The Man Who Gives San Antonio Politicians Their Groove
Michael Quintanilla, a former newspaper reporter and fashion writer, has for several years contributed special videos to the annual Gridiron charity event. The videos show usually serious government officials dancing with him to popular songs. This year, Quintanilla took a break from Gridiron. But he knew how popular the videos have become, and he made sure the tradition continued.
He recalled the moment in 2013 when a friend first asked him to produce a video:
"Nora Lopez, who's an editor at the Express-News, came to me with this idea. Something she had seen on television,” he said. “Stephen Colbert on late night T.V. was dancing with personalities and L.A. basketball players to a song that was popular at the time."
Lopez asked him to produce a video to be played at that October's Gridiron show, a local Saturday Night Live-esque stage show put on by media professionals to benefit the Society of Professional Journalists.
"And I said okay. And I thought ‘well...I'll start with the mayor and with city council, and we'll go from there,’ " he said.
Quintanilla brought cameras to City Hall and got the elected leaders to dance to the song Blurred Lines.
Then-City Councilman Ron Nirenberg said, "Everything that Michael has proposed has been out of the box, a bit strange. But always in good fun."
And after getting the mayor and city council, he asked the notably serious City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
"I love to dance, as does he, and so we had fun together," she said.
Sculley surprised Quintanilla, jumping right in and performing with abandon.
"I was surprised that, darn, she's a good dancer!” he said. “We were doing like kind of a 60s riff, the swim and shimmy down to the ground. She's very flexible and knows how to dance."
Most thought so, too, but not everyone was charitable.
"I think I can dance pretty well, although my sisters tell me that I look a little like Elaine in the Seinfeld episode," Sculley said.
She's referring to the notorious Elaine Benes dancing episode where she makes a fool out of herself on the dance floor
The video was now complete, and was showed at the Gridiron show. It was a hit. Quintanilla was quickly asked to do it again, and the next year's song choice was obvious.
"Remember Uptown Funk? That was huge!" he said. "That was the year that I got the fourth Court of Appeal judges, all the ladies, to dance with me."
His instructions to the judges were basic.
"Wear killer heels and cocktail dresses under your robes and then you know you'll take the robe off and then you'll look like you're ready to go to a cocktail party, or dancing." he said.
When it came time to, they didn't just take their robes off. They dramatically threw them off in a synced move, then danced about in court chambers.
The mayor, everyone on city council, even County Judge Nelson Wolff got in on the fun. A short mock trial was conducted for prisoner Michael Quintanilla, followed by a 30-day sentence in jail. Wolff got into the spirit of it.
"I find you guilty of bringing the funk! I better never catch you out in the street unless it's raining and you're dancing like Danny Kay!" he exclaimed while pounding his gavel.
The second year was a hit, too and soon city officials proposed their own ideas to him. . The Gridiron videos had begun to take on a life of their own. The next year the mega-hit from Puerto Rico was the choice: Despacito.
By then, Ron Nirenberg was mayor, and he provided perhaps the video's most memorable moment when Quintanilla danced with the mayor out from his office.
"He was behind me, and I just busted through the doors and swung the doors open, and Erika was on the other side of the door, and he was just beaming," Quintanilla recalled.
The mayor’s wife, Erika Prosper, waited on the other side to dance. Quintanilla was smitten with the moment.
"That remains my most beautiful personal scene of all the videos I've done because if you can see those two dancing, and the way they just look at each other — I mean it's just love, he said. The mayor also remembered it fondly.
"That's the look I always give Erika when she's waiting for me on the dance floor," he said.
The moment was clearly a standout. Quintanilla says the “Despacito” video got 2 million views on Facebook, including one very prominent one.
“[It] got the attention of Luis Fonzi, the songwriter, who reached out to me then reached out to the mayor and invited us to the Final Four (NCAA Tournament) because he was performing," he said.
The videos began to take on a life of their own. But when it was time to get ready for the 2019 show, Quintanilla realized something was wrong. He didn't feel well.
"And I went in on Friday night and on Saturday morning I had surgery," he said.
He needed gall bladder surgery. It was successful, and he's recovering. But he knew he couldn't finish a video in time for 2019's Gridiron. He had to entrust it to someone else.
The Krayolas’ Hector Saldaña remembered what happened next.
"On Monday I get a call from a dear friend of mine at the Express-News, Elaine Ayala, saying that she needs my help and it's for a good cause — for Michael Quintanilla," he said.
He was asked to provide a Krayolas song, and even to step in for Quintanilla.
"She wants me to somehow take his place in a video, and I'm like in shock — there's no way to do that!" Saldaña said.
There is only one Quintanilla, but Hector and his brother David agreed to give it a try.
The song chosen is called the Fruit Cup song, an incredibly catchy song that’s a paean to a popular South Side fruit stand. The usual cast of city council, mayor and others played their parts, and the new video will be screened Saturday night at Gridiron.
After six years, has any politician refused his offer to dance in front of the camera?
"No one has said no. Not one single person,” he said. “Isn't that crazy? Isn't that crazy cool?"
Maybe not all that crazy. Nirenberg thinks these videos serve an unexpected purpose for both public officials and the people they serve.
"To show folks that these are living, breathing human beings that are serving the public, but also can smile and enjoy themselves. So it's a great service to see their elected officials in three dimensions," he said.
And perhaps the videos also celebrate the creativity of the man who produced them, who's earned the respect of those elected officials, including Nirenberg.
"Get well soon, Michael. We miss you," Nirenberg said.