Born to Boogie: David Alvarez and the California Star Ball Bring the Best of Dance to Town

Evening sessions at the California Star Ball will feature some of the reigning U.S. Champions

Dance is arguably one of the oldest and most expressive art forms – one that transcends cultures and history, with each region of the world having its own styles of ancient art. Even if you’re not one to put on dancing shoes, just watching the wonderment of a rhythmic waltz or rumba can lift the spirits. Seeing dance in the hands (and feet) of professionals is a fascinating experience. From shimmering costumes to impressive precision and amazing athleticism of movement, competitive dancing is a sight to behold and luckily there are three days ahead in Santa Barbara this Thanksgiving weekend.

Now in its 61st year and sanctioned by the National Dance Council of America (NDCA), the California Star Ball is the oldest dance competition in North America. This year’s event will be held Friday through Sunday (November 25-27) at the Hilton Beachfront along Cabrillo and will bring together professional and amateur dancers of all shapes and age groups.

David Alvarez, organizer of the California Star Ball, lives his passion for dance

For David Alvarez, dance teacher and organizer of the California Star Ball, dance is a lifelong pursuit and passion. Growing up in Kingsville, Texas, David was already an amateur dancer by the time he went to college in Corpus Christi, competing in local club competitions. During a night on the floor, two (now) friends approached him and mentioned that he had to visit the dance school down the street that they were part of. When David heard it was “ballroom dancing”, he initially resisted, associating it with “old people”, but they insisted.

He walked into a sensually dancing couple to Santana, or as David describes it, “the most beautiful bolero ever,” which was a bit different from the Lawrence Welk parade he had in mind. He immediately fell in love with ballroom dancing and the principal felt he would be perfect for the new teaching program they were starting.

The teaching program would run from Monday to Friday, but being a full-time student, the schedule was impossible for him. Alvarez decided to come this Monday, just to give it a day and see how he liked it. Long story short, he never left (but he ended up dropping out of college soon after). In fact, every Friday, the instructors removed students who did not follow. What started with 20 potential teachers, ended up having just two people, including David, to complete the program.

Since then, Alvarez has “never stopped dancing” and now a certified instructor, he has started teaching at his local studio in Texas. When the dance center got a new manager, she encouraged David to turn professional. While he was happy just teaching and dancing, she felt he was too talented for school and needed to go somewhere where he could develop his moves. His father owned several studios in Texas, but also had one in Nashville, Tennessee. After making a few calls and further encouragement, David moved to Nashville. The owner of the studio where he landed was an American champion and the instruction David found there was “100 times” better than what he received at his previous schools.

He lived in Nashville for three years before getting a call from a Hawaiian dance school where he was told about another instructor he was to meet. They offered him a week’s paid vacation to visit the school. Having never been to Hawaii, he thought “why not?” and ended up not leaving Hawaii until he moved to Santa Barbara in 1995. While in Hawaii, David was dating a guy who lived in Santa Barbara and ran an Arthur Murray School here. He encouraged David to move here, but after teaching at Fred Astaire and Arthur Murray dance studios, David said if he were to come to Santa Barbara he would want to start his own school – and that’s what he did. . Originally founding his local studio as A Fascinating Rhythm Dance Center, he later became the current Santa Barbara Dance Center.

The child competitors and future champions are not to be missed either.

These days he only gives private lessons, mostly to competitive students, many of whom have trained daily with David for 15-25 years. After one of the ballet schools lost its building three years ago, he took in the entire academy and now spends the latter parts of his days training their school, being their only ballroom instructor.

Of course, the island vibe never quite left him, and nearly 10 years ago David took possession of the Hawaii Star Ball, a three-day dance competition held on the islands. More recently, he took over the organization of the California Star Ball from Gitte Svendsen and brings this historic competition to Santa Barbara for the very first time.

The ball starts on Friday evening, with Saturday and Sunday both having a morning/afternoon session and then a party as well. “If they want to come see some high-level dancing, parties are the best ticket to Santa Barbara,” David explains. “I mean – they’re going to see the best dance they’ve ever seen right in front of them.”

For fans of So you think you can dance Where Dancing with the stars, the evening sessions are their chance to come see the stars of the dance world with the current reigning American champions on the floor. Saturday night is the heart of the competition and David will bring in a live singer for the Latin rounds. Live music is rare for these events, but David also did it at his Hawaiian Star Ball and wanted to give those attending the Santa Barbara a special memory, especially since it’s the first time he’s stands here.

While professional-level competitions are the resistance pieces, the other sessions have inspiring sights to offer, including the Teddy Bear and Preteen scenes. “These kids are so amazing. They are our future champions. They’re amateurs once in a while, then they turn professional when they get a bit older,” adds David. “But we have four-year-olds, who compete until they are 91. So we have all age categories. You see everyone there dancing. Dancers compete only in their age range, but competitions are also divided by style, such as “Ballroom Single” or “Latin International”, and are further distinguished by skill level, professional or amateur.

Whether it’s seeing sultry salsa or tantalizing tango, the California Star Ball promises to impress and inspire.

More information and individual tickets can be purchased for each session (morning/afternoon $25, evening $30) at

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