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‘A beautiful sound’

Class at Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center offers group of women chance to dance and socialize

Posted: February 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Mary Alvidrez, 88, front, leads a tap dancing class at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall during a recent class.

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Mary Alvidrez stood before a group of eight women who stood still until their teacher hit the play button to cue “Anything Goes” by Tony Bennett.

“Don’t forget your left foot,” Alvidrez said as she faced the women. “Give yourself a little bounce.”

And as the music started, the sounds of clicking foot taps, slides and steps echoed on the hardwood floors at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

For the next hour, the class would replay “Anything Goes” over and over to perfect the original choreography designed by 88-year-old Alvidrez, of Friendly Valley.

As Alvidrez looked at her handwritten notes outlining the choreography, her students focused on their feet and each other to make a tapping sound in unison that would one day be performed in front of an audience.

“Three and four,” she said counting. “And just like that.”

It was another session of The Very Merry Mary Dancers, a long-standing class at the SCV Senior Center that keeps a tight-knit group of women fit and ready to perform during holiday festivities in the SCV.

Alvidrez has been teaching the class since 1999 after a handful of friends and Senior Center volunteers approached her.

She had never taught a dance class before, even though her own lessons of tap dancing date back to the Great Depression.

She recalled growing up and dancing as her mother played the piano in their home. In those days, dancing was done to live music because there weren’t such things as tapes or records, she said.

“You had to have a live person playing,” she said.

She soon developed a love for dancing and began dedicating time to tap-dancing classes when she got married and had a family.

“It’s better than walking, not as bad as running and you do it to music,” she said. “You are having to use your brain.”

The SCV Senior Center class averages about a dozen students, the majority of whom are sure to never miss a Tuesday class or a frequent Friday impromptu rehearsal.

“I really should retire,” Alvidrez said. “But I don’t want to.”

Alvidrez has come to appreciate the bonds that form in the class.

“Everybody likes everybody else, which is unusual for a group of women,” Alvidrez said as her class laughed. “They all help each other out.”

The women admit that tap dancing is much more fun than a trip to the gym or any other aerobics class. The class isn’t designed for beginners, as many of the women have advanced or intermediate experience.

“When you hear all those taps in unison, it’s a beautiful sound,” Alvidrez said.

The women typically schedule public performances for the holidays. They’re regulars at the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley. The dancers also perform at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial
Hospital’s annual community tree lighting and make stops at local convalescent homes to cheer up residents.

Alvidrez usually choreographs dances to holiday favorites, like “Let it Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but she’s hoping to have the women practice a routine to “Feliz Navidad” this year.

Susie Smith, 65, joined the class last year and makes every effort to never miss a practice.

“I can’t wait until Tuesday,” the Castaic resident said. “And then I can’t wait until Friday.”

She came across the tap-dancing class and was immediately hooked.

“I just showed up one Tuesday with my tap shoes hoping they would take me,” she said.

Over the years, Smith took clogging classes, which made the transition into tap dancing easier.

“The class is fun and peppy,” she said. “We laugh and we make a lot of noise with our feet. That’s my exercise.”

The class has helped Smith lose weight and stay fit. She looks forward to performing in front of a crowd.

“It’s a reward for all your hard work,” she said. “It’s just a love of the dance.”

Olga Devlin, 86, has been taking Alvidrez’s tap classes for nine years.

“She really is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” Devlin said. “She’s very creative.”

The Friendly Valley resident said dancing is just part of who she is and she looks forward to seeing her friends every week.

“Growing up, I’ve always loved to move to music,” she said. “I just never lost interest in tap.”

Tap Dance by Mary Alvidrez is offered 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays in the dining room at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, 22900 Market St., Newhall. The SCV Senior Center offers more than 100 educational, recreational and supportive programs on a regular basis. Most activities are for adults 18 and older. For more complete information, including costs or a detailed monthly calendar, call the Center at (661) 259-9444.


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