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Dancing Queens

The Happy Hoofers, with a median age in the 70s, rehearse every week and put on more than a dozen shows a year.

By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 26, 2002


TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- The Happy Hoofers have shuffled their way from civic center to senior center for about 15 years.

Like fine wine, they have only improved with age.

"They get better and better all the time," said 80-year-old Rose Dupree, who's about as close to being a Happy Hoofers groupie as you might find.

"I follow them around and have seen them 12 to 15 times," said Dupree, applauding the dancers every brush, pull and shuffle.

On this particular morning, excitement was in the air as an audience of nearly 70 waited in anticipation for the dancing and singing troupe of 10 women, who range in age from 54 to 83.

The show was at Tampa's Barksdale Senior Center, a center so new that it had a fresh-paint smell.

"Has anyone ever told you you look like Eddie Arnold?" one woman asked as a man took the seat in front of hers. But before he could answer, there was a dimming of the lights and everyone's attention was drawn front and center. Dancers, decked out in black satin shorts and vests, tipped their white straw hats and began a synchronized soft shoe to Old New York.

For the next hour it was the Happy Hoofers on Broadway, segueing from Everything's Coming Up Roses to New York, New York to Calendar Girl.

Master of ceremonies Edith Traina, 80, told jokes between sets, giving dancers time to change costumes and catch their breath.

Sarah Hand, 64, sang Cabaret. Director Marilyn Parinello offered a solo tap to Anything Goes, aptly named since she can tap, stomp and jump.

"I was doing cartwheels up until last year," Parinello said. "But being 75 years old and doing cartwheels with my shoulders hurting me, I said to heck with the cartwheels."

All the women live in Town 'N Country, except Parinello, whose home is in Forest Hills. They rehearse twice a week and perform 15 to 20 shows a year.

"Some of them have never danced before in their life," Parinello said. "We have one lady from Australia. I just taught her how to tap-dance this year. At 71, she's tap-dancing."

The median age is seventy something, but "there's no ceiling, as long as they can stand on their feet," Parrinello said.

Mary Alfonso, 67, who lives in Tampa Baptist Manor, was so impressed with the show that she wants to start her own group.

And why not?

"The flashbulbs are going off, and you think, 'Oh my God. I'm a star,' " said Midge Machado, 55. "And the outfits are to die for."

The group's repertoire includes a Broadway show, country and western, and patriotic tunes sung at nursing homes, churches, recreation centers and senior expos.

There is no charge for the show, but donations are accepted, money which goes back into costumes and scenery.

"I've been doing this since Hoofers started," 80-year-old Doris Grissom said. "It's good exercise. It's show business."

So is there a husband here, watching the show?

"Which one?" asks Grissom. "I've had four."

Yes. It's show biz.

- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308 or ripley@sptimes.com.

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