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San Diego Step2Dance has ties to Monterey Park tragedy dance studio

The tragedy in Monterey Park hits home for a pair of dance studio owners here in San Diego. They used to teach at the Star Ballroom in Monterey Park where the shooting happened. KPBS’ Alexander Nguyen has that part of the story.

The tragedy in Monterey Park hits home for the owners of Step2Dance studio in Mira Mesa.

They used to teach at the Star Ballroom dance studio in the mostly Asian-populated city east of Los Angeles, where a gunman shot 20 people during a Lunar New Year's Eve celebration Saturday night. Eleven people died.

“I think at some point, all the ballroom teachers taught there,” said co-owner of Step2Dance studio owners Vitaly Tarasov. He recalled how warm and welcoming the owners were when he first moved to California.

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“We didn't know many places where we could come and teach, and the students were from different areas," Tarasov said. "So we're happy to find those where people can be acceptable of new people.”

The manager of the Star Ballroom, Ming Wei Ma, was one of the victims. Tarasov says the dance community is still shaken by the shooting.

“I think it's a tragedy on many levels. It was a place where people went to celebrate their holiday. It's a place where people come and socialize," he said. "They come to do what they love. They come to dance. It should not be associated with any harm.”

Tarasov’s partner Olga Ginzburg was judging the California Chic Classic dance competition in Orange County on Saturday night. The Star Ballroom’s owner, Maria Liang, and her teachers were at the competition with their students, and so were not at the Star Ballroom when the shooting happened.

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“I was really in shock, because I could not understand, and I could not believe that this is actually happening," she said. "And I feel so bad for the teachers, for the students, for the owners.”

Ginzburg has talked to some of those teachers since the tragedy, and said they are fearful and devastated by what happened in their own homes.

“Because our dance studio is a home, (a) second home for our students," she said. "And obviously, for them to come home and feel fear that something can happen, this is super sad.”

After the shooting, some of her students' parents texted her, worried about their children's safety at the studio. Ginzburg said they have precautions in place, including security cameras, to stop strangers from entering the studio. But she said those measures can only go so far, especially since mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States.

"(Gunmen) can go to the grocery store, they can go to the mall, they can go to school. And something like this, you cannot control," she Ginzburg said. "The only (person) who you can control is you. And we, as the owners of the dance studio, will always control our environment."