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Novices Get Into Groove at Cafe Danssa

November 12, 1998|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Margarida Veiga teaches the samba at Cafe Danssa, she makes the pulsating, gyrating, hip-shaking Brazilian dance look much easier than it really is.

"Move your butt. . . . You need to feel the rhythm," Veiga shouts over the music. "Listen to the change in the beat . . . and throw your shoulders back--don't jerk."

Veiga, it seems, is Brazil's answer to Arthur Murray. And with her help each weekend, Cafe Danssa in West Los Angeles becomes the closest thing to Rio.

This Westside carnival gets underway each Friday when a large contingent of Brazilians--and their American counterparts--turn Danssa into a home away from home. It all starts with Veiga's samba lesson, which brings beginners up to speed and gives advanced dancers the polish they need to feel hot, hot, hot.

The turnout for the 9:30 p.m. lesson is as modest as the club--a small second-floor space on a nondescript stretch of Pico Boulevard. The small, dimly lighted space is decorated simply with Formica tables, booths, banners and a desert-themed mural. But as night moves closer to morning, Cafe Danssa becomes proof that it's people who make a club a happening spot.

The dance class gets off to a late start with a group of beginners. The more advanced stroll in later--just as Veiga adds the fancy footwork. As the class grows, the uncoordinated gravitate toward the rear. Veiga, ever the dance taskmaster, makes those in the back row change places with the people up front so those who need the most help get it.

When the lesson ends and the live music begins, Cafe Danssa kicks into high gear and doesn't slow down until the early morning.

Opened since 1966, Cafe Danssa long has been a popular spot for folk dancing. Over the years the club has hosted Greek and Israeli dancing, and on Wednesdays it caters to a Balkan crowd. But six years ago it became a hot spot for Brazilian dancing, and so far the samba is showing no signs of cooling off.

"People from abroad have always come here to be with other people from the same culture, so it's always been a folk dancing club," said Dave Blume, who owns the club with his family and also works as an assistant editor for the Los Angeles Times Magazine. "We've had all kinds of dancing here, but right now Brazilian dancing is what's popular."

Still, this eclectic club draws folks of all ages and ethnicities--from the trendy, miniskirted types to the more casual jeans-and-T-shirt crowd, anyone who wants to strut their stuff to the sounds of Brazil is welcome.

On Friday nights, percussionists in the band, called M.I.L.A., jam together in the carnival tradition--an energetic blend of whistles and drums that grows louder as the night grows darker. The packed scene repeats itself on Saturday nights, sans samba lesson and with the slower sounds of the Constellation band. (This Saturday only, the club will be closed.)

Either night the music is so rhythmic that patrons can't help but move to the beat. Those who know how to samba stick close to the club's makeshift stage, while those who still don't know a samba from a salsa lose themselves among the masses where they can dance out of step without notice.

BE THERE

Cafe Danssa, 11533 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 478-7866. 18 and older. Cover: Friday, $10; Saturday, $7. (Closed this Saturday only.) Full menu.

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