Phyllis Bigelow is 90 years old, but she can dance up a storm. She had a stroke in November that hinders her speech slightly, but when you've been dancing for 80 years, the steps come subconsciously. It sure seemed that way.
Bigelow helps her daughter and granddaughter teach ballroom and other forms of dancing on Wednesday nights at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi.
"Look how young she looks," said Lodi resident Patricia Brakke, a student in the class at Hutchins. "It keeps her young." First of all, Bigelow arrived at Hutchins Street Square on Wednesday night wearing an exquisitely formal black dress, earrings, dark nylons and high heels.
That's right — a 90-year-old in high heels. She's very prim and proper that way.
Though daughter Hope Nemie, 51, and granddaughter Gianna Nemie, 17, do the bulk of the instruction, Bigelow will jump up to the dance floor and help a student, especially if she sees a flaw in their style.
She also makes sure that everyone sits and stands with perfect posture. Their shoulders must be erect. She'll get on her children and grandchildren if they don't show perfect posture, and the students at Hutchins know better, too.
Bigelow practices what she preaches. She sits straight up — there is no curve in her back.
Bigelow got into the dancing bug through her father, a musician in his native Italy. As a child in the 1920s, Bigelow would sneak into her older sister's closet, put on her flapper costume and charge her neighbors in Hartford, Conn., a penny to learn the Charleston.
Bigelow's daughter, Hope Nemie, is now in charge of the classes, which cover the fox trot, swing and other traditional ballroom dances. Hope said she walked for the first time when she was 7 months old and danced "The Twist" at 9 months. That's because she observed her mother as an Arthur Murray dance teacher in Sacramento.
"She didn't get me a babysitter," Nemie said. "She took me to the studio."
Nemie has only taught at Hutchins for one year, but the 12-year Lodi resident taught dancing for 23 years for the Stockton Parks and Recreation Department. She still teaches at Stockton Ballet School.
"We teach technique and the 'why' and 'how' of dance," Nemie said.
Perhaps Nemie's claim to fame came in 1986, when her "Classy Country Dancers" performed at the World's Fair in Vancouver.
The threesome also teach in Vacaville, where Bigelow lives, and at nearby Travis Air Force Base.
Nemie's daughter, Gianna, a senior at Lodi High, doesn't miss a step on the dance floor, either. She admires Fred Astaire's ability to mix acting and dancing.
"If he can do it, so can I," Gianna Nemie said.
The youngest of the three generations of dance teachers wants to be a dancer and actress, but she wants to maintain the skills to go back into teaching, if necessary to make a living.
In addition to teaching their craft, Bigelow, Hope Nemie, her husband, Joe, and niece, Terri Siewell, will kick up their heels at Cellardoor in Downtown Lodi. They often show up for a few minutes during the Thursday Farmers Market, and they come back for a longer stint on Fridays.
"They know about the 90-year-old and her daughter," Hope Nemie said. "The men at Cellardoor ask Mom to dance."
They'll be at Cellardoor at 8:30 or 9 tonight.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.