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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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'Miss Jackie' taught thousands of students to dance
By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 22, 2007
In 1974, Jackie Loto started to choreograph the annual Gasparilla Coronation Ball.
TAMPA - In the 1940s, some people - including Jackie Loto's father - thought dancing was unbecoming of a proper young lady.
But the 10 year old wanted to dance more than anything. So her grandfather, a violinist, brought her to dance class. She was a natural.
At one of her first recitals, her fake ponytail flew into the audience. She was terrified. Would she be kicked out of the dance school?
But her teacher's husband gave praise. Even when things got a little rough, she didn't stop. She never did.
"I always knew that's what I wanted to do, to create, to choreograph," Mrs. Loto told the St. Petersburg Times in 1992. "And I don't know how I do it, I just do it."
She started teaching dance at age 16. Her father came around to the arts. He bought his daughter a record player, and later, a dance studio.
In high school, she met her husband, Joseph. They were biology lab partners. She didn't want to get dirty, so she made him dissect the frog.
At 22, she opened Jackie's Dance Studio in Tampa. She traveled to New York to train with a famed dancer, Luigi. She developed a distinct style of 1970s jazz - clean lines, sophisticated, smooth movements.
She choreographed for fashion shows and live theater. She instructed the Tampa Bay Swashbucklers and Bandits and Rowdies cheerleaders. In 1974, she began choreographing the Gasparilla Coronation Ball.
"I got to sit with my grandmother," said her grandson, Michael Rodriguez, 25. "I was a big shot, because everyone knew her."
"Miss Jackie" taught thousands of students. She gave off a sense of control when she walked into a room, her family said, but she didn't scare kids.
"You had better be smiling on stage," she would say, completely stone faced.
On weekends, Mrs. Loto spent time with her family. She would tell stories. The time a bull ran into the kitchen. The time chickens got drunk on turned grapes.
"She would tell these stories in such a way that was so vivid, it was like a dance," Rodriguez said. "You just remembered them forever."
She stayed funny, even as cancer made her weak. If she didn't want to talk, she would pretend to sleep. If there was chocolate around, she would "wake up."