I feel the same way at sixty as I did at 16,” says the relentlessly perky Cathie Hetyonk. “It baffles me sometimes when I’m teaching that I can have that much energy. And the reason behind that is that music raises serotonin levels in the brain, as does exercise.”
Not to mention dancing, which we will do in a minute.
Ms. Hetyonk, along with her husband, J. Michael Alexander, head the Silver Follies, an over-55, all-dancing, all-singing review that started small but is getting bigger each year. And this coming Wednesday until the following Saturday, their annual holiday show, “Christmas at the Stage Door Cabaret,” proves it.
In a season crowded with Santas, reindeer, snow, mistletoe, and elves, there’s a bit more of a nightclub spirit to this show, more Nat King Cole and his chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and less Burl Ives. The first half of the show takes place at a cabaret, with Christmas-themed, Sinatra-era songs and plenty of dance. The second half is more of a “party.” Though there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t enjoy, this is a Christmas for the adults.
And for the young adults, as this performance will include young and older vocalists, including two local teens and an octogenarian.
Nancy “Queenie” King is one of the Follies’ longest-attending members, and her story is common: She was involved in dance at an early age, but then life intruded. She got back into dance in her late 30s with Jazzercise, then into local theater, and choreographing for small functions. When she moved back to Santa Barbara and joined the company seven years ago, she was brought there by her old drill team instructor from junior high school, Connie Marquez.
All the dancers prove that as long as you stay fit and healthy, it doesn’t take much to get back into the swing of things.
“It requires a strong degree of dedication — it’s not something you can just drop in on once a month,” Ms. King says. “A dance background helps, but you don’t have to be professional. Just a willingness to learn.”
The Silver Follies started as the Razzle Dazzle Dancers, but when Ms. Hetyonk arrived in town and took over from original leader Glory Lamb, she changed the scope from retirement home entertainment to two major productions a year — first at Victoria Hall, then on to Center Stage — and appearances at other venues in town, including the steps of the Sunken Garden.
Ms. Hetyonk and Mr. Alexander are aiming to make the Follies even more inclusive, with young and old working together on stage, and looking for more shows than the current two per year. They’re unstoppable.
“My mission is to teach the girls (to be) young, bright, and positive, and to keep things changing in the routines to keep their minds active,” says Ms. Hetyonk, who has watched her own mother succumb to mental illness over the last decade. That warning sign of things that might come has kept Ms. Hetyonk doing her best to keep limber in both body and mind. It’s a philosophy that expands out to the group, which remains close-knit.
“Many tragic things have happened to those in our group,” she says. “And the only consistency is that this group of women stick together like glue and regardless of the losses that have occurred, and the challenges, we’ve shared them. Or if we haven’t shared them, we’ve got rid of them in the two hours that we’re moving around and singing together.”
Santa Barbara Silver Follies: Christmas at the Stage Door Cabaret
When: 8 p.m., Wed.-Sat.
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Information: 963-0408 or centerstagetheater.org