When meeting Frank Sanchez, one sees a genial man from a bygone era. He was born Jose Francisco in 1928 in Los Angeles to Francisco and Escolastica of Zacatecas, Mexico. Frank grew up in Santa Paula where his family worked as migrant laborers before moving to Sanger to manage a 40-acre vineyard. The ninth of 11 children, Frank was raised in a home filled with music.
“My older brothers were always singing and there was always a guitar playing in the house,” said Frank, who preferred the piano. “When I was 10, I got into folkloric dancing. When I was 15, a carload of siblings and cousins would drive to Fresno for the weekly dances and the tardeadas. I’ve been dancing ever since.”
In the army, Frank trained at Camp Roberts and was assigned to the Presidio in San Francisco. There, he continued his study in ballroom dance as an instructor. It was on a weekend pass to Fresno that Frank met Mary Louise Torrez in 1951 and they married in 1956.
In 1959, Frank and Mary moved to Atascadero, where he worked at Atascadero Guarantee Savings and Loan and in real estate. But he impacted his community most significantly through his sense of creativity — designing parade floats and construction projects, fundraising with the Lions Club, and choreographing the Miss California Organization. He even shared the screen with Donald O’Connor in the film “Out to Sea.”
A charter member of Pioneer Players community theater, Frank performed as a singer, dancer, choreographer and director. He also painted sets and served as president in what was the longest-running live performance organization in the North County. For years, Frank taught dance and performance etiquette to the next generation at schools and studios throughout the county, including with local icon, the late Pat Jackson. At Jackson’s memorial service, Frank and dancer Theresa Slobodnik performed a Bolero in her honor.
To Frank’s many talents can be added sketch artist. His large, hand-drawn image of wife Mary hangs near his home’s front door and serves as an early testament to the love of his life. In her 2011 obituary, Mary was recalled as “beautiful, feisty, funny, and passionate.” It’s evident that his wife is quietly but profoundly missed.
Together, Frank and Mary raised Doriana, Dana, Mara and Steven, the eldest of whom followed Frank into the performing arts. An Emmy nominee, Doriana has for more than 30 years directed and choreographed tours for Cher and worked extensively in the entertainment industry. As a costumer, Dana worked in film and television for a decade. And Mara’s daughter, Mikaela, is a professional dancer who has traveled the world.
In 2013, Frank joined the Friends of Atascadero Library’s Dancing with Our Stars as a choreographer and served as Artistic Director from 2015 through 2018 and created three dance numbers for the 2019 show. Now the largest annual event in Atascadero, DWOS grossed $210,000 in 2019. Approximately $173,000 will benefit local nonprofits including Atascadero Library, Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation, Atascadero Greyhound Foundation, American Association of University Women, ECHO Homeless shelter, Atascadero Printery Foundation, and the Humane Society Education Program, sponsored by Kiwanis Club of Atascadero.
“Frank is the epitome of a classic gentleman — perfectionism and kindness. It’s an honor to know and love him,” said Jeannie Malik, vice-president of Friends of the Library. An early supporter of DWOS, Jeannie took on the role of Event Coordinator in 2012. When she approached Frank to serve as Artistic Director.
“He raised the professionalism tenfold,” Jeannie said. “‘Do it again’ is his favorite phrase. Frank has this saying, ‘You have to plan your entrance and exit and you strive to make a show-stopper routine.’ And Frank does just that. He’s a perfectionist!”
After a busy, four-year stint with DWOS, Frank turned over the reins to Molly Comin, a DWOS alumnus and Tap Director at Artistry in Motion, who agrees with Jeannie about Frank’s work ethic.
“Frank is a perfectionist and he likes to take his time, much like a painter with an easel,” Molly said. “He doesn’t have everything choreographed in his head; he creates a masterpiece on the spot. Even at 90 years old, he’s bank!”
The Mercer-Sanchez Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit administrated by the North County Dance and Performing Arts Foundation, reflects Frank’s desire to support male dance students who hope to perfect their crafts. Approved scholarship recipients must prove their eligibility by attending Class Act Dance and Performing Studio classes in ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap dance and take part in local performances. The recipient for 2019 was local dancer Oscar Gutierrez.
Since his youth, Frank has observed how music has the capacity to unify people from all walks of life, including his own family.
“I’ve learned that music goes ‘over the fence’ in our understanding of one another and crosses all cultures,” Frank said. “For my children, I want them to be happy and continue to be close to each other.”
In addition to being crowned Colony Days King in 2016, Frank was crowned the “King of Dance” in a room of 180 people for his 90th birthday at Atascadero Lake Pavilion in September 2018. Frank cheered on his son, Steven, who surprised his father with a performance of “Cuban Pete,” a lively Desi and Lucy Arnaz comedic dance routine with Christina Troxel that had Frank on his feet in applause.
A stroke several years ago sidelined Frank for a time, and he now uses a cane to maintain his balance. But when the music starts, physical distractions fall by the wayside as sense memory, rhythm and elegance take over.
“He’s earned respect his entire life,” Molly said. “In North County, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has earned more respect in the ballroom dance community and countywide. He’s a performer, he has a lot of vision and he knows what he wants to do. Don’t argue with him. He’s always right as rain. That’s Frank!”