David DuVal, who has taught at the studio for 10 years, said one of his students was there during the shooting and hid under a table. His student said she saw a man with a “long firearm.” She doesn’t know what he looked like.
“It’s just hard to imagine,” he said. “It’s such a safe place.”
DuVal taught samba and tango at the studio Thursday. Many of his students are older. He said there are couples that have been going to the studio for a decade or more. Retirees taking classes to stay healthy. Some are in their 90s, he said, “and still dancing.”
“It’s old people dancing to music for fun,” he said. “It’s their exercise.”
He called Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio the “sister studio” of Star. He said the same people go to both dance halls.
On the night of the shooting, Michalski was in Garden Grove for a gala dinner dance he had organized with his wife.
Star‘s owner joined them at the event, along with others from the studio. But some studio members stayed behind in Monterey Park. They wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year at the countdown dance party in the place they loved.
Michalski didn’t learn of the mass shooting until the morning after, when he awoke to messages on his phone about the tragedy from the dance community across the nation, whose members wondered if he was safe.
He had to stop to compose himself when speaking about a student he had taught for several years, a man believed to be one of the 10 people slain. His former student helped manage Star and was affectionately known by all as “Mr. Ma.”
“It was heartbreaking,” Michalski said. “We are just speechless and cannot find the words to describe how we feel right now.”
In a Facebook post, Lauren Woods, another dance instructor, called “Mr. Ma” the heart of the studio. She wrote, “Ma was everything at Star and we were always so connected with him.”
When Ma would see her, she wrote, he’d say, “my teacher,” kiss her cheeks and say, “Love you! Love you!”
“He was so adorable to me and I could tell he was the heart of Star Ballroom,” she said. “So many dancers, teachers and organizers were connected with Ma and I personally will miss him dearly.”
A screenshot of the studio WeChat shared with The Times included comments from Maria Liang, who is described as the owner on the Star website. Liang said she was not present.
She acknowledged Ma’s death and said she was talking with his children “about a grand farewell.”
(Times staff writers Jeong Park, Richard Winton and Julia Wick contributed to this report.)©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.