By Colleen Janssen
With a partner, or without, aspiring dancers arrived at Efren Barrera’s ballroom and swing class last week.
The community services building on Westminster Boulevard was filled with upbeat Cha-Cha-Chá music.
Six people, some of them for the first time, were taking a series of classes to learn ballroom and swing dancing. This night featured the Cha-Cha-Chá.
Barrera patiently taught the steps, then couples practiced their new skills to music. At each stopping point the students moved to a new partner, ensuring that women had the opportunity to dance with the instructor and the men would receive special help from the instructor.
Forward step, left cha-cha-chá, right step, right cha-cha-chá. Two basic, two side steps, two basic, ladies’ right turn. With just a few stumbles, all couples were able to follow the footwork, albeit with a few laughs at their missteps.
“We started originally doing it for fun,” said Tiffany Vasquez of her participation with her grandmother, Joyce Barr. “Last month I started, then continued with this class. I made Jerry come with me.”
“I come for fun and exercise,” said Mary Acevedo. “I’ve come before; been here awhile.”
“This is a different type of dance,” said Tony Acevedo. “Last time we did swing and ballroom. This is Latin,” interjected Barrera.
“I have been teaching dance for 16 years,” said Barrera. “In my day job, I have been in maintenance and operations for 21 years for the Ocean View School District.”
He not only works there, but was recently selected from nominations throughout the entire State of California to receive the California Employee of the Year, awarded in May of this year by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. He had already won for his school district and the County of Orange, before being selected for this prestigious state honor.
Barrera keeps up his dance skills by attending conventions throughout the world. He has danced in Barcelona, Costa Rica, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and Shanghai. The classes are with professionals, which Barrera enjoys. Then, he brings back what he has learned to his students.
“I love to teach dance classes,” said Barrera. “As people get older, dance helps against Alzheimer’s and dementia because we make rapid-fire decisions which connect the brain and muscles. I even had a patient referred to the class by her doctor after she had a stroke. The dance classes helped her in her recovery.”
His passion for his students was evident in the patience he showed, repeating steps until everyone felt confident. When dancers rest, he shares information about the history of the dance. “The Cha-Cha-Chá came from Cuba in the 1950s,” he said. “First came the music. Then, as people danced, the creator, Enrique Jorrin, said he could hear the feet making a cha-cha-cha sound, which he then used to name the music.”
Dancers smiled and nodded, appreciating the information. Then, back to dancing, one, two, cha-cha-chá!
For more information on the ballroom and swing classes, contact the City of Westminster’s Community Services Department online or call 714-895-2860.
Photos by Colleen Janssen.
From left, Tiffany Vaszuez, Jerry Crist, Joyce Barr, Efren Barrera, Mary Acevedo and Tony Acevedo practice their Cha-Cha-Chá to music. At the end of each dance, the students trade partners so everyone can learn from others, including dancing with instructor Efren Barrera.
Tiffany Vasquez dances with Jerry Crist, whom she convinced to join the class with her. Both had fun learning the Cha-Cha-Chá, then practicing their moves to Cuban music.