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Gentler Era at the Sequoia : Thursdays Swing at the Ballroom

July 15, 1993|ROSE APODACA | Rose Apodaca is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

At the Sequoia Club in Buena Park every Thursday evening, the scene is strictly ballroom, with a couple of hundred toe-tapping swingers (that's East and, sometimes, West Coast swing) tearing it up (albeit a most graceful tear).

Promoter Jerry Morton, who has played host to such regular events for three decades, moved his ballroom evenings to the Sequoia Club more than a year ago because he liked the location. The site lends enough classic ambience with its banquet style tables, florid rose- and periwinkle-colored carpet and mirrored balls over the parquet dance areas. It's just fancy enough without any airs or camp; so dress is not formal, nor too casual.

Before the present location, Morton kept residence for 23 years at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, as well as holding temporary stints at hotels, lodges and other sites with ballrooms.

For 14 years of his long career as a club promoter, he has been joined by Memo Bernabei and his orchestra. Memo, as he's affectionately called by the regulars, used to perform with the Jan Garber Big Band in the 1940s before breaking off on his own. At the Sequoia, he fronts eight musicians, about half the size of his usual orchestra.

Patrons take to two dance floors when the live music begins, few staying seated in the burgundy chairs. A square parquet area is in the middle of the ballroom, and a larger space spreads out between the bar and the band at the opposite end from the entrance.

Between songs, Memo reminds couples to switch partners and floors. Meeting new people is a goal here, although it's not as pushy or cliquish as other ballroom clubs. As for the men to women ratio, it seems about even.

Before Memo strikes up the band, a variety of taped music plays from 8 to 9 p.m. Couples warm up to everything from country line dancing to cha-cha to the fox trot at this time. As each recorded song begins, a deep voice announces the dance style; expect tunes by the likes of Glenn Miller to Neil Diamond playing back to back.

Patrons looking to polish their dancing skills, pick up a new move or learn a new dance can come early, from 7 to 8 p.m., to learn from instructor John Buckner, who has also been with Morton for many years. Novices can expect personal attention, because relatively few--about two to three dozen--go to the class.

Many of the regulars have been following Morton and his crew for a long time. Though the crowd makeup is mostly the senior set, don't assume everyone is a Depression-era baby; there are some individuals young enough to be their grandkids who have discovered the thrills of ballroom dancing.

Peak hours are from 9 to 11, but there are a substantial number of die-hards who keep turning, swaying and dipping until midnight.

Because the ballroom is part of a larger athletic club complex, there is no smoking. But what's healthy is a matter of opinion; the bar flows wells ($3.25), talls ($3.75), premiums ($4.25) and bottled domestic beer ($2.50).

Those who want to keep their edge can land sodas for $1.50; juice for $1.75; and, the favorite, water on the rocks for 50 cents.

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