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Betty Costanzo a true dancer at heart


Last updated 10/4/2007 at Noon

At age 84, Betty Costanzo’s memory of her early years as a dancer remains crystal clear.

Costanzo spent her youth in Newburgh, NY, and was the only member in her immediate family who loved to dance. She started taking lessons at a nearby studio when she was 16 years old, she said. Her student status was quickly switched to assistant by the owner/instructor, Harry.

In a short amount of time, Costanzo became a little superstar dancing the Swing and Lindy Hop, also known as the Jitterbug. Both styles were joyful dances for Costanzo, as she found her core tempo with the early ’40s Big Band music. She loved dancing to the Harry James tunes and adored the Benny Goodman Band.

“[Goodman] commanded respect; he was a good musician,” Costanzo said.

Costanzo traveled with her dance instructor to different nightclubs to teach others their popular dance floor moves and steps.

“We danced for a couple years,” recalled Costanzo.

Following her dancing stint with Harry, Costanzo and a few of her close girlfriends would take a ride on the USO bus to Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh. It took about a half-hour to get there, said Costanzo. The dances at the base were thoroughly enjoyable and memorable for Costanzo as she danced the night away to live band music. Depending on the weather, the dances took place either indoors or outdoors.

On nights where the girls didn’t dance at the base, they hopped on a ferry and puttered off to Mount Beacon, the uppermost summit of the Hudson Highlands. The boys out there knew the Lindy Hop moves.

“For a little town, those guys could dance,” remarked Costanzo.

Costanzo reminisced about what she wore for a night out dancing. She adored wearing her big, flared skirt because it would “show my legs,” she said. Because flared skirts had a tendency to rise higher and higher as one twirled, the gals shielded their bottoms with decorative lace they stitched onto their stockings.

On her way to the dance clubs and/or Stewart Air Force Base, Costanzo donned a skunk fur coat. “It looked good,” she said.

Her favorite one-inch heel tap shoes were an absolute must on the dance floor. The strap on the shoe, said Costanzo, gave her security when performing those athletic moves.

During one visit to Stewart’s Air Force Base, Costanzo didn’t know she would meet her future husband. She recalled he was a good dancer.

“He was a wise guy, and I didn’t want to see him again,” she added. As the dances tapped on by, though, she saw him again and again. Eventually, they fell in love.

Today, Costanzo takes advantage of the opportunity to listen to her favorite ’40s music when she visits the Fallbrook Adult Day Care Center three days a week. However, it appears that Costanzo has an “ear” for all kinds of music. Her daughter-in-law, Lee, says that when Costanzo is riding in the car with her, she will notice her foot tapping to the beat of the tune.

Costanzo’s never-ending love for dance rings true with this quote from Martha Graham: “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”


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