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Affinities #21: The Girls of Grant Avenue

The most senior of Chinatown's dance troupes. 

Marleen Luke

(1 of 10)

Irene Lee

(2 of 10)

Lani Owyoung

(3 of 10)

Emily Chin

(4 of 10)

Lillian Poon

(5 of 10)

Mary Jew

(6 of 10)

Cynthia Yee

(7 of 10)

Ivy Tam

(8 of 10)

Patricia Chin

(9 of 10)

Avis See-Tho

(10 of 10)

 

See all the Affinities photo shoots here.

“Thank goodness for rolling suitcases,” pants Cynthia Yee, 69, wheeling a bag heavily laden with a white tuxedo jacket, fishnet stockings, feathered hairpieces, high-heeled tap shoes, and various rhinestone-embellished dresses, among other items. The glittering ensembles are the trappings of the Grant Avenue Follies, a senior dance troupe founded by Yee and three friends in 2003. They originally met as teenage dancers in the Chinatown nightclub scene, performing at the China Skyroom and Forbidden City in the ’50s; decades later, they reconnected in a tap-dancing class at their local senior center.

The group’s members are mostly retired schoolteachers aged 65 to 80; their choreographer, Jean Bruschera, is 83. What they lack in agility, they make up for in old-fashioned razzle-dazzle. “We love anything with crystals, rhinestones, or sequins,” declares Yee.

The Follies—who’ve performed at senior homes, veterans’ halls, and festivals throughout the city—claim that the key to their vitality is their biweekly rehearsals. “Once we stop, the arthritis will set in,” says Yee. She leans in conspiratorially. “We also buy cases of Joint Juice from Costco.”

 

Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco.

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