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Teacher Feeds His Dance Fever 5 Nights a Week

July 08, 1993|SUSAN PATERNO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By day, Louie Herrera is a machine operator. At night, he becomes the Southeast area's answer to Fred Astaire, swinging partners in fox trots, cha-chas, waltzes, tangos and rumbas.

Five nights a week, Herrera teaches social, ballroom or country and Western dancing. He said he used to dance a mean hustle, too, before demand for disco dwindled.

Herrera, 34, backbone of the ballroom dance program at Cerritos College, gets paid to do what he loves: dance. He also stays fit. And a number of students have asked him out.

But there are drawbacks. Like the time an older woman stopped in the middle of a set she was dancing with Herrera and rested her head on his shoulder. She suffered a minor stroke. "She was back in less than three weeks," Herrera said.

Or the time he got a little tired, pulled one of his students through his legs, inadvertently let go and shot her like a bullet into the mirror at the front of the class. The mirror didn't break. "She was fine, he said, "just a little shook up."

The good times far outweigh the few mishaps in his 14 years as a dance instructor, Herrera said.

When the power failed one time at Cerritos College, Herrera held class in the parking lot. Forty students doing the fox trot so impressed a passing bus filled with tourists that the driver pulled over. "Pretty soon we were all dancing," Herrera said, about 80 in all.

Herrera's love affair with dance and music started when he was young. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Herrera said he learned to appreciate music and dance from his family. "I grew up with it," he said. "During parties we'd roast pigs, do Latin dance, listen to salsa music. During the '70s, Herrera started frequenting disco clubs and was impressed with the movie "Saturday Night Fever" and its star, John Travolta.

"At the time I thought, 'Wow, that guy's great,' but I look back now and I realize he was really doing basic moves. He really wasn't that great."

But Travolta's dancing inspired Herrera and a friend to begin a training session at a Beverly Hills dance studio to learn to teach. Of the 26 who started in the class, only five were hired. Herrera was one of them.

"I never thought I'd be doing it for very long," he said. "I never thought I'd still be doing it. But I'm still having fun."

He teaches five nights a week, ballroom on Saturdays at Cerritos and country and Western the other nights at various clubs in Long Beach and Orange County. His first job paid about $6.50 an hour; now he can make up to $300 a night for three hours of work.

He keeps his day job, working with his father as a machinist, to help support his two young children. But dancing, and teaching dance, are what he loves to do. "Even though I'm doing the same thing over and over, I'm like a stand-up comedian; I have a little routine. If a guy's holding his partner a little low on the back, I tell the class he's having a lot more fun than the rest of us. I try to keep them laughing at themselves.

"Most people think they're the worst dancers, but they all have the same problems. They look down at the wrong time, they start on the wrong foot. They'll say, 'I must be the worst dancer you've ever seen.' And I tell them, 'Yep, you are.' By the time they realize I'm picking on them, they like me."

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Downey resident Michele Wolfson has won the Nathaniel R. and Valerie Dumont Scholarship for a perfect grade-point average during three years at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Wolfson, a communications and theater arts major, will receive $2,500 for the next academic year.

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Gabriela Maria Soto-Laveaga, another Cal State Dominguez Hills student, has won the First Interstate Bank of California Foundation Minority Undergraduate Scholarship. Soto-Laveaga, a communications and history major, will receive $2,000 for her senior year. The scholarship is awarded annually to an outstanding minority student with financial need majoring in liberal arts.

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Karl W. E. Anatol, acting president of Cal State Long Beach, has been named chairman of the United Way Harbor/Southeast Region board of directors. Anatol, a longtime community activist, has a doctorate in speech communications from USC. Anatol will oversee fund-raising campaigns to support a variety of local causes, from family counseling to child care, literacy, gangs and disaster relief.

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Three Southeast sheriff's deputies have been honored by Supervisor Deane Dana for heroism in rescuing automobile crash victim Jaime Alcarez. The deputies used bare hands to rip back a portion of the metal top of Alcarez's flaming car, pulling him through the opening of the roof moments before his car was engulfed in flames. Officers Manuel Scruggs, Brian McBride and Joseph Haertsch were credited with saving Alcarez's life. The accident occurred on the San Diego Freeway near Santa Fe Avenue in Long Beach.

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St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach has named Ralph Zoerlein its volunteer of the year. Zoerlein volunteers two days a week in the marketing and public relations department. He delivers mail, stuffs envelopes, runs the copy machine, visits patients and delivers books and magazines. Zoerlein is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Material for this column may be mailed to People, Los Angeles Times, 12750 Center Court, Suite 150, Cerritos 90701; (310) 924-8600.

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