Miss Vernetta Gets Her Day
Miss Vernetta Gets Her Day
North Park icon celebrates a half-century of dance
By Cecilia Buckner
Sitting in the hot summer sun, Vernetta Bergeon — or just “Vernetta” as everyone knows her — scoops down a few spoonfuls of vendor food before wrapping up the day at a busy church festival in the South Bay. “This is what Sunday is like,” she said.
The preparation for her dance show is the worst part, she said. “The little green men — I had to have head pieces with little eyes — I made those things!”
At 72 years young, Vernetta is a one-woman band when it comes to the operation of Vernetta’s Dance Studio on Utah Street in North Park. “I don’t know any 72-year-olds, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to act at 72,” she said.
Shortly after sunrise, and into the evening hours, for the past 50 years, Vernetta has done everything at her dance studio — teaching, marketing, creating flyers for events, bookkeeping and shopping for student costumes. Dancing is the easy part, she said. “It’s what I’ve always done. It’s sort of like built in. A passion to teach … dance … to pass on all I’ve learned.”
“My observation of her,” said Fred Bergeon, Vernetta’s husband of 12 years, “She’s a great artist. Most artists are not, in my opinion, good business people — she’s both.”
Vernetta began dancing at the tender age of 3 as a Meglin Kiddie at Hollywood Professional School in Los Angeles — learning dance steps with the likes of “whoever was working that day.” Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Donald O’Connor, to name a few, were among the entertainment icons that strolled onto the dance floor to teach the toddlers a step or two.
In recognition of Vernetta’s long and impressive career and her deep involvement in the community, the San Diego City Council will proclaim Aug. 19 as “Miss Vernetta Day.”
That tribute was sought by Kathi Diamant and students from Vernetta’s Dance Studio. Diamant has been a student of Vernetta’s for nearly two decades and is a San Diego State University adjunct professor and former KPBS on-air fundraising anchor. “She’s not just a successful businesswoman,” Diamant said of Vernetta. “She’s really given back to the community over the years.”
Vernetta has designed dance sessions for visually impaired SDSU students who wanted to attend college dances, for the hearing impaired, as well as therapy dance sessions for individuals with head injuries.
Her generosity is also reflected in the way she runs her studio. A special area is reserved for leotards, shoes, leg warmers and whatever else a student may need for class. She also offers “two-fers,” a two-for-one discount, when she sees the need. “So if there’s a student that can’t afford to dance, they can take lessons. They don’t have to buy anything,” she said.
Bryan Tarr, 45, a social media coach, began taking ballroom dancing classes with Vernetta about four years ago with his girlfriend. “I never knew I had the passion for dance,” he said. “She’s patient, understanding and direct. Now I will break out into swing, a two-step, a waltz or cha-cha for no reason!”
Andrea Roman’s 7-year-old daughter, Siobhan Cameron, has been a student of Vernetta’s for five years. “She’s an overall real nice person,” said Roman. “You’re not just another face with Vernetta. She’s great with the kids and gets to know every family. She makes you feel welcome.”
While Vernetta loves passing on her passion for dance, she finds great satisfaction in her relationships with her students and mentoring the children when the opportunity arises. “I think I’m a kid whisperer, as opposed to a horse whisperer,” she said.
“She talks in a manner that they understand,” said husband Fred. “And they just listen to her.”
A master tap teacher, Vernetta also teaches jazz, hip-hop, ballet, ballroom, classical jazz, lyrical and tumbling and has choreographed for Bob Hope and Carol Channing.
Vernetta’s Dance Studio adjoins the North Park Lions Club building, which she manages. She’s been a Lions Club member since 1992 and faithfully attends the club’s Wednesday luncheons.