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Get Ready to Floor It at This Big-Band Hall

July 25, 1996|ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GARDEN GROVE — Lee Laitz says he often loses money running a weekly dance at the women's civic club here, featuring the 15-piece John Peace Super Big Band. The crowd's too thin to turn a profit.

But that's good news for swing-era jazz hounds who like lots of elbow room on the dance floor and nothing but live music.

Nobody will confuse this venue with Birraporetti's at South Coast Plaza. On Monday nights, that upscale restaurant-bar looks like a period-movie set, thanks to a regular crew of jitterbugging Gen-Xers dressed in vintage 1940s garb, down to the watch fob and snood.

No, the Women's Civic Club of Garden Grove can't compete. It looks like, well, a women's civic club: drab, utilitarian, dated. Plastic green ivy tacked to white latticework along the ceiling; lip-smackin' bridge mix served in Styrofoam bowls.

But Laitz's place has a dancer-friendly wood floor that, at 2,500 square feet, is easily five times the size of its uptown big sister's (whose regulars sometimes come here, we've heard). And no less energy is expended at the civic club, even though most of the dancers are over 50.

Peace's fine band, whose members have played with the likes of Harry James, keeps feet moving to a rich variety of standards by James, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, without rupturing anyone's hearing aid.

There's ample opportunity to fox trot, waltz, samba or tango as well as swing, while a twirling mirrored ball throws specks of light about the big, airy room.

Singles should feel comfortable here. Laitz organizes mixers so that everybody gets to exchange partners, and he calls out ladies'-choice dances. The crowd is friendly.

Temperate types will appreciate a ban on drinking and smoking inside, although smokers can always stroll outdoors.

There's ample free parking, and the prices are right inside. It costs $5 to get in, $1 for soft drinks, and 25 cents for coffee, brewed.

Laitz, a retired electrical engineer, former swing-dance champ and persistent PR man, doesn't mind losing a little money on his enterprise. He does it to give people a good time, he says, and intends to keep it going "forever."

Well, we know at least he's paid up at the women's club through December.

* BIG BAND DANCE

* At the Women's Civic Club of Garden Grove, 9501 Chapman Ave.

* (714) 539-3134.

* 7:30-10:30 p.m. Thursdays.

* Cover: $5.

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