It's Friday night at La Sierra in Panorama City, and 300 dancers are stomping and kicking to a tune that takes a moment to recognize: "Under the Boardwalk," with Spanish lyrics and an irresistible beat. So irresistible that one dancer is being paged in Spanish over the loudspeaker because his wife is in labor.
Move over, salsa. Forget lambada . The dance of the day is la quebradita , and the sound that drives it is banda.
"The music comes from the rich tradition of the Mexican state of Sinaloa," said Everto Ruiz, a Cal State Northridge professor of Chicano studies. It's distinguished by having no string instruments. A typical banda (band) would have seven to 17 musicians playing mostly trumpet, trombone, clarinet, tuba and percussion.
"It dates back to the military band sound that arose when Europeans first came to Mexico. Folk musicians used that instrument group not only for marches, but also to interpret traditional Mexican music and the popular music of their time. Now banda musicians play the past repertoire and have taken it to the popular songs of today," he said.
Sometimes, for reasons of cost and convenience, bass guitar substitutes for the tuba's oom-pah, while keyboard fills in for clarinet.
La Sierra regular Tony Rodriguez, 28, of Van Nuys by way of Durango, Mexico, traces the current banda craze to a popular recording five years ago by Mexican singer Antonio Aguilar. "Banda Mobil and other groups followed, and boom! People started dancing in parks, watching others: adults, girls, boys, guys just dancing by themselves." The banda craze has been big for about two years, according to the people who run La Sierra.
Rodriguez, dressed banda -style in jeans, cowboy hat, boots and hand-tooled belt with dangling leather cuerda (cattle whip), is a good enough quebradora (dancer) to consider competing for tonight's top prize of $700.
La quebradita , less overtly erotic than other recent Latin dance crazes, looks something like the Texas two-step combined with the fast and furious footwork of a Highland fling. The upper body remains fairly rigid as dancers kick their heels fore, aft and around in circles, occasionally dipping their partners backward into a quebradita (break).
Too much salsa-style wiggling can get a couple disqualified, although judges favor acrobatic lifts and sombreros spinning like Hula-Hoops.
"Everybody tries to do something different that looks good," Rodriguez said. "Waltz steps, ballet, country. . . . I learned a step that looks like the Russian kazatzka by watching Billy Ray Cyrus. There's only one problem: It's hard on the knees."
B anda has become as popular around area high schools as in clubs such as La Sierra, Leonardo's in Sun Valley and La Zona Rosa in North Hollywood. The under-21 crowd, and many adults, do their dancing at flyer-advertised parties called pachangons , held in rented halls or private homes and organized by banda clubs that may have as many as 300 members. Some clubs are all-male, some all-female. The 40-member 14 Kilate de Oro (14 Karat Gold), started by a group of friends at University High in West Los Angeles, has males and females, adults and teen-agers.
Club President Eric Ramirez, 17, a University High senior, admits that he used to be a tagger and gang banger who thought that the quebradores at his school were hicks.
"I thought I'd never go cowboy," he said, ". . . until the girls started going for guys who looked like that."
Even then, Ramirez worried before he adopted the style. "I thought the black kids would make fun of me, but they didn't. They're wearing African clothes now themselves."
Ramirez and his friends like the fact that the music they're dancing to is old--"songs our parents knew as kids, but with different rhythms." They're proud of their Mexican cowboy gear emblazoned with the regions of their ancestors and the name of their club.
Instead of tagging, the 14 Kilate de Oro members spend their after-school hours practicing steps or working to pay for pricey snakeskin gear. "Instead of fighting," Ramirez said, "we put our best dancers up against another club's best dancers."
"Young people practicing, performing, it teaches them something about themselves," Ruiz said. "It takes their time in a positive way . . . as long as they don't take the competitive aspect too far."
"There are no more fights," Ramirez said. "We all get along like family. I'm proud now to show the world I'm Mexican."
Where and When What: Banda dancing to live bands at La Sierra Mexican Restaurant & Nightclub, 8632 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City, or 8351 San Fernando Road, Sun Valley.
Hours: 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Price: $8 to $25, depending on the band.
Call: (818) 830-1919.