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Center Loses Ballet Passes Over Gang’s Reputation

Times Staff Writer

Dance teachers at the El Centro Wilshire Family Center had been excitedly anticipating taking their students, including about 25 gang members, to see their first ballet Sunday at the Music Center.

But that was before the Joffrey Ballet company’s representative called Wednesday to tell officials at El Centro that the 100 complimentary tickets given to the youngsters and their families would not be honored.

Maria Ross, who teaches dance at the center, said a ballet company representative told her that Los Angeles police had advised against giving tickets to members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. The gang’s name roughly translates as bright or clever Salvadorans.

Question of Rights

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“Why should the police tell me I can’t go to a public place,” gang member William Moran, 17, said in Spanish. “That right belongs to my parents.”

“We’ve been practicing about four months, and we would like to see the ballet,” said another gang member, Roberto Lobo, 20. He participates in the combination martial arts-gymnastics-break dance performance at the center, although he is confined to a wheel chair.

Faith Palermo, events coordinator at the county-funded center, said there is “bad blood between officers at the Rampart Division and the center, operated from the gymnasium of the First Baptist Church, 760 S. Westmoreland Ave.

“They say I’m harboring criminals,” Palermo said.

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Sgt. Tom Jones of Rampart’s Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums unit said he didn’t advise the ballet company to rescind the tickets, “and no one under my command did.”

He added, however, that “people at the El Centro center are not very nice people. We’re currently prosecuting one for four murders and assault with a deadly weapon.

“The Mara Salvatrucha gang is one of the more violent, criminally inclined gangs in the city. I feel sorry if there were other, decent kids excluded from the ballet. They shouldn’t be punished for the few.”

Ross said half the tickets had already been distributed, and several had gone to children as young as 5 years old and their parents.

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She said she didn’t learn that the tickets she had asked for had been rescinded until she called the ballet company to confirm permission to hold a news conference before Sunday’s performance.

“We wanted to have the boys in our dance group come and make a public statement to let people know how much they appreciated the tickets and urge more funding for arts in the inner city,” she said.

“We especially appreciated the tickets because we wanted to show that gang kids can be constructive, interested in the arts.”

Officials of the Joffrey Ballet could not be reached for comment.

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