It's noon in South Los Angeles, and the more than 500 kids packed shoulder-to-shoulder into a multipurpose room at Gage Middle School have one thing on their minds: the summer's biggest dance craze-- la quebradita --danced to the summer's newly popular sound, banda .
Hotter than a jalapeno, the dance fever has been gaining steam among Latino teen-agers--particularly those of Mexican descent--and now it seems to have burst onto the scene, dominating CD players at junior high and high school dances, quinceaneras and parties from East Los Angeles to Lynwood, from Hollywood to Huntington Park.
At Gage, where the majority student enrollment is Latino and English is the second language spoken at home, quebraditas , as the bailes (or dances) are commonly known, have been in demand since a quebradita dance club formed a few months ago.
It was then that a handful of students armed with banda cassettes--Mexican music played with the festive horns and oom-pah bass of German polka bands--began meeting every Friday to enjoy la quebradita, a dance that combines country-Western with cumbia, salsa and occasionally flamenco. The dance gets it name, la quebradita ("the little break"), when one partner, usually the guy, swings his mate into a backward bend and, balancing her body in one arm, barely brushes her against the floor while rocking to the beat.
For sure, this is not the Mexican hat dance. It's more like lambada meets limbo rock.
And on this particular Friday, la quebradita is getting down at Gage.
There are no wallflowers here. Everyone--with and without partners, in groups of three to five and more, guys dancing solo, girls dancing together, even teachers, counselors and school principal Jose Caldera--is grooving to the Mexican music. They're singing along to the Spanish lyrics of lost loves, new romances, sad memories and pride in being Mexican.
Forget house music. Deep-six techno. And if you want to get out of here alive, don't even mention rap.
Louie Guzman, a 23-year-old teacher's assistant and part-time deejay doesn't dare throw down Dr. Dre on his CD player. "Not in this crowd. Are you kidding? I'll get booed," he shouts above the pulsating music of Banda Vallarta Show, a popular group he intersperses with Banda Movil, Banda Machos and Banda Jinetes.
"I've done it before just to see what kind of music they want," says Guzman, who danced to funk during his Gage heyday and is "shocked and amazed" at the quebradita trend. "And right now they want banda . They want to dance quebradita ."
These kids are even dressed for it. There's not one saggy, baggy blue jean in the lot. Instead, quebradita dancers have adopted a ranchero , or cowboy, look to carry off the total experience.
For girls, it's a style that includes black stretch tops, tight-fitting jeans with belt buckles the size of hubcaps, and cowboy boots. For guys, the look is carried off with button-fly jeans, hats (usually made of straw or felt), fringed leather vests and boots so shiny you can see your reflection in them.
Rear pockets are draped with a correa, or a leather strap, engraved with the name of a Mexican state--Michoacan, Colima, Jalisco, Zacatecas--to signify a dancer's birthplace. For those who can't plunk down $15 for a correa, there's an $8 folded bandanna with the state's name embroidered on it in red and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. It suits the purpose and fills the wearer with just as much pride.
La c uarta , or a shorter variation of a horsewhip, is wrapped around a belt loop and dangles to just below the knee. It's used in several dances, for effect, by whipping the sides of one's boots.
"We're like Mexican cowboys when we are dancing quebradita -style," says Ivan Coronado, 12, whose correa declares him from the state of Sinaloa. Ivan and his family emigrated to California four years ago.
The seventh-grader is in fine form as he switches off partners in a group of dancers who mix it all up: ranchero steps with polka and restrained rocanrol moves. With a little bit of encouragement Ivan doesn't miss a beat as he twirls his blue-gray cowboy hat on his fingertip to shouts and applause.
"This is part of my culture," Ivan says. "My parents like nortena (accordion-based music) and ranchera (guitar-based music.) I like banda ."
And he loves to dance.
So does Karen Velasquez, 12, who came to the United States from Colima two years ago.
"Ever since I was little we always grew up with music in our home, with Mexican music," she says, while sitting out a song by Banda Superbandidos. "I like dancing quebradita mainly because it reminds me of Mexico and this is the dance and music of Mexico and Los Angeles. It's a combination of the two. When I'm dancing it makes me feel happy."