House fire kills beloved dance teacher, community pillar in Elizabeth, NJ
ELIZABETH — A woman who moved to the U.S from Cuba in the 1960s and taught dance for over 30 years died in a fire on Tuesday night.
Damarys Vazquez died in a house fire on Park Avenue, according to city spokeswoman Kelly Martins. The cause of the fire and Vazquez's death are still under investigation.
The house was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. Firefighters successfully kept the flames from spreading to neighboring houses, fire officials told RLS Metro Breaking News.
Firefighters got Vazquez, who is in her mid 70s, out of the house but she was pronounced dead a short time later.
Mayor Christian Bollwage told New Jersey 101.5 that Vazquez came to the United States from Cuba with her husband. A ballerina in Cuba, she taught young girls at Damarys Dance Studio on Elizabeth Avenue for over 30 years.
"If you were young and wanted to dance and mostly of Hispanic descent you went to her dance school in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She was a professional ballerina, someone who really cared about teaching dance," Bollwage said. "Not only that but she also organized over 500 Sweet 16 parties."
"I know I speak for all of her students when I say that she didn’t feel like a teacher, but felt like family," Dariany Santana wrote on her Facebook page. "She was the personification of class and even more so of a powerful woman; who’s presence commanded a room and made you want to fix your posture."
The mayor said that Vazquez's daughter had Lupus and died 15 years ago and her husband died four years ago.
Vazquez's husband would give Bollwage a cigar to try when he came to the door during campaigns.
"I'd go home and get a cigar and leave it in his mailbox and say 'hey, try this one.' Just nice neighbors. They lived about five blocks from me. Just really nice people," Bollwage said.
The basement of her house took on 3 feet of water during the heavy rains from Ida.
"Her friends helped her get stuff out and put it at the curb/ I'm sure she was spending time trying to recover from whatever damage was in her basement," Bollwage said.
Fire officials told ABC 7 Eyewitness News the fire may have started in the kitchen area of the house which is where Vazquez was found.