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Washington Voices

Show must go on for Hillyard Belles, the 50-and-older troupe

Jane Ashley dances and Kenny Tews plays the spoons during a Hillyard Belles practice Feb. 2 at the Hillyard Senior Center.
Jane Ashley dances and Kenny Tews plays the spoons during a Hillyard Belles practice Feb. 2 at the Hillyard Senior Center.

Gravity and a long, productive life may have pulled Maggie Haverfield’s back into the shape of the number 7, but when she puts on her tap shoes and gets out in front of the line of Hillyard Belles to do her solo dance number, nothing seems to slow her down.

Haverfield is one of the founding members of Hillyard Belles, Trainmen and Showband, a nonprofit, volunteer, senior performance group that entertains at assisted living facilities and performs at community celebrations.

Haverfield is one of a core group of founding members that hold the Belles together by organizing new dance numbers, raising funds and whatever else it takes to keep the show on the road. At last Thursday’s rehearsal she was determined to promote the group’s $8 cookbook.

“There are recipes from us and from our ancestors and families,” said Haverfield, waving the little book in the air. “There’s everything from apple pie to vinegar pie and it’s all so, so good.”

The Belles, who range in age from 54 to 91, are an energetic bunch.

Boa feathers fly as they rehearse their routines to tunes such as “Piano Man” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Deloris Allert is part of the band, and she drives in from Ritzville.

“I usually play the washboard, but I forgot it in Ritzville,” she said, laughing. “I picked it up when I was in my 70s. It’s kind of unusual to play the washboard, but it’s not hard – just keep beat with the music.”

Allert has also been with the Belles since they first got together and she wouldn’t miss it for the world. She said the hour and a half trip from Ritzville is well worth it, even with the price of gas.

“These people are all so great,” Allert said. “They are my family.”

The tone during rehearsal is lighthearted, with the biggest jokester among the Belles being Liz Koch. She does a little stand-up comedy routine as part of the Belles’ performance.

“I’ve always told jokes. When I was little I told jokes that made people laugh, and I didn’t even understand why,” Koch said. “I pick up the jokes I tell here and there. Some I’ve known since I was a little kid.”

There’s a strong social aspect to the group as well.

Before rehearsal starts, everyone shares news and concerns from the Belles who couldn’t make it.

Maybe someone isn’t feeling well and would like a home visit. Or someone is finally home from the hospital, and needs a little cheering up. There are about 20 active members, but there used to be as many as 40.

“We have lost three people just this last couple of months,” said Vicki Plastino. “It’s tough. We really would like some new members, so we can rotate people between the numbers we do, and also come up with some new numbers.”

It was Florence and Otis Whitehead who started the group in 1990. The theme for the group was the roaring ’20s, and the Belles still dress in gorgeous flapper dresses when they perform.

The Belles have performed on the Lions Club train in Metalline Falls, Wash., Deutschesfest in Odessa, Wash., and at every senior center in town. And, of course, they are part of the annual Hillyard Hi-Jinks Parade and Festival.

“I’ve always been a dancer,” said Cathy Shadle, another original member who performs a hula dance. “My mom kept me in ballet when I was a kid, and later I did square dancing.” Shadle learned hula in Hawaii the year before Spokane’s Expo ’74.

Plastino said that the group is booked for many shows and performances, which makes it even more obvious that more members are needed.

“We all get older,” Plastino said. “I fear that the Belles will die out if we don’t get some more people involved.”