‘We want our dances back!’
Local seniors fight for reinstatement of weekly evening dance
“Dust off your dancing shoes and get ready for a delightful evening with the Charlie Robinson Band,” reads the enticing online description of the Chico Area Recreation District’s popular Tuesday Evening Dance. “Don’t miss this opportunity to dance and enjoy the company of others!”
Sadly, CARD’s Tuesday Evening Dance—for more than 30 years a premier weekly event for local senior citizens, featuring Chico’s premier guitarist, Charlie Robinson—has been hit with cutbacks, like so many other programs for seniors.
Robinson gave notice in July that he was stepping down after 22 years from his Tuesday-evening position as guitarist and bandleader at the dance.
Coinciding with the resignation of Robinson and his trio was CARD’s announcement that the dance was operating at a significant loss. Thus, the dance was reduced from being held every Tuesday to being held only on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month starting in August. Recently, though, by the dancers’ demand, a third dance was added on the third Tuesday of each month, featuring local country-rock band Cottonwood.
The dancers, however, are clear that they want their weekly dance reinstated, in no small part because of the combination of physical activity, regular socialization and immersion in the arts that it provides.
“We want our dances back!” said 81-year-old Audrey Curry recently as she stopped to chat in between whirls on the dance floor with her partner, 80-year-old Jim Pollina. The charismatic couple were among the approximately 60 people of all ages enjoying the Tuesday Evening Dance in early October.
“We have gone to every dance,” Curry continued. “The only time we have missed a dance is when we took a cruise.”
“They cancelled the [weekly] dance because of a loss of money,” offered Pollina, of the $5-per-head event.
A recent letter to the Chico News & Review from another longtime Tuesday-dance attendee, David Copeland, echoed Pollina: “To better balance revenue with expenditures, the CARD leadership feels it is being forced to … reduc[e] its weekly Tuesday Dance to twice a month.”
“We all offered to pay more to keep the dances,” Pollina added. “Two, three, four dollars more—but they rejected that.”
Curry said they were told that CARD “can make more money on [the] room” by bringing in other programs.
The account of exactly how the Tuesday Evening Dance came to be scaled back differs, though, depending on whom you talk to.
According to Pollina and Curry—and backed up by others, including Don Mellario, longtime drummer for Robinson’s group, and CARD Senior Services Trips & Tours coordinator Malinda Shotwell—it is about the money and the perceived dwindling numbers of attendees. Specifically, Pollina and Curry mentioned a stated CARD loss of $7,800.
Shotwell also mentioned CARD’s desire to add “eight or nine programs considered to be more revenue-producing.”
Curry said that CARD Recreation Supervisor Angie Martin announced in August “to everyone at the dance that they had a $7,800 loss last year, and that Charlie and Don wanted to play less.”
“This was a wake-up call to us,” she said. To save the dance, she and Pollina decided to look into the matter further. What they found shed light on the cause for a portion of the $7,800 loss.
Curry, Pollina and another dance attendee began to count the number of people at the dance. They found that the dance’s longtime cashier who recently resigned had been letting a significant number of people into the dance for free on a regular basis—above and beyond the kitchen help that was authorized free entry—to the tune of approximately $2,500 per year, as calculated by retired business owner Pollina.
The absence of a sign-in sheet made it look as though fewer people were coming to the dance than actually were. Pollina’s suggestion of a sign-in sheet to provide checks and balances was implemented shortly afterward, around the same time that the cashier was replaced (and a CARD staff member was added to provide additional oversight).
Among other money-saving suggestions made to CARD management was doing away with the cakes provided for dancers’ birthdays—a savings of approximately $1,000 per year, according to Pollina.
“They really like that number,” said CARD Recreation Supervisor Angie Martin recently, when asked to comment on Curry and Pollina’s statement about the $7,800 loss of revenue.
Both Martin and CARD Senior Recreation Supervisor Melissa Pasquale were adamant that it was Robinson’s notice—and not a financial issue—that forced CARD to cut the number of dances.
Pasquale pointed out that CARD expects its senior programs to run at a loss—“a lot of our [senior] programs are ‘carried’ by other programs.”
“What has put us in this whole situation is the notice from the band,” she emphasized. “We now needed to restructure what we offer.”
When asked if the dance would have continued on a weekly basis if Robinson had not given his notice, Pasquale stressed that “nothing would have changed without that resignation.”
For their part, Curry and Pollina have gathered 72 signatures on a petition they circulated at a recent dance, asking for the weekly dance to be reinstated. And it looks like the dancers may get their way. Monya Jameson, CARD superintendent of recreation and community services, said she would attend the Tuesday dance on Oct. 19 to talk to all the dancers about what they want.
“We’ll get everyone together and figure out how to make this work,” said Jameson.
Regardless of what happens, though, Robinson won’t be back.
The spry 76-year-old is enjoying having Tuesdays off after so many years.
“I’m done,” offered Robinson. “I went there to make my contribution to the older people, and I think I’ve done it.
“It was like going to a party once a week. I made good friends. I know I’ll miss that part of it,” he added. “But everything changes.”