maureen, MJ, and Nancy at Akaka Falls in Hawaii 2007

I wasn't worried that he wouldn't do a good job. That never crossed my mind.  I knew from the Hawaii 2007 Cruise Pictures Steve had contributed that he was a good photographer. I also knew that Steve likes our Halloween Parties as much as I do, so he would do it from the heart (Steve made our Top Ten Costume list in 2006). 

However, I had no idea that Steve had a gift.  It wasn't until I scanned the CD he sent me that I realized he had taken one marvelous shot after another.  'These pictures are really good', I thought to myself. The quality of our
2007 Halloween pictures was the best I had ever seen.  If you take the opportunity to review his work, you will see for yourself from the Halloween pictures, Steve is quite a photographer. 

One thing Steve does well is capture "dance shots" with great skill.  It isn't easy to catch motion, but as the dance picture on the left from our 2008 Party shows, Steve knows exactly what he is doing.  That is one of the best dance pictures I have ever seen!

So when Steve offered to take pictures again for
Halloween 2008, I was more than thrilled to accept. We are indeed fortunate to have such a gifted man to take our Halloween pictures. 

Most people at SSQQ know Steve best through his East Coast Swing classes.  Steve and his friend Maureen Brunetti have been our leading Swing instructors now for many years.  I have never taken one of his classes, but based on how crowded the room always is, I gather that Steve's Advanced Swing classes are extremely popular.  

Besides his Swing dancing, The Great Gabino (as I first nicknamed him back on our Rhapsody 2004 Cruise) has been a huge part of our SSQQ cruise program. 

Steve's first trip was on Jubilee 2003. Since then, except for 2006, Steve has joined us on at least one cruise every year.  Steve really seems to enjoy our dance cruises. In addition to the Jubilee Cruise, his trips include Rhapsody 2004, Rhapsody 2005, Conquest 2007, and Conquest 2008.  I think Steve likes the dancing and he has been known to participate in the Hot Tub nonsense a time or two.  Steve is always up to something on these trips.

In fact, I remember Steve was the guy who caught Marla's garter on our Wedding Cruise in 2004 (see picture).  That accomplishment entitled him to something, but to my knowledge, Steve hasn't cashed in on this special privilege quite yet.  But you never know!

Besides the dance cruises, Steve has also joined us for our last two "Adventure Cruises".  In addition to the Hawaii 2007 cruise and the Greece 2008 cruise, Steve and his girlfriend Vivian Gufstafson are looking forward to our 2009 Barcelona Trip.  I think the Cruise Trips are the perfect union of Steve's love of photography and his love of travel.  I also think he enjoys having his beautiful girlfriend along for company, but I am too shy to ask him if that is true.

According to his Staff Biography, Steve first visited the studio in 1999. That year marked the height of the Nineties Swing Revival.  The Swing dance energy was huge!  So it is not surprising that Steve fell in love with Swing Dancing at first sight.  After volunteering and assisting his good friend Maureen for several years, Steve became a Swing instructor in 2003.  Since then, Steve has become one of the most popular instructors in the history of the studio.

One mystery about Steve I have never quite figured out is his bald period during the mid-2000s.  Now I realize that people assume I know everything about everyone.  But in truth it pains me greatly to admit there's just too much going on for me to really keep tabs on everyone, even someone as important as The Great Gabino. 

For some reason, I always thought Steve was bald.  I mean, the day I got married, the guy was bald.  As far as I was concerned, in my limited brain that must mean he was bald from the day he was born.  After all, I didn't care one way or the other.  He seemed like a happy guy except when he caught the garter.  Further, without meaning to embarrass him too much, I thought Steve was a good-looking guy.  With or without hair, he certainly never seemed to lack for female attention.  Obviously the hair situation didn't seem to be any handicap.

In other words, I didn't give his baldness much thought.  So fast-forward a little.

On Saturday night, December 27, 2008, Marla and I were invited to the Wedding Reception of Bruce Hanka and Mara Rivas at their house.  In addition to several other friends from the studio, I was pleased to see Steve and his girlfriend Vivian in attendance. 

In case you don't know the story, Bruce and Mara like their friends from the studio a lot, but since we are all a little weird (you know, the dance cult people), the SSQQ group was shunted to a room in the back of their house and hidden away.  You will have to read the story to understand, but essentially our group spent about two hours together getting drunk on Margaritas out of sight of all the respectable guests.  Who cares if we have no social status?  It was definitely a fun evening!

About halfway to oblivion, I turned to talk to Steve sitting on my left.  He was right beside me, but because since I am blind in my left eye, I had to square up to chat.  That is the moment I took a good look at him.  I was astonished to notice that Steve had grown hair!   I thought to myself, 'Now where did all that hair come from all of a sudden?'

Steve didn't just have hair, he had lots of it!  In fact, I think he needed a hair cut!  How did all that hair sneak up me?  After all, Steve had been bald from birth!

Since I was born nosy, I asked him to explain why he had so much hair.  I mean, this guy should be a poster boy for hair transplants or rogaine or some other miraculous treatment!  Or was it a wig? 

Steve, as always, was very polite in his answer despite the utter stupidity of my question.  He said he has always had hair, but there was a period when he went bald for the fun of it.

Guys go bald for the fun of it?  I had never heard of that before.  Now I know that Yul Brynner was a huge sex symbol in the Fifties and Sixties with a bald head, but I don't think he had a choice.  Furthermore, I didn't see Sean Connery go bald till he didn't have a choice.  Most guys seem to want to hang onto their hair.  There must be a story here.  So I asked him to explain.

Steve smiled patiently.  He said it was just sort of a phase he went through.  Then he politely added that he grew his hair back several years ago.  Really?  You mean you had hair when I first met you, but you went bald and I didn't notice?  And you mean you grew your hair back a couple years ago and I am just now figuring that out as well?  I couldn't help but feel like the least observant bozo in history.  Oh well. 

Feeling like I needed some practice noticing stuff, I noticed Steve had his camera at his side. Aha!  A keen observation!  I asked, "Are you going to take some pictures tonight?"  I thought Steve would be impressed at that clever question.

Steve replied, "Yes.  Bruce and Mara hired me to take pictures of their Wedding and the Reception.  In fact, you might remember I also took pictures at Gary and Tracy Schweinle's wedding last summer."

I frowned.  Now that I thought of it, yes, Vivian and Steve had been at Gary and Tracy's Wedding and, yes, Steve had told me he was not only there as a friend, but also in the official capacity of Wedding Photographer. But obviously it hadn't sunk in till now that Steve was available for photography engagements.  Am I getting fuzzy or what?

Steve added that he would be doing the photography for Gus and Fran at their upcoming March 2009 wedding. 

I was impressed!  I was pleased to note I wasn't the only one who had noticed what a good photographer Steve is.  And since I am so unusually observant, a point we have previously discussed in this article, I began to wonder if maybe there were a few people who didn't know that Steve was available to help them with special occasions.  

That's when I had an idea.  Why not write a story in the SSQQ Newsletter and tell everyone that Steve is available as a freelance photographer? 

Why not indeed! 

AN INTERVIEW WITH STEVE GABINO

Rick's Question 1 - How did you get interested in photography? How long have you been doing it? How did you develop your expertise?

Steve - I've always had an interest in photography but back in the film days I never developed on it. When digital came I bought a point-and-shoot and started to catch a real interest in making my photos better.

Being able to take many pictures and get immediate feedback was very conducive to learning about photography. I then made the jump to an SLR camera (the kind with interchangeable lenses) to give me more options and control over the finished product. That was about three years ago.

A previous hobby of mine had been drawing which taught me a lot about composition that I think helped me in finding my "photographer's eye".

Last year I also completed a 365 Days project in which I took a different self-portrait every day for an entire year. I used this project to help push my creativity of the subject and knowledge of the technical aspects of both camera and Photoshop.

Rick's Question 2 - ssqq Halloween party... what made you decide to offer to take pictures at the ssqq Halloween party? What have you learned about taking the pictures at the party? Any anecdotes? Did having Vivian's 'smile' reminder help at all? Do people try to duck you?  What are their excuses?

Steve - I had read in the Newsletter about Gary Richardson having to fill in at the last minute for Halloween photographer in 2006.  So I offered up my services to you for the 2007 party. I knew it would be both fun and good experience for me.

Since I was confident in my camera skills and I knew my subject (dancing) pretty well I had no doubt I could take good pictures. And knowing how much you invest in your website and the Halloween pictures I knew it would be a perfect match.

In 2008, I wanted to add something special. Now that I had a year's experience under my belt, I remembered from last year how many people freeze in front of a camera.  I suppose for the portraits simply saying "smile" would have been good enough.  But then I got the idea that having Viv hold up a big SMILE sign would encourage more of a real smile. She was more than happy to help and I think it worked.

Most people there at the party are happy to have their picture taken given the festive nature of the holiday.  Still, some try to "duck" the camera.  The first year I was curious and actually chased down a couple people.  Some people turn out to be first-time guests who are unaware that the service is free or what the purpose is.  Some people actually just don't seem to care one way or the other.  And then there are some who seem to go out of their way to evade me. 

I have never quite figured out why people duck the camera.  Obviously some people don't try too hard on the costume angle and would just as soon not have the world know this fact permanently.  But there are other people with perfectly good costumes who do seem to go out of their way to avoid me.

However, unless they expressly forbid me to take a shot, I usually get them later in the evening.  I learned
the best way to counter their shyness is to not hold the camera up to my face.  I just leave it low and shoot candidly "from the hip".  Or else I get them across the crowd.

Unfortunately since it's quite dark in the studio for the parties, what I mainly learned from that first party was getting the most out of my flash.


Rick's Question 3 - tell me a little about your dance teaching career at ssqq. Your bio didn't say a whole lot about how you became an instructor. How did you become an assistant? How did you become an instructor? Do you think your students practice enough? Do you like any kind of dancing besides swing?

Steve - As for my SSQQ life, dancing was just another hobby of artistic expression that I wanted to learn and I took to it very quickly. After taking advanced swing I took a Zoot Suit Riot (a then post-advanced) class. I didn't feel I was good enough as the others so I decided to leave swing and take other dance classes - two step, foxtrot, salsa. After a year I went back to swing and was much improved. After a few classes I was asked by Judy Archer if I would like to teach. I decided to become an assistant and joined Maureen. We were quite the team until I moved on to teach a year-and-a-half later. I enjoy all dances but obviously love East Coast the best with West Coast coming in second.

We had a great "class of 2007" in swing dancing. Many of the great swing dancers around now came from around that time. Joel, Lori, Mary Jane, Charley, Rowena, Cindy, Vivian, and many others... East Coast Swing may not be as big as it was back in the late 90's but we've got a good group who have really brought some energy back to the swing scene.


Rick's Question 4 - who all have you taken pictures for at ssqq? How did that start for you? is it hard work? any anecdotes? how does someone contact you?

Steve - If anyone would like to contact me they can do so at:
sgabino@yahoo.com

My first gigs were portrait sessions for former dance assistant Stephanie Barrow and then Maureen Brunetti. I took pictures for Gary and Tracy Scweinle's wedding last July, for Bruce and Mara Hanka's wedding in December and I will photograph Gus Donnell and Fran Zandstra's upcoming wedding in March. I have also photographed a corporate Christmas party with 300-400 people at Tin Hall in Cypress. These have all been set up by word-of-mouth and they've all been an honor and pleasure as they have all been events shared with good friends.

I think the accessibility of digital has been such a wonderful turning point in photography. It's great to see so many people enjoying taking pictures. Becky Bratton, Marsha Baxmann and Dave and Jamie Hathaway are all very much into taking pictures as well.
 


Rick's Question 5 - as you know, dancing was once a hobby of mine that turned into a profession. Do you see it staying as a moonlight job or possibly developing into a profession?

Steve - I consider myself a freelance photographer for hire. Although as much as I love it, I don't intend to ever make a full-time career out of it simply because I would like to keep this hobby as hassle-free as possible. I'm sure you are quite well aware of the big difference between teaching dance lessons and actually owning and maintaining a dance studio.


Rick's Question 6 - Do you enjoy taking pictures on the cruise trips? Is photography still a hobby? Or is it getting old?

Steve - I enjoy taking pics at any time. Like dancing, I feel photography is going to be a big part of me for a very long time.

 

   
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