Steve plus fellow photography buffs
Dave and Jamie Hathaway.
SSQQ Halloween Photographer & Swing
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
record. This party was also special
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
Steve and Maureen Swing Dancing
in Key West, 2004 Cruise
2004: What is that in
And where's the hair?
2003: Is that hair on
More Hair - 2002
Steve, Maureen, MJ, and Nancy at Akaka Falls in Hawaii 2007
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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
Steve - If anyone would like to contact me they can do so at:
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.