Gene the Dancing Machine

78-year-old Eugene Piwko is a Buffalo dancing sensation

On October 20, 2013

  • Eugene Piwko is a Buffalo dancing legend. Through the hardship of losing his wife to cancer and despite his old age, “Gene the Dancing Machine” is popular for the good vibes he brings to the downtown Buffalo nightlife. Eric Culver, The Spectrum

He greets guests and visitors at his front door with his 20-year-old Parakeet, Baby, sitting on his left shoulder.

Eugene Piwko, 78, starts his day with smooth jazz and a freshly brewed pot of coffee. On the walls of the Buffalo native's home are pictures of family and friends and homemade clocks, which he crafted himself throughout the years.

During the day, Piwko relaxes at home, surrounded by his artifacts and memories of the past.

But at nighttime, it's a different story.

After losing his wife to cancer in 2010, Piwko felt lost and confused, unable to move forward with a new chapter in his life. He went through serious bouts of depression, only to bring himself out of the darkness with the help of a close-knit Buffalo community and a series of dancing classes.

Go to downtown Buffalo any night and there's a chance you'll encounter 'Gene the Dancing Machine.'

Months after the passing of his wife, Piwko learned how to swing, salsa, tango and dance to any beat that life plays for him. He reconfigured his life to a new rhythm. Piwko has gone out to bars and clubs every week since to show off his suave dance moves.

On his way out the door, Piwko stops to look at a picture collage of his wife. After this last glance at his past, he sets out for a night of dancing, reborn into the fun-loving man whom many Buffalonians have come to adore.

When a tune catches his ears, it's as if Piwko is under a rhythmic spell that he can't escape, and everyone else gets entranced.

When Gene dances, everybody dances.

First, his feet start a little shuffle from left to right. Then, he speeds up and gets his hips going. At that point, Piwko resembles a hula-girl dashboard figurine. The last ingredients are his franticly moving hands. He goes as long as he can, and when Piwko is tired, he puts his hands together to form a "T" for time out.

"I should have brought my scuba gear," Piwko says, out of breath, with beads of sweat dripping from his head.

Piwko thinks a man his age should have few responsibilities outside of dancing and having a good time. He encourages others of all ages to join him on his adventures through the Queen City. 

The elderly man is a legend of sorts.

Dave Arkelian Jr., 31, one of the head bouncers at Nietzsche's bar on Allen Street, has noted Piwko as the most well known regular of the bar. 

Seemingly every time Arkelian is working, Piwko makes his way over to the door for a friendly conversation. To Arkelian, Piwko is different from the typical, grumpy old man who has outlived his best years. Instead, Arkelian sees a man who is cheerful - a good role model. 

"I tell you what, though - I can sure as hell dance better than that Miley Cyrus girl from the VMAs," Piwko joked. "I'll out-dance anyone in this county, city, state and/or country for however long it takes."

Someday, Piwko hopes to produce his very own television show, "Do You Think You Can Dance With The Silver Fox?"

He describes it as a show in which talented dancers would compete with one another across the nation to win prize money and their very own dance with the "silver fox" himself. Piwko sees it as a potential win-win for him and the City of Buffalo: it would provide him the chance to dance with the finest dancers the nation has to offer, while promoting the city as a hub for good moves.

"Buffalo is a fine establishment; you have restaurants, popular businesses and bars that the rest of the country should acknowledge," Piwko said.

Piwko says he wants the "fine ladies of Buffalo" to be acknowledged as well. Piwko traveled the world when he was in the United States Marine Corps, but he always thought Buffalo had the prettiest ladies of all. 

"Believe me, I've been to Tijuana, California, Okinawa, Hawaii, Japan, and they sure as hell don't compete with the girls from Buffalo," Piwko said.    

Many see Piwko as the Buffalo equivalent of Bigfoot, or an urban myth - only witnessing him in action once, never to spot him again.

Carlotta Rotini, 22, traveled to Buffalo from her home in Italy this past summer for a conference at D'Youville College. Rotini met Piwko at a concert at the Buffalo Harbor. She was hesitant to approach him at first, but certainly didn't regret it once she did. What made her laugh the most was Piwko's nickname - Gene the Dancing Machine.

"He's a genius," Rotini said.

Amanda Markovich, the lead singer for Buffalo band Randle and the Late Night Scandals, has been acquainted with Piwko for the past year after meeting him at Gene McCarthy's bar in South Buffalo during one of her band's shows.

Markovich admires Piwko's general attitude toward life. She looks at him as a man who has "spunk," one who can share all kind of stories with anyone he meets. 

The favorite story the two individuals share is the time Piwko proposed to Markovich mid-dance on the dance floor at Nietzsche's. Markovich, overwhelmed by the cuteness of Piwko's proposal, politely declined the offer.

"She told me that she'd have to think on it," Piwko said. "I told her, hell, you can take 20 years to think about it for all you want."

The 78-year-old dancing machine can wait - but he won't sit around and let life pass him by.


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