Trouble in swing city seems to have been resolved happily ever after, thanks to a surplus of real estate and enterprising minds in South County.
It all started in August when the Country Rock Cafe in Lake Forest replaced its Sunday night country format with jitterbug and Lindy hopping, and at the same time welcomed all of the children of the kingdom, no matter their age.
Then, one evening, an unhappy woman marched in to complain that her 14-year-old granddaughter hadn't had permission to go to a "grown-ups' nightclub." That was enough to raise liability concerns, according to owner Tom Elsea. Meanwhile, CRC's older dancers weren't too hep on having younger kids around to mess up their fun.
So, CRC--which also bans aerial dance maneuvers to avert broken-bone lawsuits--upped the minimum age to 16. And Elsea started bringing in live bands, hot name acts such as Flat Top Tom and his Jump Cats, the Eddy Reed Orchestra and Red and the Red Tops, and doubled the club's cover on Sundays to $10.
All of this made the younger kids mad, of course. Why, the club even began to charge for (bottled) water, banishing its free tumblers-full. "Bad, mean owner," they cried, and promptly boycotted. This was about five weeks ago.
Debbie Nadon rushed to the rescue. The dimpled dance instructor, who had been teaching CRC's swing lessons, decamped to a spanking new community center in nearby Aliso Viejo and started up Sunday night swing dances for all ages. The boycotters appear to have followed her.
Roughly 100 happy teens, braces aglitter, packed the Aliso Viejo Community Activity Center's 2,400-square foot multipurpose room by 8 on a recent evening. (The center, which opened in mid-January, is a private operation, offering family activities out of a brand-new private gymnastics school surrounded by empty acreage.)
An equal mix of guys and girls followed a peppy Nadon through rock steps, knee slaps and Charleston kicks. Post-lesson, they merged into couples to jump and fly--one little brother did a back flip over his big brother's head--to recordings by Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Prima and such new artists as Lavay Smith and the Mighty Blue Kings.
Some came in Billabong Ts, others in raging-red zoot suits. Some arrived with their dancing parents. Everybody got free water and paid only $5, three lessons included, to get in.
"Whoever wants to come can come," said Adam Velez, a sophomore at Dana Hills High School, who prefers the all-ages arrangement over CRC.
That joint is jumping too. For the older crowd, and for my $10, this is the place to be.
The club's sophisticated sound and lighting system far outshine what the center can do, of course, and thuddingly loud music and colored lights stimulate the dancing electrons and make it a night out, not a class at the Y. Who cares if the disco ball overhead is really a mirrored saddle?
The big bands are great, and they add to the retro atmosphere not only with music but also with lead singers who sprinkle 1940s music trivia among the "hey, bop-a-ree-bops" and trumpeters who wear vintage-style suits and ties.
The dancers get decked out too. The best-dressed elite arrive around 10 p.m. looking as if they walked off a World War II movie set, from coiled coifs to two-tone shoes. Then, hunched over, knees bent, sweat trickling, the skilled dance cats suavely revive the era's up-tempo energy with a vast repertoire of whirls and kicks.
Listen, kids, you've got something great to look forward to in CRC, providing the big-band era isn't entirely eclipsed by another club trend by the time you turn 16.
Country Rock Cafe, 23822 Mercury Road, Lake Forest; (714) 455-1881. Sunday swing night, 6 p.m.-midnight. Cover: $10.
Aliso Viejo Community Activity Center, 4 Journey, Aliso Viejo; (714) 472-5571. Swingin' Sundays, organized by the Ultimate Dance Connection, 6:30-11 p.m. Cover: $5.