California summer postcards: Dancing at twilight on the Santa Monica Pier

A tradition continues in Los Angeles.

The Sorin-White Orchestra, a group performing during the La Monica's heyday.

With a dance floor large enough for five thousand people, the La Monica Ballroom once glittered atop the Santa Monica Pier like a crown jewel. It nurtured the early swing music and dance scene of Los Angeles and although the ballroom itself no longer exists, its spirit lives on through the pier’s annual Twilight Dance Series.

Thursday nights during the summer for nearly thirty years, the pier has turned into an open-air ballroom—complete even with a dance floor on certain occasions. This year’s series kicks off next Thursday, and so I picked the two evenings that I most wish I could attend to share with you.

SaMo Mambo: Salsa, July 7

To save you the time that it took me searching on the internet for the meaning of “SaMo,” it is simply a short form of “Santa Monica.” I thought perhaps it was a cross between “salsa” and “mambo,” but the evening in any case does indeed feature Latin jazz and salsa music icon Oscar Hernández and the LA Salsa All Stars. The music and dancing begin with salsa lessons atop a special dance floor laid out for the occasion.

The talented Austin-based band Grupo Fantasma will also rock the pier with its high-energy, complex blend of cumbia, salsa, funk, and other genres. “La Conozco” (“I Know Her”) is a song from their album La Existential, which just garnered the group its first Grammy earlier this year.

“La Conozco”

La Monica Ballroom: Then and Now, August 11

A crowd gathers near the pier for a Squirrel Nut Zippers performance in 2009.

This evening is a true testament to Los Angeles’ still-thriving swing tradition and the overall evolution of the city’s music and dance scene into what is arguably the most vibrant and diverse on the West Coast. And this is again one of the special dance floor events.

Royal Crown Revue, a Los Angeles institution, will revive the sounds of the old La Monica Ballroom, while neo-funk band Orgone will evoke later decades. Singer Ameera Ali will join them, blending dream-like sounding vocals with pulsing dance beats, as in this version of “Lost Yourself.”

“Lost Yourself”

If you live in the Los Angeles area, there is absolutely no reason not to join the fun on Thursday nights this summer.

Always free, the Twilight Dance Series continues the legacy of the La Monica Ballroom and offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience dancing, ocean, and stars on beautiful nights such as are found only in Southern California (or “SoCal”).

Sorin-White Orchestra image by Carlos Lowry.

Squirrel Nut Zippers concert image by Malingerer.


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