Tiny Dancer

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When she lived at the first assisted living place in Hollywood, which we’ll call Twilight Village, she was known as “the dancer.” That’s not a surprise, because she’d been a dancer all her life, and she came alive on the dance floor. At Twilight, they played swing bands and Tom Jones and a little bit of Frank, and she moved around with some of the other ladies, or in the arms of a loveable married guy who no longer recognized his wife. Or she moved by herself, all hips and pointed toes.

One holiday season at The Village, she entertained the room with an Irish rhumba,  circling the floor in kitten heels. If there was a piano, or a tinny boom-box to accompany her,  she stepped rhythmically across the glued down carpet, waving her scarf provocatively at the caregivers, wishing she had a cigarette.

All the years of training in classes and at The High School of Performing Arts paid off when she became a June Taylor dancer, an Away-We-Go girl for The Jackie Gleason show in the 1950s. She wore leotards or ballgowns, fishnets or tight-fitting dresses. And dancers moved in unison, leaping and dipping and keeping the beat of the orchestra.

Pat was lean, with shoulders that held her coats and peplum-sleeved jackets. She claimed to have had a 21-inch waist when she was fit model for Evan Piccone and others on  Seventh Avenue. She said she owed her figure to all the dancing and a diet of scramble eggs, cigarettes, and coffee.

In Spain, she danced with the Spanish toreadors, and years later, after a few drinks, did the Jitterbug and the Lindy with my dad at parties, or in our New York living room.  At my 8th birthday party, she danced groovy-style to Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move…”, while her colorful bangles clinked against her cocktail glass.

A few months ago, at the Armenian-run board & care in Atwater, they say she danced  in her wheelchair. Don, who wears faded jeans and tells stories about his brushes with celebrities, sings weekly to the weary and misshapen older ladies. They say Don did an inspired version of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” and Pat came alive, as if she’d never been gone. They say she looked as happy as a young girl, nodding her head and tapping her fingers on the side of the chair. Sometimes, I want to believe what they say.

Published by deirdremendoza

Deirdre is the author of the story collection, Real Lives of Married People, and the creator of DOGGED, a series about memorable canines and their human friends. Her writing has been published in Ms., The L.A. Times, Variety, WWD, and many other publications. She teaches creative writing at colleges and universities in Southern California. Coming in 2021 WG workshops!

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