The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
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Information: Audrey Silva, teacher of international, ballroom, and vintage dance.
Audrey Silva was a mainstay of international, vintage, folk, and ballroom dancing for the Santa Maria, California, Recreation and Parks Department beginning in 1956 and taught folk dancing throughout the Central Coast region of California.
Audrey was born on April 18, 1920, on a ranch in the Oso Flaco area near Guadalupe, California. Her father, Livio Pezzoni, was a Swiss-Italian farmer-dairyman and her mother, Mary, was a "Madruga" (Portuguese farm wife). Her siblings were a brother, Norman, and a sister, Alta. She became intrested in music and dance at an early age, encouraged by her mother, who was a piano and music teacher. Audrey also learned to play piano from her mother, eventually playing at concert level. She remembers going to old-style events with both ballroom and Portuguese-style Chamarita dancing.
Audrey attended Guadalupe schools, then took the bus to Santa Maria High School, graduating in 1938. That same year, she married her sweetheart, Joeseph L. Silva. Audrey and Joe moved to Santa Maria. Going into business, Audrey became a bookkeeper for various vegetable companies in the Santa Maria valley, then worked for 15 years for a vegetable buyer, teaching dance in her spare time.
Audrey began dance lessons at the studio of her idol, Marjorie Hall. Audrey's mother took her to ballroom dances and then, in 1954, to a folk dance camp at the University of the Pacific in Stockton where she went on to complete 40 years of study. In 1956, Audrey began teaching folk dance for the Santa Maria Parks and Recreation Department. In 1962, she also became a ballroom dance instructor for the city.
Audrey continued to teach classes every week and was affectionately known locally as "Mrs. Dance Instructor." She directed the Valley Belles, a drill team formed in 1968. She also taught, directed, and choreographed for the Senior Strutters, an 18-member group exclusively for folks 50 years and up that gave performances in the community and at such venues as the Santa Maria Strawberry Festival. Audrey always taught international and multicultural dancing, because it was important to her to teach dances from various countries.
Audrey taught dance at Marjorie Hall's studio until 1968, then at another studio until 1985. In 1973, she gave up vegetables to become a full-time dance teacher. In August, 1976, Audrey toured Romania with a folk dance group. She also took master classes in Mexico and Hawaii.
Audrey obtained a lifetime community college teaching credential for dance and theater arts at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in 1977. She also gave three years elementary and secondary level workshops at Cal Poly. She continued to learn all kinds of dance, taking lessons in the Argentine tango and Tap later in her life.
In 1995, Audrey was named Woman of the Year for the 5th District by the Santa Barbara County Commission for women, cited as a moving force for the art and for women in the North County. In 1987, The Santa Maria Arts Council, which Audrey founded, gave its yearly Arts Grants in Audrey's name. In 1995, she received the Santa Barbara County's Woman of the Year award. Audrey received Santa Maria's 1998 Hospitality Volunteer of the Year award for volunteer work in the Recreation and Parks Department. The department director credited her with establishing Santa Maria as a travel destination by attracting dance enthusiasts from throughout the nation through coordinating more than a dozen Folk Dance Federation of California folk dance festivals in the city. That same year, Audrey received the Polish / Slavic Club's bestowed title of Slavic Prima Ballerina. For her distinguished work as a multicultural advocate, the City of Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Commission gave Audrey their Meritorioius Community Service Award in 1999. The city of Santa Maria also honored Audrey in the year 2000 by naming a combination room in the Elwin Mussel Senior Center for her. The Audrey Silva Room is 2,924 square feet, but may be partitioned into Audrey Silva I (1,204 square feet) and Audrey Silva II (1,720 square feet). Audrey also served on the Santa Maria Concert Association board.
Audrey had long been active with the Folk Dance Federation of California (South), including as chairperson of its Statwide (Festival) Committee (1979 and 1981) and its Statwide Advisory committee for many years. She taught several workshops and camps, including seven weekends of teacher / leader training at the the San Diego State University Folk Dance Conference, and had taken part in the activities at the Stockton Folk Dance Camp. Audrey also taught international folk dancing in the elementary school system for thirteen years (grades one through six). She was on the staff at Allan Hancock College, retiring after 25 years of teaching dance there.
Audrey was an avid sports fan and was very fond of the Los Angeles Lakers professional basketball team. A thirty-year member of the Santa Maria Country Club, she was an enthusiastic golfer. Audrey and her husband Joe, a retired truck driver, were married for 64 years, and had two children (Melvin and Marie) and many grand children and great-grand children.
Despite some health problems and a hip replacement around 1990, Audrey continued teaching and performing. On May 8, 2000, a Dance Party was held at Santa Maria's Veteran's Memorial Community Center celebrating Audrey's 80th birthday with ballroom, international folk, line, and other recreational dancing.
"The Queen of Dance" in the Santa Maria, California, area, passed away peacefully in her home at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 18, 2002, after battling cancer for several years. Vonnie Brown, president of the The National Folk Organization of the U.S.A. (NFO), wrote, "Although she was very ill in May, she came to the NFO / Statewide [California] event to essentially say goodbye to her many folk dance friends -- always the pillar of strength. Audrey was a beautiful, kind, and loving person who faced her adversities bravely, positively, and with deep faith. She used dance as a vehicle to do good onto others -- an example us of us should follow. Audrey will be missed by all of us but it was our blessing to know her."
Dances Audrey taught at camps and workshops included Avant-Deux de Travers, Eightsome Reel, Hiotikos, La Costilla, La Mazurka Mexicana, Las Chiapanecas, Swedish-Finn Mixer, Tokyo Dontaku, Trata, Walpold Cottage, Willow Tree, and Ziguenerpolka.
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