By Daniella Walsh | LB Indy
“Cats don’t tap anymore, they do choreographeee,” croons legendary singer, actor and dancer Sammy Davis Jr. in a Youtube video, “and chicks don’t kick anymore, they do choreographeee….” And then he breaks into a tap routine anyway just to show what the world is missing.
He would not have gotten much empathy in Laguna Beach, where chicks young and older kept on tapping. Among the top promoters, Brenda Migliaccio-Kalatzes ran four Brenda Dance studios between 1972-94, filled with dancers. Many of them evolved into known entertainers in their own right, who still recount learning technique and how to comport themselves onstage under their teacher’s watchful eye.
It’s those memories that Migliaccio-Kalatzes wants to revive with a reunion of her former students on Sunday, Aug. 10 at 6 p.m. at Olamendi’s Restaurant, 1100 S. Coast Highway, in Laguna Beach. “I’m inviting all my former students, their families and friends to celebrate the art of dance and the joy of performing,” she said.
“My studio was more like a family than a dance studio, and now I would like to see my students all grown up and perhaps the next generations,” said Migliaccio-Kalatzes, who estimates her students cumulatively number 4,000 after a teaching career that began in Utah in 1957 and now spans 54 years.
The dance teacher is contemplating returning to Laguna Beach, where she raised two sons and taught for 28 years. She thinks the reunion might ease her re-entry into the community.
Katie Lubbers, a Dana Point photographer, studied for seven years with Migliaccio-Kalatzes beginning at age 10. “She was a tough teacher, disciplined and not indulgent but always positive,” said Lubbers, who still marvels at her teacher’s ability to stage huge shows with as many as 30 dancers.
This organizational talent prompted Migliaccio-Kalatzes to win a 1980 Guinness Book of World Records entry for the largest assembly of tap dancers in one production number. The feat resulted in a spot on David Frost’s talk show and a chance to choreograph “City Heat,” a film starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds.
She has also won several beauty contest titles, among them Miss Utah National Guard, 1958, and a spot as “most talented” in the Miss Utah pageant of 1959.
Several former students plan to attend the reunion.
Jonelle Allen, an actress, singer and dancer with scores of television and film credits, took classes from Migliaccio-Kalatzes as an adult.
“Brenda was fantastic; I loved her energy. She’s right up there with the greats. When she left Laguna I was really sad,” recalled Allen, a Laguna Beach resident who also teaches performing arts at Saddleback College.
Denise Bella Vlasis, a Los Angeles resident who grew up in Laguna Beach, stages vintage Broadway and Hollywood inspired shows. Her husband, singer Irby Gascon, coordinates music for shows that appear inspired by Migliaccio-Kalatzes’ mammoth productions.
“I was 9 when I first took dance classes from Brenda, and she opened up a world for me,” recalled Vlasis. “Brenda has inspired at least two generations as a great teacher who was both innovative and inspiring.”
The couple’s 7-year-old daughter Sofia is already tap dancing. Vlasis would like nothing better than for her old teacher to return and teach the next generation. She noted that a former Brenda Dance studio on Glenneyre Street is up for lease. “Maybe it’s a sign,” Vlasis said.
Lubbers, mother of a 3-year old daughter, Elly, concurs. “I always thought of going to dance class after school as the highlight of my day and today I still tap dance through the house. I would love to sign up for another class and bring Elly. That would bring things full-circle,” she said.
The address for a reunion by students of dance teacher Brenda Migliaccio-Kalatzes was incorrectly reported in the print edition of the Aug. 7 article. Students who may have missed the event can reach their former teacher by e-mail at email@example.com. The writer regrets the error. A correction was printed in the Sept. 5 edition of the Indy.