*Included in print edition
From 1936 to 1970, Chinatown nightlife thrived. Well-heeled patrons, even Hollywood elite including Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope, converged for shows and drinks at exquisite nightclubs featuring Chinese American performers. Honey-tongued musicians sang like Frank Sinatra and dancers swept across the dance floor with the grace of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Once the era ceased, the performers had to retire, or did they? In 2003, former dancer Cynthia Yee (upper left) reunited three of her peers to form the Grant Avenue Follies. By this time, the women were in their 60s, but they still had the moves. Plus, their doctors told them they needed to exercise to stay healthy. They performed at senior day care facilities, later at corporations and charity benefits. The four professional members added women to the ensemble who had the desire but no experience. A retired college professor joined at age 70. “She’s having the time of her life,” says Cynthia, the group’s leader. Although in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, Follies’ dancers are as active as ever with three or more shows a month. Led by a professional choreographer, twice-weekly rehearsals last three hours, equivalent to a strenuous workout.
More popular than ever, the 12-member sisterhood is booking gigs around the globe. The troupe went to Havana, Cuba as a cultural exchange where they met elderly Chinese Cubans of the Lung Kong Association. The Grant Avenue Follies, including 92-year-old Coby Yee, tap danced and sang, never skipping a beat in between pouring rain.
According to Cynthia, this second phase of her dancing career is not that different compared to prior years. She still needs to rehearse, put on makeup and costumes, and go on the road. “Our audiences are older than before, and we are all getting a big kick out of the whole thing.