From Luis López, Señora Villagrana and Nachita Hernández to Albert Flores
By Maria E. Garcia
Part I, Dancers and Dancing, introduced three earlier Neighborhood House dance instructors—Luis Lopez, Señora Villagrana and Nachita Hernandez. Nachita in particular is remembered for her dancing abilities as well as those as a dance teacher.
Mr. Albert Flores started teaching dance lessons at Neighborhood House in 1940. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army to serve in World War II. He was taken prisoner of war. One of his big dreams was to become a professional dancer. He did try to realize his dream in Hollywood but was unsuccessful. His prized possession was a pair of shoes that were given to him by his idol José Greco. He would wear these shoes with great pride whenever he performed in San Diego. After his unsuccessful Hollywood experience he returned to San Diego and worked for the City of San Diego as a tree trimmer.
His dance lessons continued at Neighborhood House until the late 1960s. Classes were held every Saturday and the lessons cost 25 cents. He taught Flamenco, Spanish and Mexican dance. His students also performed at all the “regular places” as the students in previous stories. Like those of Nachita Hernandez, his students performed at the Del Mar Fair. He passed away on April 3, 1991 and is buried at Fort Rosecrans.
Dr. Ricardo Stanton-Salazar and his sister Suzy Hernandez both took dance lesson from Mr. Flores. Ricardo remembers that every Saturday from 9:00-12:00 they both could be found taking dance lessons at Neighborhood House. The first hour and a half was spent learning to use the castanets and Spanish dancing. The second hour was spent practicing ballet Folklorico. Ricardo also enjoyed the opportunity to dance with various girls and says it was a big deal to be able to place his hands around their waists. He was especially fond of a young lady named Belinda Sanchez.
Belinda lived in Clairemont and was driven to Neighborhood House by her step-father. Ricardo was sure she was older and in the eyes of the young boy very sophisticated. He says some of the older boys would pretend to come to watch the younger kids dance but in reality they came to watch Belinda dance. Belinda asked Ricardo to be her partner escort—chambelán for her quinceañera. This is when he realized they were about the same age.
By the end of the quiceañera they had become boyfriend and girlfriend. He says all the older boys were very jealous and describes it as the highlight of his youth. I am sure that this is not the only romance that begin in the dance classes at Neighborhood House.
When Ricardo was older he would see Mr. Flores sitting on his porch and he would stop and visit with him.
Of special significance is that Ricardo cannot remember anyone encouraging him or his friends to attend college. This was in the early 1970s and there actually were opportunities to further their education. However, no one took the time to discuss this with them. This didn’t happen through their high school counselor, their Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) activities or even among themselves.
A friend, Alberto Castillo invited him to a party where there were college students in attendance. The next day the same group gathered for a menudo party. They kept questioning Ricardo about why he wasn’t attending college. They took him to EOP and showed him how a young man with no financial support could attend a four year university.
Throughout the 1960s Mr. Flores continued to teach various dance styles to the kids that came to Neighborhood House. However, in the 1950s and 60s dances became a way to fund raise in order to support the activities for the youth of Logan Heights. Social clubs used dances to raise money for trips to Disneyland, as well as to purchase toys at Christmas for the young children in the community.
The birth and influence of social clubs will be written about in a later article. It is evident however that dancing in various forms was a significant activity at Neighborhood House.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.