When a gunman opened fire on a ballroom dance floor in a Los Angeles suburb Saturday night, hundreds of Asian Americans were there celebrating the Lunar New Year and enjoying one of their favorite pastimes. What had been a dreamy refuge for immigrants and their descendants exploded into yet another spasm of American mass violence.
It was not unusual for patrons to spend a lot of time at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., taking private and group lessons, singing karaoke in the back room and socializing in the evenings.
“Before the pandemic they had parties every night — it’s kind of like, you go get your exercise, they would play music and you can hang out and dance,” said David DuVal, 53, who has taught at the studio for a decade.
Like Southern California as a whole, the ballroom dance scene is diverse. At the Star and at another venue nearby, the Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio in Alhambra, regulars, many of whom frequented both places, said classes were typically raucous with conversations and music in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Dancers born in the Philippines, China, Taiwan or Hong Kong bonded with instructors, many of whom were born in Europe.
“When you watch people dance there and at places like Star Dance, you see the purest expression of a tight-knit community, and people embracing life,” said Laura Nix, who directed an Oscar-nominated short documentary on a Chinese-Vietnamese couple who rediscovered one another and themselves through ballroom dancing. “That’s one reason why the violence directed at their patrons is so devastating,” she said.