Just after the clock strikes 12 on Wednesday nights at the El Capri, the crowded dance floor of the East Van Buren nightclub opens up like a parted sea. People gather three and four deep around the brightly lighted impromptu stage as sleepy-eyed club owner Pedro Marquez steps out with a microphone to announce the start of tonight's contest.

It's the "Baile del Perrito" or "Dance of the Little Dog," a dance that has roots as much as a quarter-century old, but whose most recent resurrection has some El Capri patrons barking in protest about suggestive pelvic movements, an increasing incidence of partial nudity and the club's inclusion of minors in the canine capers.

"If I wanted to see that, there's places to go to see that," says one disgusted woman who frequents the popular nightspot between 20th and 21st streets, which caters to a mostly Mexican clientele. "Other clubs have wet-tee-shirt contests and stuff, but to do it with minors--that's not right."
"It's no good," says Maria Arroyo of Tolleson, who visits the club with her sister every so often. "They take off their clothes. My sister--she don't want to go no more. I think it's more for the guys. I don't think the ladies like it."
The club is one of the most popular Mexican nightspots in Phoenix, featuring big-name acts on Saturdays, mariachi on Sundays and the current youth dance craze, the fast-stepping quebradita, on Thursdays.

But, of course, every dog has its day, and at the El Capri, it's Wednesday nights that pack them in: The doggy-style dancing, characterized by couples thrusting their groins in unison in a variety of positions, goes back to George Clinton's "Atomic Dog," and possibly as far back as a dance step named "The Dog" in the 1960s. And anyone who remembers the lambada and other dances with Caribbean and Latin origins knows that other cultures are often much freer in their sexual expression through music and dance than the United States.

"The thing of it is, it depends on how your mind looks at it," says owner Marquez, whose club started going to the dogs six months ago in the latest of a series of popular dance contests. In other words, filth is in the mind of the beholder.

"Everybody comes to see it," he says, "and until people get tired of it, I'll keep doing it."
But the contest, which dares adventurous couples to take the floor against each other in performances to be judged by the crowd, has assumed such eyebrow-raising proportions that few adults will attempt it anymore, leaving the increasingly juicy gyrations to those under 21, who party in the club's walled-off dance area for minors.

The new version is done to a song of the same name--Baile del Perrito"--performed by Wilfrido Vargas, a Venezuelan artist better known for salsa than for the electrobanda style of "Perrito," which features keyboard-simulated tuba and trumpet and other air instruments associated with banda, Mexico's current popular form of music.

Just after midnight on a recent Wednesday, the dance floor is hopping to the frantic, steam-train rhythms of a six-piece band featuring saxophone and keyboard backed by guitar and accordion. Tables are covered with half-finished cans of Bud Light and Tecate, and inflated, oversize soccer balls twirl from the ceiling, advertising Miller Lite.

Marquez gives the cue for Vargas' song to begin, and issues the challenge to couples to hit the dance floor. The throng watches in anticipation, the men in jeans and ranch-style hats, the women in fetching, low-cut dresses, those under 21 peering through the glass window separating the adults from the minors. A Columbolike photographer wanders the area, offering his Polaroid services to anyone willing to spend the money for a moment's memory.

Marquez paces the dance floor, waiting, finally resting against the bandstand while the yapping song ends without a single adult couple willing to attempt the terpsichorean feat. He calls to the jovenes--the young people on the other side of the wall, and again offers the challenge.

Finally, a willing couple, about 19 or 20 years old, scampers over the bandstand and into the adult side of the club, taking the floor. The song begins, and immediately the two launch into major thrusting action, facing each other, the girl facing away, the girl sinking to the floor and the guy on top, thrust, thrust, thrust. About 90 percent of the El Capri's patrons are watching, some standing on their chairs, a wall of spectators in front of a handful who stay at their tables or sit at the bar.

Again, the girl facing away, then jumping up with the guy's help and wrapping her legs around his waist, they grind some more, boom boom boom to the beat.

The crowd awards them with applause when it's over, and Marquez issues another challenge, asking if anyone is willing to take them on. Two more couples jump over the wall onto the dance floor, and each is assigned a number. The song starts up again, and the crowd gathers around like kids watching a grade-school fight as the competition devolves into a display of decadent puppy love.

One girl is riding her partner, holding a belt like reins around his neck. The first couple, its competitive nature inspired, gets serious: The guy yanks down his jeans to his knees, continuing the grind as a portion of the crowd erupts in applause. Another guy follows, and finally the first guy takes off his shirt, the move that will clinch the win and the $150 cash prize.

The dance complete, the couples return to the underage side of the club.
Marquez says later that he really doesn't approve of the disrobing. "They do that on their own," he says. Just the same, he says he's never received any complaints about it, and, anyway, kids can see far more titillating things on a typical network television show.

"There's kids doing worse," he says. "For them to be coming to a show and having fun, I don't think that's a bad thing."
So the dance will continue, at least until the next big dance craze comes along. Still, there are some who wish this little doggy would just git along, but who won't complain, because they're such a small minority and they don't want to quibble about what essentially boils down to 20 minutes of rudeness among hours of more tasteful fun.

That's how one woman put it as she and her date left the club on a recent Wednesday night. "It's nasty," she said of the dance.

"Sometimes," her date said, not altogether displeased, "their [under]pants have all kinds of holes in them and you can see."
"I think it's immoral," the woman added.
"I think it's okay," said her date. "It's just for fun.

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Marc Ramirez

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