Banda Music's Sour Notes : Dance Fans Are Stepping on Some Toes, Cities Say

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A dance called la quebradita , which has inspired hundreds of clubs and dance halls that cater to its followers in Orange County, is generating some criticism and unwanted attention to go along with its success.

While this Latin dance entices participants much like the rumba, mambo, tango and even the lambada, its popularity has grown so fast--witnessed by an outdoor banda concert in Santa Ana attended by more than 4,000 dancers in July--that some cities including Santa Ana and La Habra are not pleased with the enthusiasm.

Officials and residents say it isn't the fast-paced, country-Western-style dance that is at issue, but the loud banda music, which features a fast pulsating beat combined with a mixture of ranchera and norteno rhythms, is a nuisance and has brought loitering, littering and noise into their neighborhoods.

Followers of the dance say the reaction by residents, city officials, police and fire departments is overblown.

But several city officials and residents who live near the dance halls are worried that further popularity of the dance will lead to fights and violence.

Two shootings and several fights were reported in various dance halls in Santa Ana, according to police. Last year, a security guard was shot by a man denied entrance to a dance hall, and this year, during a wedding reception at another dance hall, another man was shot and killed outside the premises.

Fullerton police said they have received complaints of drunkenness in public and general rowdiness at a local bar that features quebradita dancing.

The dance fad has become so popular among Orange County's Latino immigrant population that nightclubs turn people away at the door because it gets too crowded on the dance floors and fire officials are concerned that occupancy limits may be violated. La Rosita's dance hall in Huntington Beach averages 1,000 people each night it features quebradita , pushing the limits of its occupancy limit.

Fire officials there said they make periodic checks on the dance hall to make sure it does not exceed its limit.

In other communities, residents who live near quebradita dance halls fear the fad could be a hazard for the community.

"When you get a bunch of kids running around late at night, all kinds of trouble can happen," said Hilda Fregoso, who lives near Peppers Restaurant in Garden Grove. "I'm sure some of these kids carry guns and paint on walls."

Dancers and those who like to watch the fast-moving footwork say there is nothing to worry about and that all they are looking for is a place to show off their moves.

Ana Vargas, 23, and her boyfriend Jose Velazquez, 25, have been dancing together for the past two years. They picked up their tricky moves, which include tosses, swings, wraps, stomps and gyrations from watching other couples dance at clubs around the county.

The Tustin residents, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, wear correas , or leather key chains with their home-state's name engraved on them.

"We are not bad people," said Velasquez.

The dance "comes from the bottom of the heart," Velazquez said. "It's hard to explain but it feels good. You do this dance because you want to keep alive the culture and pass it on to the kids so they can keep it alive."

Quebradita enthusiasts said they are getting a "bad rap" by people who are confused and intimidated by their numbers.

"They think we are gang members because there are a lot of us together," said Jesus Chavarria, 19, of El Modena. "We probably look scary to some people with our cowboy hats."

According to La Quebradita, a magazine published in Los Angeles which boasts a 100,000 circulation in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the dance is spreading uncontrollably throughout South America and across the United States.

"I know that a lot of quebradita dancers used to be gang members," said Carmen Moran, a publisher of the magazine. "Now they just dance. They don't go around fighting each other any more. We need positive things like this to keep the kids away from gangs."

Station manager Juan Carlos Hidalgo from KLAX, the most successful radio station in California mainly because of its banda music programming, said there are more than 700 quebradita clubs, or groups of dancers, in Los Angeles and Orange counties and that the dance highlights Latino culture and traditions.

Quebradita popularity also has caused a boom in Western-style clothing. In a three-block area of downtown Santa Ana, nary a store can be found that does not sell the standard quebradita gear--the boots, hats, shirts, correas and belts. Shoe stores stock their shelves with charro- style boots and music stores sell layers and layers of banda compact discs and cassette tapes.

When dance hall operators first featured the music and dance, they had no idea how popular quebradita would become.

Before the quebradita , Sal Avila, owner of Avila's El Ranchito Restaurant in Laguna Hills, said his business gained only moderate success from 1985 to 1991. That changed last year when he started booking banda bands and allowing dancing. His clientele tripled and so did the cash flow.

"All of a sudden, it's gotten much more busy," Avila, 46, said. "People are coming here from Oceanside, San Clemente and Anaheim--some to dance, some just to watch."

Avila said his restaurant and dance hall is the only South County facility which offers quebradita dancing. He credits his location as the reason he was allowed an entertainment permit by city officials. El Ranchito is bordered by Interstate 5 on one side and is 1,000 yards away from the nearest neighborhood.

"A lot of people are afraid of having Latinos around their neighborhoods," Avila said. Neighborhoods in other parts of the county are expressing anger at the people who follow the dance.

Contrary to Laguna Hills, residents living near the Viva Mexico restaurant in Fullerton are fed up. They have called police on several occasions complaining of fights and rowdiness in the parking lot.

Jack Farhood, 58, said: "There are too many drunks hanging around that place. It's full of trouble. They're always fighting."

In La Habra, police said they received a few complaints of loud music. In Stanton and Garden Grove, officials said minor disturbances in the parking lots of the dance halls were reported.

Fire officials, on the other hand, are concerned that the large numbers of customers pose a dangerous problem if nightclub owners do not strictly manage overcrowding.

"There has to be head counts to make sure no more than a 1,000 are going inside if that's their (dance club's) capacity," said Huntington Beach Fire Marshall Tom Poe. "You always have to make sure the exit signs are lit and the hardware (extinguishers and sprinklers) is working."

Fire officials in other cities said they watch over the dance halls to make sure occupancy limits are not violated. They said none of the clubs have violated safety regulations

Because of the newness of quebradita dancing, some cities are unsure what the fad is all about.

An example of La Habra's inexperience with quebradita music was evident during a recent Planning Commission meeting. A commissioner asked why the banda music required amplification when mariachi music, which uses horns, guitars, violins and a string bass does not. Most banda instruments are electric, including drums, guitars, synthesizers and bass, thus requiring amplification.

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