In Tune With June!

I’m pretty sure that you are aware of the television hit, “Dancing With the Stars.” I’m also pretty sure that you are not aware of the Dancing Classrooms. Yes, such a thing actually exists in 11 cities involving some 50,000 children.
Launched in 1994, Dancing Classrooms is an arts-in-education program teaching ballroom dance to fifth, eighth and 12th grade students. The program uses a curriculum-based teaching approach, frequently allowing students who are typically introverted and reserved to step out and shine.
Last week, I happily witnessed children dancing and taking bows. The pleasurable event took place at the World Financial Center Winter Garden (200 Vesey Street, N.Y.C.). Talented dancers from N.Y.C. public schools competed for a prize as they danced: fox trot, merengue, rumba, swing and tango. In my eyes, they all deserved a prize. As I watched, I felt like jumping on the stage to join in the fun. The students clearly were enjoying themselves – and I, too, enjoyed seeing their physical energy and their pleasure in the dance.
Once a year, the American Ballroom Theater presents the public school dancers competing with each school and clearly loving it.
There are many summer happenings – and all are free at the World Financial Center. Next week at its Winter Garden, there’s Eat: WFC’S Restaurant Showcase. From pasta and dumplings to gelato and crème brulée, all the restaurants sell sample signature menu items. The price is $1 to $5. You can’t beat that. The date is Thursday, July 9, and it starts at 11 a.m. See you there?
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“Life is a cabaret, oh chum, come to the cabaret,” sings Liza Minnelli. Oh yes, I’d love to come to the cabaret. It’s a genre that is struggling to stay alive in an increasingly noisy world. I’m sure you know some cabaret artists: Michael Feinstein, Steve Tyrell, Barbara Cook, Juli Wilson – to name a few. Cabaret venerates maturity more fervently than any other form of entertainment.
Of course, its unofficial godfather is Tony Bennett. Recently, the 1950s sweetheart was at the Café Carlyle (35 E. 76th St., Manhattan). I would have loved to have been in the audience, but who can afford $90 per person – and that doesn’t include food or drink!
But don’t despair. We can enjoy cabaret right here in Bayonne. The Networking Café on 19th Street and Broadway spotlights Barbara Beeman, Bill Bannon and John Parrot singing a mixture of folk, blues, jazz and novelty music. Last month, I was amazed. On a Saturday night, they performed for two full hours to a friendly audience. They even inspired some to get up and cut the rug to “The Jersey Bounce” (me included!). And at The Networking Café, the price is unbelievably right – $5 includes a drink (I had herbal tea).
“American Idol” treats singing as an Olympic-style competition sport. Youth, beauty and novelty matter as much as talent. It’s a monstrous star-making machine. Bah humbug – give me the simple life!! Come to The Networking Café.
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Thank you, musician Larry Gusick, for loaning me a 320 page book (simply lifting it could produce a hernia – ha!), titled “The American Songbook: The Singers, the Songwriters and the Songs.” It covers 100 years of American popular music and the stories of the creators and performers intrigued me. It took weeks of reading.
One of the many singers I looked up was Mel Tormé, who died 10 years ago at the age of 73. The singer, actor, songwriter, drummer (he was all these things and more) was recently paid tribute to at the Lyrics and Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y (located on Lexington Avenue in N.Y.C.). For many years, I subscribed to the series (which was launched in 1970). It started as the then unusual topic of songwriting, then went on celebrating composers as well as lyricists. In all, Lyrics and Lyricists became a seamless mixture of info and entertainment.
Last month, the 92nd Street Y ended the season with Sunday in New York: Mel Tormé in Words and Music. It examined songs from Tormé’s perspective. He was a prolific songwriter. I’m sure you know his “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire.” That’s right, “The Christmas Song!” The multi-talented man was also a consummate vocal technician who was known to have a huge ego. Called “The Velvet Fog,” he hated that nickname but it stuck. Tormé’s jazz singing was emotional but also cerebral. The last time I saw him – possibly 14 years ago – he was a physical mess, but still he sang with intelligence and daring – and played the drums, too. I still listen to his records and marvel at his taste, class and talent.
If you long for some of the old-fashioned charm of great American standards and the musical theater, then the Lyrics and Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y is for you.
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When I read that the Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, had been newly renovated, it brought back memories. As a young girl, I viewed the Plaza as a haven of luxury. Opened in 1907, the 19-story building was considered a skyscraper. The rooms started at $2.50 per night and folks paid for impeccable service, luxurious surroundings and occasional celebrity sightings.
In 1969, it was designated as a New York City landmark. The Palm Court was the place for special occasions. What intrigued me was reading about the fictional and mischievous Eloise, whose painting hung in the lobby.
Going to the Plaza Hotel for afternoon tea with its gold-encrusted china, made one feel like an aristocrat. Afternoon tea was never just about the food. It was about palm trees, harp music, what the ladies at the next table were wearing plus the spirit of the naughty little girl who lived there.
Fast forward to the present. The dress is “smart casual”: no jeans, no t-shirts, no sneakers, certainly no flip-flops. The converted city landmark now has a subterranean luxury shopping mall and 181 condominium apartments. Are you interested? Most have been sold for $2.5 million to $50 million. A recession? What recession?? But here’s a bargain: the afternoon tea is doable: $60. I hope you like small cucumber sandwiches.