Bad revue? La Jolla dance studio’s weekend performances make some residents uneasy

A burlesque dancer performs during the "Ooh La La Revue."
A burlesque dancer performs during the “Ooh La La Revue,” which has concerned some neighbors of Ooh La La Dance Academy in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Susie Grafte)

La Jolla’s Ooh La La Dance Academy is hosting weekly outdoor performances that are “vulgar” in nature and lack adherence to public health guidelines, according to at least one resident and a complaint filed with government officials.

The resident, who lives near Ooh La La and did not want to be identified, claimed the Saturday night events at 7467 Cuvier St. contain risqué and off-color adult-oriented entertainment that passersby can see and hear.

The performances, the neighbor alleged, are large gatherings during which “the men and women [performing] remove their clothes.” She sent the La Jolla Light a video showing a topless woman in pasties dancing onstage. The neighbor also sent screenshots of Instagram posts from a burlesque dancer who was promoting the events. One photo showed a woman’s bare backside.

Ooh La La owner Susie Grafte said the event, called “Ooh La La Revue,” is a “public viewing of dance rehearsals” and there is a variety of performers, from opera, salsa and flamenco to one burlesque dancer.

“It’s not stripping,” she said. “Burlesque is an art form. ... There’s no exotic dancers. Everyone works for me!”

She said a comedian who performs as part of the lineup “is my roommate.”

The neighbor also expressed concern about what she said was a lack of compliance with coronavirus protection guidelines. “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that there are no children or adults, including the owner, wearing a mask,” she said.

Grafte said everyone must wear masks “upon entry and exit” and when going to the restroom.

“We have spoken and worked with the San Diego city senior advisor for COVID-19 response and recovery to ensure we are adhering to all rules and regulations,” Grafte said.

People’s temperatures are checked upon arrival, Grafte said, and no more than 30 are allowed at the performances. She reiterated that they “are not shows; they fall under us doing business as usual as a dance studio and we have the right to practice and dance on our outdoor dance floor.”

She said the performances are listed on her website and social media pages as “public viewings” seeking donations to help the studio, which has struggled during the pandemic. The events start at 8:30 p.m. and are over by 9:30 p.m., she said.

“I offer each person an individually wrapped dessert and sparkling bottle of water,” Grafte said. “There is no alcohol served.”

The neighbor said she had not contacted local government officials with her complaints but said a group of residents had spoken with the owner.

Grafte contended that “I have respectfully communicated and offered all my neighbors to attend the viewing.”

San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman told the Light that the county received a complaint and forwarded it to the city. “They are making contact with the operator [and] will make sure the operator knows the rules,” Workman said.

Grafte said Joel Day, executive director of the city’s International Affairs Board, called her Sept. 10 to discuss the complaint.

“I explained to him we had been using the wrong verbiage,” Grafte said. “I realize all live entertainment is prohibited right now, so we are, as artists, doing outdoor public viewings of our rehearsals.

“It classifies correctly what we are doing.”

Day did not respond to the Light’s requests for comment.

“The complaint seemed to be reported from [Sept. 5], when I had a family of 14 people … come to one of our public viewings,” Grafte said. “They all live together or next to each other and are allowed to gather together since they are family.”

Ooh La La Dance Academy, which has been in business for 12 years and has another location in Pacific Beach, began teaching classes on Zoom in the spring as stay-at-home orders and mandatory closures caused by the coronavirus cut into enrollment.

Grafte later installed the outdoor dance floor and began offering in-person instruction programs with credentialed teachers for small groups of young students as an alternative to online learning at home.

In a story in May, Grafte told the Light: “It’s very important to me that we stay afloat. I’m not going to let my ship sink.”

Ooh La La owner Susie Grafte (left) and teacher Brittany Jagoe stand outside the La Jolla studio.

The neighbor who spoke about the weekly outdoor performances said: “I wanted to believe that she was doing this to help children and to keep doors open. The way things are running are a mess and there’s lots of concern.”

Grafte, however, maintained that “Ooh La La is not violating any current orders.”

“We have adhered to all the orders and beyond,” she said. “This is our craft, our passion and we have the right to practice our art on our private property in our parking lot.”

She said she would cover the parking lot with a tent so neighbors “aren’t bothered with our public viewing.” ◆