A young girl in flashy clothes plays the part of Janet Jackson, moving and lip-syncing to music that blares across the dance hall. Colored lights pulse and swirl. The floor is packed with teen-agers.
"I can make a party happen," boasts Arthur Ochoa, who is running the show on this night. "They enjoy our music and they like to dance. And they know we're party people."
Ochoa is one of several promoters who hold weekend dances for teen-agers in rented halls throughout the San Fernando Valley. As many as 500 youths will pay $7 each to attend one of these parties to listen to music, talk to friends and compare fashions.
For young people itching to dance, such events are about the only alternative to the Valley's two teen-age clubs. Five or six local promoters circulate their mobile parties among a handful of halls and roller-skating rinks from Reseda to Sylmar.
These are strictly grass-roots productions: The dances play tiny halls on the edge of residential neighborhoods, places with names like El Palacio and Rosemary Ballroom. Entertainment is provided by a disc jockey or small-time band. The dances are advertised by flyers distributed at high schools and recreation centers.
"We're known and that's why people come," said Art Ortiz of Black Tie Promotions. "They spread the word that we're doing a dance."
Over the last several years, the mobile parties have attracted a cult following among the under-21 crowd. At the same time, they have become a constant worry for police, who contend that alcohol and drugs are often present at the dances.
"We get 200 or 300 young people in there, and, after a while, the booze takes over and it gets out of hand," said Los Angeles police Sgt. Robert Ontiveros. "Fights start breaking out and then somebody calls the police."
Specific incidents are not mentioned, but police speak of continually responding to fights in parking lots and reports of public drunkenness. They talk of patrol officers who fear wading through halls packed with several hundred teen-agers.
Just Beyond Law's Reach
Police commission investigators complain that many of the dances are held without proper permits. They say the traveling discos operate just beyond the reach of the law.
On Saturday nights, the lights continue to swirl, the music plays on. Teen-agers view the dances far differently than authorities.
"I go to them to get out of the house," said Nancy Cuencas, 17, of San Fernando. "It's a good idea for people under 18, and they are really popular."
"Having these parties is good," said Fabiola Acuna, 27, of Sun Valley, in attendance at a recent dance. Acuna said it is good that teen-agers "have somewhere to go."
"When I was growing up, it was only the streets," he said.
About a year and a half ago, a 15-year-old Hollywood boy was shot to death during a fight in the parking lot outside the Hot Trax teen-age club in Van Nuys. The shooting followed several years of controversy surrounding the Valley's other teen-age club, Phases, in Canoga Park.
Councilwoman Joy Picus at one point described Phases as a magnet for a variety of "hair-raising" and "unsavory" activities, including drug abuse, vandalism and sexual activity. In July, 1985, the Los Angeles City Council voted to set earlier closing times for teen-age dance clubs. Soon afterward, a similar measure to crack down on such clubs was introduced to the state Assembly.
Those who run mobile discos contend that they do not have the same kinds of problems. They know most of the people who come to their dances, know who the troublemakers are and keep them out, they say.
Searches at the Door
"The halls provide security guards and we always search people at the door," Ochoa said. "If someone starts a fight, that looks bad for my reputation. People will remember that the last time Gentlemen of Desire had a party, the cops came. We don't have any problems at our dances."
But such assurances are as vague and difficult to substantiate as police claims of violence and crime. Again, it is difficult to determine exactly how the promoters conduct their business in regard to the law. It appears that the dances are often organized somewhat haphazardly.
Most of the promoters in the Valley are in their mid-20s and have no previous entrepreneurial experience. Often, several friends or brothers will work together at the business. They operate under names like Black Tie Promotions, Girl Toy, Teez-2-Pleez Babes and GQ Productions.
Many of them work out of their homes. They are not listed in the telephone book and are difficult to reach. Few, if any, make enough money from the dances to earn a living.
"We all have other jobs," said Ochoa, 20, whose Gentlemen of Desire includes four cousins and two friends. "I work at a bank, one of us is an electrician, another is a computer analyst."
Some Have Mixed Crowds