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The joy of dancing

Published July 05. 2014 09:00AM

I'm sure you have heard of the "singing bears." They are adorable stuffed bears that have songs embedded in them, along with some form of movement.

My favorite singing bear is named "Hope." She wears a pink turban, a pink cloak and carries a red rose. She was created in honor of women who have breast cancer.

Hope sings "I Hope You Dance," a beautiful song that contains the phrase "I hope you never lose your sense of wonder."

Every time I hear that song, I think of my mom. Virginia Mandracia Wells was a dancer. She danced on the real Broadway in vaudeville shows, traveled throughout the United States as a cast member of various plays, and in later years taught dancing to her three daughters and other children from our small town in Pennsylvania.

Mom never wanted to do anything else but dance. She once told me, "I'll keep dancing until I can't walk anymore." True to her word, she danced on the stage of the Mauch Chunk Opera House a few months before she died of cancer.

Mom's time step and her ballet moves were classic. Her body had a dancer's grace and was well-proportioned. Even in her 80s, Mom had great legs. She had personality and verve until her illness began to sap it from her.

Once, I asked Mom why she became a dancer. Her answer? "That's the only thing I ever wanted to do." When she was a little girl, she would dance very time she heard music. Her mother my grandmother, Teresa Cresci Mandracia would clap and sing to her in Italian as Mom whirled around the kitchen floor.

After high school graduation, Mom went to New York City. A small-town girl in the big city, she was lucky to be enrolled in the Alviene School. The teachers there took care of their students as if they were family.

At the Alviene School, Mom took dancing and acting classes. She got sent to auditions for various Broadway plays. She became a cast member in "Good News" and "New Moon," shows that were successful on Broadway and as traveling troupes.

Mom also took part in a movie, "The Red Shadow." My sister Judy obtained a copy of that short film. It was wonderful watching our young, eager mother dancing on screen.

When Mom left Broadway and returned to our Pennsylvania small town, she met our father, fell in love and got married. When she had three daughters, her love of dancing and music rubbed off on us. Many hours were spent learning dance steps, singing Broadway songs and working on choreography that she created for us.

I think the Wells sisters sang at every convent and K of C group in Eastern Pennsylvania. And right in the front row was our proud mom, watching our dance steps and smiling broadly.

When I watch old movies and see excellent dancers such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, I can remember Mom telling us that dancers have a wonderful job they make the audience smile.

Mom has probably organized a dance group up in heaven. She would seek out the old Rockettes and anyone else willing to try. Knowing my mom, she has them whipped into shape and they are singing and dancing for the saints.

When my granddaughter Kiele appeared in her high school's production of "Annie Get Your Gun," I kept seeing my mom's face beaming down and her voice saying, "I hope you dance!"

If you would like to contact Dr. Smith, she can be reached at her email address: or in care of this newspaper.

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