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When Big Bob Boogies, Spirits Soar

L.A. STORIES. A slice of life in Southern California.

August 03, 1993|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bob Bordeleau can boogie-woogie. Then he can bust into the Big Bob Shuffle, waggling his fingers as though casting a spell. Equal parts Diana Ross, funky Fred Astaire and Jethro Bodine with a beat--the beefy 265-pounder sways his hips like a runway queen.

Then, in violent punctuation to the driving bass of an oldie-but-goodie, he slams a meaty elbow into a wavering wall. Wham! Bam! Thank-you, Bob.

The Oar House crowd goes wild.

On Monday nights, patrons of the Santa Monica bar noisily hoist a collective beer to this big cheerleader of a man who just loves to dance--the public eye be damned.

Perched precariously on a pew-like bench near the disc jockey's booth, his face as expressionless as a Sphinx, Bob shimmies and shakes, showing off the grace of a ballerina while he sweats like an overworked linebacker. Both Chippendale Dancer and the Fridge--a Chunkendale.

"Not a lot of big guys can do the Pony with any grace," he says. "Most are afraid to do the Mashed Potato, or do the Swim with that exaggerated sway of the hips. They'd be too embarrassed. But I don't care. If music makes me do it, I do it."

For the past eight years, Bordeleau and a supporting cast of Oar House regulars have danced away Monday nights to the music of the 1950s, '60s and '70s that they refuse to leave behind.

By day, the 35-year-old Van Nuys man is a staid CPA. Come Monday, though, Bob kicks off his penny loafers for a pair of dancing shoes.

Heads above the rest of the crowd, he and a half-dozen regulars--men and women alike--stand on the benches and boogie, lip-syncing and moving their heads and hands in silky gestures that have made dancing a spectator sport.

Almost without fail, after watching Bob's high-anxiety antics, his Fred Flintstone fashions and Bam-Bam-like shows of force, the crowd joins in on the postage-stamp dance floor.

And Bob smiles.

*

For Bordeleau, dancing is not a means to an end, not a way to meet girls or show off a gym-honed physique. It's just a way to have fun.

He says Southern Californians are just too uptight about their dancing. Women are worried about performing the latest moves, and men are fearful of being without a female floor partner.

"I've seen guys in this place take three drinks and two hours to build up the nerve to ask a girl to dance," he says. "When they get shot down, they walk away like their manhood is at stake. It isn't."

So Bob struts his stuff.

He does a Chuck Berry guitar dip. To a disco number, it's a John Travolta swirl. To the "Hawaii 5-0" theme, he hits the floor like he's paddling a canoe and splashing water. Every song was made for dancing. One minute, he's Little Willie. Then he's Diana Ross and the Supremes. He's staying at the YMCA. He's a moon-walking Michael Jackson. He's the Rocking Robin or Wild Thing. He's on a Stairway to Heaven.

Meanwhile, sweat flies like he's on the wrong end of a left hook. Bob goes through three T-shirts most Mondays, and his towel doesn't seem to help. He guzzles Coke straight from the pitcher.

And from down in the crowd, some comments come:

"That guy definitely needs to get out more."

"How can a man be so moved by Little Willie?"

"He's a regular karaoke machine."

"Elvis didn't die. He's back as a funky fat man."

*

Bob ignores the insults, preferring to concentrate on the men who high-five him when he goes to the restroom or listening to women who cheer him on.

He admits he's insecure. He's the kid who grew up in the wrong decade, the high-school football player who won dance contests, the guy who tried acting and comedy but who settled on a normal career.

And his madcap Monday night release?

"Let them laugh," he says. "I've been doing this for almost 10 years now. I feel comfortable here. It's the fraternity house I never had."

Oar House manager K.C. Knutson Jr. is laughing all the way to the bank. Bob and the other Monday night fixtures actually draw a crowd into the place. And when fights occasionally break out, Big Bob has jumped in to help sort 'em out.

"I like the guy," says Nici Floth, a student at Santa Monica City College who frequents the Oar House. "He's just having a good time being himself, without worrying what people think. That's unique for Southern California. And, give him credit. He's got rhythm."

Adds another patron, Shawn Pelofsky: "He's the best. He's got the moves. And he knows all the words. I want to marry someone like Bob--a free spirit."

So, for now, Bob is going to keep dancing. And he has some advice for dancers--and everyone else--on the night-time scene: "We all love to people-watch, but we've got to stop judging. When you stop doing it, maybe others will too. Then everybody can relax, have a good time."

Like Bob.

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