Children cha-cha: Marti’s, San Juan offer dance classes for kids

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Instructor Hristo Minev, front, instructs twin brothers Dexter and Ryan Quisol in a ballroom dance class at Marti’s Dance Studio.

Lily Quisol and her sons Ryan and Dexter danced the conga from the family car to the studio entrance.

The boys, 10-year-old fraternal twins with sunny smiles, were good sports as mom pushed them ever so slightly.

Lily, Ryan, Dexter and dad Roman ventured to Marti’s Dance Studio at Rancho Shopping Center, 1140 Riverside Drive in Los Altos, for professional dance instructor Hristo Minev’s free ballroom dance class for children, held on a sunny Saturday in December.

Party with Marti

Marti’s offers dozens of weekly tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and tiny-toes classes for children of all ages. Local families like to start dancing early - Marti’s takes toddlers as young as 18 months for a class called "Come Dance with Me."

Marti’s was silent now, though, as Minev, a slim man dressed in black dancer’s pants and shirt, waited for his customers.

Lily explained that she received an email about the class and "kind of twisted these guys’ arms" to come. Ryan watches the popular TV show "Dancing with the Stars" avidly and does gymnastics. Dexter takes karate.

Minev, who trained under world ballroom dance champions Luca and Loraine Baricchi and won multiple international dance competitions, extolled the benefits of ballroom dance.

"I started at 7 in Bulgaria and competed around the country. It’s fun - you go to camps, make friends, socialize," he told Ryan and Dexter.

An accomplished ballroom dancer herself, Lily said she hoped to "spark an interest in Ryan, although I’m not sure about Dexter."

The coach said ballroom dancing is "very good exercise, all about sports, combines with music to increase coordination, learning the steps." Last but not least, "partnering with a girl teaches you to respect a partner and to socialize," he added.

It looked as if Ryan and Dexter would be the only dancers to show up, so Minev began teaching them the cha-cha steps, "One, two, three, cha-cha-cha."

He put on music and the boys picked up the beat.

"They’re doing good," Minev said. "Backwards, two, three, cha-cha-cha. Forward, cha-cha-cha. Keep going."

"I really think there’s a dancer in Ryan, but he won’t admit it," Lily said. "He can spin on a dime. That’s why I thought it was a good idea to drag him in early."

As he demonstrated how to point their feet outward, Minev asked Lily if she taught the boys the steps already.

"Ryan, a little bit," she admitted.

After a few more minutes of loud cha-cha music, Minev turned down the volume and announced that they would now learn the waltz.

"I don’t have a girlfriend yet," said Ryan in a low voice, much to the amusement of the adults present.

"We do lots of waltzes, because it’s good to warm up and to build balance," said Minev, intoning "1-2-3, right-2-3."

"This one really works the calves," Lily said.

After a water break, Minev taught them the steps to the samba. The younger the children, he said, the easier it is for them to copy the moves.

"They are more flexible and very fast," he noted.

Dexter complained that the samba was "too hard," and his dad agreed that he could never do that one. Roman suggested that Minev dance the samba with Lily to show the boys what it looked like, much to their delight.

Minev teaches Latin and ballroom dancing at Cheryl Burke Dance, 1400 N. Shoreline Blvd., Suite A-1, in Mountain View, and Top Dance Ballroom, 1224 S. Bascom Ave. in San Jose. Until recently, he owned Premiere Studio in Fremont with partner Laura Fan.

Dancing downtown

San Juan Dance, located at 140 Third St. and 151 Second St. in Los Altos, has nurtured the dance careers of a few celebrities during its 53 years of operation.

Actress Teri Hatcher of "Desperate Housewives" fame, Broadway star Annie Petersmeyer and writer/producer Carly Althoff all took classes there.

Jean San Juan, the school’s owner and founder, was an examiner with the Royal Academy of Dance. Although she has years of ballet experience, tap was her favorite class to teach until she stopped last year after a stroke.

Her daughter Suzanne San Juan has since taken over running the downtown institution with co-director Jordan Micek. Suzanne is a member of the Royal Academy of Dancing and Dance Masters of America and has 34 years of dancing experience. She has worked in commercials, film, theater and choreography in Los Angeles. Locally, she has choreographed routines for Los Altos Youth Theatre, Castilleja School and other groups.

Micek, who attended Loyola University in Chicago, coaches the Los Altos High School Dance Team. She took classes at San Juan Dance as a child and worked as a student teacher there before taking over her own groups.

At a recent Tuesday night Petite Teen Dance Class for 8- and 9-year-olds, the girls crowded around to share their enthusiasm. Namika Pattada, a fourth-grader at Almond School, said she and her 13-year-old sister attend San Juan Dance six days a week for jazz, ballet and lyrical classes.

"We loved the studio when we first saw it," said Namika’s mother, Priya Pattada of Los Altos.

Some dads and nannies dropped off their charges, too. As he saw his 9-year-old daughter off to class, Ron Bodkin - founder and CEO of Mountain View’s Think Big Analytics Inc. - indicated that Fiona definitely wasn’t pushed into studying dance.

  "It was her idea to become passionate about it, but she doesn’t always like us to see the dances," he said, adding that the Gardner Bullis School third-grader liked "the lyrical dance on Saturdays. It’s kind of like ballet - you know, a flowing dance."

Cheryl, a fourth-grader at Covington School, said she likes that "friends and I get to learn fun stuff together." Her favorite class is Jazz Sensation.

Suzanne San Juan, on her way out the door to care for her mom and 9-year-old Jacke, said she always stresses "respect and etiquette" - especially in dance classes.

Most weekly classes cost approximately $66 a month. San Juan stages shows only every other year because of the costume and ticket expense.

"It’s just too extravagant, and we want to concentrate on education the other year," she said.

Students enter state and local competitions as well. The San Juan Sensations, an invitation-only dance team, comprises 24 girls ages 6-18 who compete in four to six regional contests throughout the year. Divided into mini-groups called the Petites, the Crystals, the Sapphires, the Minis and the Jewels, the girls also perform at the annual Los Altos Live! talent show and the Los Altos Village Association’s summer movie nights. Micek is preparing the Petites to compete at the American Dance Awards convention in Boston in July.

"We’re just very lucky. All the students just want to be here," Micek said. "And the parents are very supportive."

For more information on Marti’s Dance Studio, visit

For more information on Minev, visit

For more information on San Juan Dance, visit ■

San Juan Dance Studio - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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