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Mr. Aguilar received tap-dance training in childhood and had an early career in boxing. He then transitioned to dance; creating a rhythmically complex, visually arresting dancing style that electrified audiences. By his own count he invented 100 signature foot, torso and hand movements with names like the Porpoise, the Shimmy Shimmy and the Prayer.
His nickname, "Cuban Pete," was conferred upon him in 1949 at the famous Palladium dance hall in New York City, in reference to the classic mambo song "Cuban Pete" by Desi Arnaz. The moniker was endorsed by Mr. Arnaz himself. In the 1950s, Mr. Aguilar and partner Millie Donay appeared at a British command performance before the Queen. They also danced at the White House; for President Dwight Eisenhower and later for President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Aguilar also appeared on the popular Jackie Gleason Show.
Mr. Aguilar won numerous prizes in Latin dancing during the Mambo era, together with his dance partner Millie Donay. He is a recipient of many prestigious awards for his work, and is the only Latin dancer recognized in the Latin Jazz exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.
Mr. Aguilar made a career as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. He also worked for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles for many years. As a consultant on the 1992 film "The Mambo Kings", he taught Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante to mambo, and can be seen in several of the dance scenes. In 2000, he collaborated with Edward Villella on the ballet “Mambo No. 2 a.m.,” which had its premiere with the Miami City Ballet.
Barbara Craddock was his last dance partner (since 1998) and manager. Aguilar and Craddock were both inducted in the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
On November 14, 2007 it was announced they were the recipients of the Latin Jazz USA Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 2007/08 Ms. Latina International Pageant, with the presentation on December 22, 2007 at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida. They were the first Latin dancers to receive this award.
He died January 13, 2009 from heart failure at Sinai Plaza Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, Miami, Florida. Aguilar is survived by his daughters Denise Gerard and Petrina Aguilar, son Sean Aguilar, granddaughter Gina Gerard and grandson Noah.