Wearing his signature smiley face T-shirt, Carlito Rofoli is a living, breathing smile emoji who lights up every room he enters.
This positive and proud Filipino American was born in Hawaii in 1935. If you did the math, you’ve calculated that he’s just shy of his 85th birthday and darn proud of it. This effervescent, vibrant kid at heart has recently cut his nights out dancing from seven nights a week down to a mere 5-6! Mind you, he’s known as a closer, meaning that he’s often one of the last to leave as the dance is ending. This means that on a busy night, he’s barely on his way home until well after 2 a.m., sometimes later!
When people ask how he finds the stamina to stay up so late after dancing for several hours a night, Carlito quips, “I can’t let the young ones outdo this old man!” He even confessed to being an instigator for keeping the dance socials going until as late as possible, recalling a time when he convinced the DJ to keep playing until 2am. Then was determined to beat it the next time, so kept things going until 3 a.ml, and then 3:30 a.m., and so on! Explaining, “If it’s someone’s birthday or special anniversary then we gotta keep it going, sometimes even until sunup!”
As the tender age of six, Carlito remembers the Pearl Harbor bombing well. It came just one month after his mother passed away, so was a defining moment in his life. Tragically his dad passed away just two years later, so despite the series of unfortunate tragedies, he remained positive and eternally grateful to his eldest sister who raised her seven siblings to keep them together and out of the orphanage.
Dance was always a part of life growing up in his large, festive family. Some of his earliest dance memories date back to the age of three, where he’d dance with everyone at parties. Although he wasn’t able to afford to take lessons most of his life, the hardships never stopped him from pursuing his passion for dance anyway that he could. So he began dancing in the streets, thus to this day still considers himself a street dancer. Carlito believes that he has a natural gift for deeply feeling the music and letting it be his guide. Adding “For me, the music is the leader.”
This father of two and grandfather of four has an ultimate goal to be able to dance with his grand daughter for her prom. He explained that this means that he’ll need to live on into the triple digits, so he hopes to be blessed to do so.
In 1965 Carlito moved from his beloved Hawaii to Southern California. Years later following his first divorce, he became more serious about dancing after joining a “Parents without partners club”. The group started out by playing doubles tennis, then later added dance outings into their program. This series of scheduled outings with the other divorcees got Carlito more committed to learning some of the many partner dances he does now.
Known by the pseudonym “Mr. Smooth,” his dance name is even printed on stacks of business cards, which also bear a large, yellow smiley face emoji on one side. He wears a genuine smile and a light blue T-shirt that reads, “GO EASY ON ME! I’m still a beginner :) I’m Carlito, you are… ?” His dedication to dance is only surpassed by his devotion to welcoming newbies with patience on the dance floor and smiley faces everything he owns!
One of the friendliest faces around, Carlito is so beloved both locally and abroad that upon arrival to a dance festival in Budapest, he was presented with his own special chair as the locals warmly welcomed him. Carlito brags about outlasting people of all ages at International dance events, where he literally dances ’til dawn! This night owl is always full of energy and still very alert at the time of this dance break interview (just after 1 a.m.)! So for a guy who only takes breaks when he absolutely must, I was lucky to steal him away from the dance floor long enough for this segment.
Despite having asthma, diabetes and peripheral arterial disease that can cause him a lot of pain and discomfort when doing certain activities for too long, dance is an exception. Carlito modifies when necessary, but tends to feel his best while dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Carlito is grateful for the tremendous joy that dance has brought to his life, and also for how it has helped him get through many difficult times, from his divorces to tragedy and other tough times.
Carlito has been dancing at ATOMIC for more years than he can remember (somewhere around a decade). He adores the ambiance and friendly patrons, and adds, “If it wasn’t for dancing I wouldn’t have met all these wonderful people who I now know. My daughter said, ‘Dad, when you go out traveling I don’t worry about you because I know that people (the dance community) will take care of you.’ ”
“There are so many reasons why everyone should give dance a try, but dancing, especially at ATOMIC is a wonderful place to meet people. Just like anywhere in life, whether you’re at work or wherever, you’ll always have people that are not so nice. But in my humble opinion that’s the minority in the dance community. The great majority are wonderful people.”
Carlito explains “In life you hear the words ‘Everybody wants to be somebody’”, but in dance “Everybody is somebody.” Well, this somebody hopes to be remembered for his pure, deep love of dance, and it’s guaranteed that he will be remembered fondly for that and so much more.
First time out of the country was just last year for a dance convention in Europe; now he travels often and only for dance!
Also dances Argentine tango, Lindy hop, salsa and various ballroom styles.
Guilty pleasure : Enjoys watching T.V., especially entertaining action movies.
This untrained street dancer was voted best dancer repeatedly in school.