July 22, 2008

Grandmother Keeps Fit By Dancing – Sometimes With Teens

By Nancy Churnin, The Dallas Morning News

Jul. 22--Genell Kelso has never liked to do what we usually think of as exercise.

But the 72-year-old breast cancer survivor and Dallas grandmother of four keeps fit by doing what she likes to do: performing.

This month, she signed up for a song-and-dance class at Dallas Summer Musicals, a lone septuagenarian in a sea of teens.

When her application for the program came in, the DSM School of Musical Theatre's new director, Kevin Cook, thought it might be a mistake. Ms. Kelso received a call at home asking whether she knew that she would be the only one of her age in the class.

"I said, 'Yes, but I will keep up as best I can,' " she recalls during a lunchtime break in the workshop. "I said I hoped I would be able to live through it. But I figure I will because I'm too pinchpenny to drop out."

That was good enough for Mr. Cook. And on the second day of class, Lori Woods Smith, who has choreographed for the DSM School of Musical Theatre classes for 11 years, said that while she has never had a student of Ms. Kelso's age, she hasn't treated her differently.

"She did a great job," Ms. Woods Smith said after the morning session. "She has a great attitude."

The American College of Sports Medicine advises aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities for healthy aging. Among the recommendations for people over 65 is moderately intense aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Singing "Toledo Surprise" while dancing the Charleston from The Drowsy Chaperone, as Ms. Kelso did on her second day of class, seems to fit the bill.

And one of the great things about what she's doing, as she would be the first to point out, is that anyone can do it. After all, she didn't get serious about dancing until after her first half-century.

El Centro professor

A working mom with three kids, Ms. Kelso was a founding faculty member at El Centro College and a professor there for 35 years. She took tap-dance classes at El Centro in the 1980s. But it wasn't until 1990, when her youngest child was in high school, that she became a founding member of Dallas Tap Dazzlers, a troupe of dancers 50 and older. They will perform in the Spectacular Senior Follies at the Eisemann Center in Richardson Sept. 5-7.

She's trying the musical theater class because she loves musicals and because "when I grow up, I would like to write musical comedies about aging and dying," she says.

Besides, she needs exercise, and walking and jogging bore her.

"What fun is it being on a hot sidewalk by yourself," she says, "when you can be in front of an audience with music and applause?"

The class will culminate in a free showcase called Curtain Up! that is open to the public at The Majestic Theater on Saturday. Along with the song from The Drowsy Chaperone and another from Jersey Boys, Ms. Kelso is to perform "Bop to the Top" from High School Musical with a hip-hop step.

Having fun

Ms. Kelso feels her age when she's sitting on the floor and has to get up quickly. But that's OK, she says. She's learned to laugh at herself. And she's having fun. Which is why this is her one piece of advice for others:

"Just get out of the chair and get it going," she says. "The more you do, the more you're able to do."


For information about upcoming Dallas Summer Musicals classes, call 214-969-7469 or see www.dsmschool.org.

--Curtain Up!, Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m., features students performing scenes, songs and choreography from several productions. Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St., 214-969-7469; www.dsmschool.org.

--Spectacular Senior Follies, Sept. 5-7. Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. 972-744-4650; www.seniorfollies.com.


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