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Kids take over the dance floor

Teens starved for entertainment now have a club of their own to dance and hang out. But the rules are strict and strictly enforced.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

SPRING HILL -- While lining up a pool shot, Yarelis Verge hears one of her favorite Latin songs coming through the speakers and runs to the dance floor.

After dancing to Esa Morena, Verge and her friend, 14-year-old Wilmarie Molina, go back to the pool table, where they bounce to the music between shots.

On a recent Thursday night, this was the scene at the Teen Dance Party at Turtle's Supper Club in Spring Hill. For about a month, the club has opened its doors every Tuesday and Thursday night to teens age 13 to 18. There is a $6 cover charge.

"It's pretty nice in here," said Verge, 15, who lives in Spring Hill. "Besides going to movie and the bowling alley, this is it."

"This is a good place to hang out and dance," said Molina, looking around at the club with its black-and-white checkerboard floor, smoke machine and colored lights. "It's fun."

Club owners Al and Lorraine DiGiantomasso say that with the closing of the controversial Planet Bubba nightclub in May, there is a void in local entertainment, particularly for young people.

"We are trying to give teens somewhere to go and have fun without getting into trouble," said Al DiGiantomasso, who lives in Brooksville. "As it is, there's nowhere for these kids to go."

Bartender Tracy Frederick said frozen strawberry daiquiris -- made with Sprite instead of alcohol -- are particularly popular with girls.

"Usually, it takes one person to order a daiquiri," she said. "Then when they see it, everybody else wants one."

The crowd is nice and polite, Frederick said, but she does have one complaint.

"I'm 26, and they make me feel old," she said with a laugh.

Besides serving drinks and handing out change for video games, the bar serves a menu of pizza, hamburgers, french fries, candy and other snacks.

Fourteen-year-old Miriya Molina has been to the dance party a few times and said she loves the frozen drinks, but at $2 each they can break her tight budget.

"They're kind of expensive," she said, "but they're really good."

Miriya's younger sister saves her allowance money for nights out at the club.

"This is my only freedom from my little brother," said 13-year-old Monica Molina. "Everybody here is so nice."

Ron Mediate, who spins records under the name D.J. Arson, said the crowd determines what type of music he plays. Under the colored lights, a gold charm of St. Barbara shines against his white New York City T-shirt.

"Kids can't get into regular clubs, so they just know the music that's on the radio," said 26-year-old Mediate, who plays techno, freestyle and hip-hop for the young crowds. "This gives them a safe environment to experience new levels of music."

When school starts in the fall, the owners plan to switch the Teen Dance Party hours to 7 to 11 p.m. on Tuesdays only.

As she dances, Samantha Bowermaster's long, dark hair cascades down the back of her white Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt.

"Not many people come here, so you don't have to worry about anything breaking out," said the 14-year-old New York native.

A student at Springstead High School, Bowermaster said she is able to enjoy the music and dancing with people from other schools.

"That's what's good about it," she said. "You can dance with anybody and there's nothing to worry about."

Al DiGiantomasso said the sense of well-being among young patrons comes from his hard-line stand on rules. Posted at the front door, the rules are: no fighting, no drugs, no smoking and no hanging out in the parking lot.

If someone is told to leave for breaking any rule, it's for good, said DiGiantomasso.

Owners are also strict on the club's 13-18 age limit.

"That means no boyfriends and no parents," said DiGiantomasso, who has three teenage daughters of his own. "Parents are more than welcome to come in and look around and ask questions, but they can't stay."

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