John Jaramillo, 50: Taught various forms of dance

John Jaramillo danced out of pure joy, but he had as much fun teaching young people to express themselves by moving their arms, legs and torsos.

For much of the last 20 years, he did a lot of his dancing and arts instruction in Atlanta.

A Pueblo from New Mexico, he mastered many forms of dance, traditional and modern, specializing in flamenco and varieties of Native American dance.

“John was brilliant,” said Charlotte Lantz, who teaches dance at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “He moved with such finesse. He knew how to seize the audience’s attention and hold it. He had a striking presence – slender build, deeply tanned face, long black hair and dark eyes.”

In 2000, Jaramillo was the lead dancer in a children’s show that the New York Times called the original Wile E. Coyotes at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The production was based on folk tales handed down by Jaramillo’s great-grandfather and, according to the Times, Jaramillo had the young audience howling like coyotes.

He also performed with flamenco and Native American dance groups throughout America and in Canada, Mexico, England and Spain.

John Dominic Jaramillo, 50, of Lithonia died June 6 at Hospice Atlanta of leptomeningeal disease. He is to be buried June 14 in the New Mexico town of Isleta Pueblo. A.S. Turner & Sons is in charge of arrangements. His family plans an August celebration of his life in Atlanta.

Jaramillo lived in Atlanta, off and on, starting in 1994 when he took part in the local Young Audiences program for metro school children, recently renamed Arts for Learning/Woodruff Arts Center.

Jaramillo also participated in the Georgia Wolf Trap literacy program, visiting local schools and getting children enthused about language arts.

“In addition to teaching about dance, John introduced my pupils to theater basics – sets, lighting, costumes, even a class about theater manners before the class went to see a show at the Alliance,” said Susan Beck, a retired teacher at Winnona Park Elementary School in Decatur.

“He was so patient and kind, calming the fidgety kids and bringing out the shy ones,” she added.

“John brought a playful spirit and a loving heart into the classroom and captivated his students,” said Betty Hart, like Jaramillo a Young Audiences teacher.

“Students usually aren’t very physical in expressing themselves. John taught them to use their bodies as a part of the storytelling equation,” said Hart, who now resides in Denver. “And he wasn’t just teaching dancing – he was encouraging them to express emotions, even complex ideas through their physical movements.”

While Jaramillo remained attached to his New Mexico heritage, he loved Atlanta as a center of artistic creativity, said his wife, Therra Jaramillo.

“John used to say, he came to Atlanta to expand his art and to find a wife, and,” she noted, “he did both.”

“John and I were thrown sideways by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It destroyed property we had on the Mississippi shore and wiped us out financially. For the next couple of years, he and I traveled in an RV and did arts-related jobs here and there before we found work in Atlanta and settled in what we called our urban farm outside Lithonia.

Surviving beside his wife are a sister, Joann Henry, and a brother, Pat Jaramillo, both of Isleta Pueblo.

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