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July 22, 2014

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Columnist Susan Snyder: Ryan still just one of the girls

Susan Snyder's column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at [email protected] or (702) 259-4082.

WEEKEND EDITION

August 21 - 22, 2004

Peggy Ryan's legs look great for a 40-year-old.

And she's about to turn 80.

The former Hollywood starlet turns 80 a week from today. But she will celebrate with friends and family today aboard Lake Las Vegas Resort's La Contessa cruiser.

One of the best dancers of her era, Ryan has performed on Broadway, on television and appeared in five dozen movies. As a teenager, she was paired with Donald O'Connor for 14 of them.

Earlier this week Ryan spoke of turning 80 as she sat on a sofa across the hall from the East Sahara Avenue dance studio where she teaches five nights a week.

"The 80th is kind of important," she said. "I was saying to the girls the other night that I don't feel 80."

"The girls" are women 50 and older who make up the five groups of dancers Ryan coaches.

"Age is nothing. It's all in your head," Ryan said. "Go for it. Dance. Don't baby-sit, you're Auntie Mame. Dress well. Put on some makeup."

Ryan was 5 when she made her first movie short called "The Wedding of Jack & Jill." She enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School in fourth grade.

"Donald (O'Connor), Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney -- we all were there," Ryan said. "On Sept. 26, I'm going back for the child star reunion. We have it every year because none of us in movies had a chance to have a graduation or a prom."

Save your pity. None of us had the chance to dance with Donald O'Connor or make a movie with Shirley Temple. It all balances out.

"Anything you'd want to do, I've done -- except go on the Orient Express or the Concorde." Ryan said.

Ryan's first Las Vegas dance studio was opened in 1980 while she was here visiting her parents. She and her third husband lived in Hawaii at the time, where she had worked as a regular on the TV series "Hawaii 5-0."

Her husband opened the studio for her as a surprise, and she taught children and young adults. The idea of teaching classes for older women came along the night she attended a community theater production of "No, No Nanette."

Ryan recalled how Ruth DiPaolo, now her best friend and one of her dancers, came up to her afterward and asked, "Do you teach old broads to dance?"

"I thought, 'Well, it's a hell of an idea,' " Ryan said. "And now I have a bunch of old broads."

Old broads who learn new tricks every year.

"It's not an exercise class. We do Broadway shows," Ryan said. "We do 35 new numbers a year."

Her fountain of youth springs from a sense of humor and her creative passion.

"When I'm not dancing, is when I'm tired. I love to do the creating -- choosing the music, designing the costumes," she said. "When I do 'A Chorus Line' and it's using walkers, crutches and IVs, that's the last number."

Across the hall, Ryan's dancers were assembling for rehearsal. Moments before she slipped off her long broomstick-pleated skirt to expose those fabulous, famous gams, Ryan passed along some advice for her chronological peers "sitting there playing bridge."

"Why not put on a high-cut leotard and false eyelashes and go out on stage?" she said. "Stick out your boobs and finish big."

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