Some film fans might consider Patsy Swayze's best work to be her son, Patrick, the leading man of "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost." But they only know half the story.
For more than 46 years, dance teacher and choreographer Patsy Swayze of Simi Valley has made it her business to nurture talent in people of all ages, including her five children, who became actors and dancers.
Swayze, 64, proudly says that more than 300 of her former students are dancing professionally on Broadway, and others have formed their own dance schools and companies in the United States and in Europe.
And it is no coincidence that many former students, including Tommy Tune, Debbie Allen, Randy Quaid and Jaclyn Smith, are from Texas. Swayze and her late husband Jessie Wayne grew up in Texas. Last year the mayor of Houston proclaimed March 23 Patsy Swayze Day in honor of her civic contributions spaning 25 years as former resident choreographer for the Houston Playhouse Center, Houston Youth Symphony and Ballet Company, Theater Incorporated and the Houston Grand Opera. She also taught at the University of Houston for 18 years.
The family moved to Ventura County in 1980 after Swayze's choreography for the Texas-based film "Urban Cowboy" garnered frequent offers to work in Hollywood.
"Since my son Patrick was making the shift from Broadway to films at that time, we moved to Simi Valley. It was rural like Texas, and the three children still living at home could have horses and dogs," Swayze said.
A year later Swayze's husband suffered a fatal heart attack.
Swayze had no plans to open another studio, but many young adults asked her to open a school after her successful production of "West Side Story" in 1981 at the Community Theater in Simi Valley. For three years, Swayze's Dancer's Studio, situated in a Simi Valley shopping center, has been training enthusiastic students.
"Patsy has an intuition about the potential that each student has, and can pull it out, where others might not recognize it," said Susie McIver Ewing, who studied with Swayze in Houston before becoming a professional dancer.
Now at age 44, McIver Ewing lives in Northridge and has been bringing her 5-year-old son to Swayze's studio since June. She attributes Swayze's success to "her total and complete dedication--not just to dance, but to the individual person that she's teaching."
She said each child in a class of 15 gets Swayze's individual attention.
Many of Swayze's adult students agreed. Actor and dancer Frankie Rodriguez, 28, of Hacienda Heights began studying with Swayze 10 years ago. "Other places don't correct you, but she makes you get it. That's why she's great," he said.
Swayze has worked on television commercials for Mattel, Pepsi and McDonalds, she said. When she is not traveling as a guest choreographer or competition judge, Swayze is in the studio, often teaching seven consecutive hours of classes herself. During one class she tells a group of adolescent tap dancers to "step on the beat," as she molds the posture of each student.
Swayze fosters discipline and good manners in every student, from the little ones to the aspiring pros, because she believes the training has an important effect on every aspect of life.
"I love to watch people develop strong bodies and a sense of self-worth," she said. "I love watching the tiny ones--their balance, their coordination improve. I see coltish, little awkward bodies develop into ethereal beings. To see the child blossom, that's the thrill of teaching."
OTHER GOINGS ON: Starting April 24, KABC-TV will feature "'sixtysomething," a series of 21 five-minute reports of special interest to older people, weekdays during the Eyewitness News at 4 p.m. A booklet containing information about referral services is available by writing to sixtysomething Guide-Ventura County, Box A, Hollywood 90027.
Seniors who want to swing and sway the Swayze way or follow another leader, can do so on videotape. After checking with your physician, check out a videocassette from the public library. The Thousand Oaks Public Library (section 613.71) has "Senior Shape Up," "Swayze Dancing," "Fitness Over 50," "Do It Debbie's Way" and "Silver Foxes 2: Shape Up America."