Born to be a lifelong showgirl

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Connie George

Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States when Dorothy Dale Kloss discovered her passion for dance in 1926 at the age of 3. Now 89 and still enjoying a career as a dancer, singer and all-round stage performer, Kloss is nowhere near ready to hang up her tap shoes.

 “If you have a love of show business, it gets in the blood, and you just can’t let it go,” said the woman who was named “the oldest living (and working) showgirl” in 2009’s Guinness World Records during her 15-year tenure with the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.

“I think God just sent me here to dance. From the time I could walk, music was just in me. It wouldn’t go away,” she said.

From bouncing to dancing

Born in St. Louis, but raised in Chicago, Kloss was enrolled in dance school by her mother, who was widowed at the age of 39 and had three children to raise by herself.

Her mother had no idea that young Dorothy had any talent for dance, Kloss said, but was seeking a way for her daughter to burn off excess energy. “You were always bouncing around,” she recalled her mother telling her.

For 50 cents a lesson, her first dance teacher, Madame Ludwig, helped her find the source of her “bouncing” and turn it into a talent for performing.

Kloss was fortunate, she said, that her natural affinity for dance coincided for many decades with the popularity of the theaters, supper clubs and other venues that featured live musical acts on a nightly basis.

“You could work 52 weeks a year,” she said. “Theaters often had five shows a day, and there were also performances at movie palaces and big night clubs. Those were great years, and as a dancer there was such an opportunity to hone your craft and enjoy it.”

In Chicago, Kloss performed on some of the most popular stages in the city. She appeared at the Chez Paree, the Empire Room, the Blackhawk and the Latin Quarter. She also taught dance to young up-and-comers, and was Bob Fosse’s first tap teacher before he became one of the world’s foremost choreographers.

In those early years, she also worked with such legendary performers as Jackie Coogan, Billy De Wolfe, Chico Marx and Mel Torme.

Primarily a tap dancer, Kloss also was skilled at ballet, jazz and ballroom styles, and eventually her broad talents allowed her to spread her wings and begin working in other venues throughout the United States and abroad.

By the time she joined the Follies at the age of 71 as a dancer, singer and sketch comic, Kloss had logged nearly seven decades of stage appearances.

Work at the Follies introduced her to such fellow performers as Howard Keel, Gloria DeHaven, John Davidson, Kay Starr, Peter Marshall, Kaye Ballard, Carol Lawrence, Bill Dana, Frankie Lane, Gogi Grant, Susan Anton, Anna Maria Alberghetti, John Byner, Dick Contino, Gloria Loring and Donald O’Connor.

Kloss retired from the Follies in 2010, and was honored that year on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars as “Tap Dancer Extraordinaire.” Her star sits right in front of the Follies’ Plaza Theatre.


Ever glamorous at age 89, Dorothy Dale Kloss has been dancing steadily since 1926, enjoying a career that has taken her throughout the U.S. and abroad. Her 15-year tenure with the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, which began when she was 71, resulted in her being named, at 86, as the “world’s oldest living (and working) showgirl” by the 2009 Guinness World Records. INSET: Kloss is shown at age 86 in her Fabulous Palm Springs Follies finery.
Photo by Connie George

The next chapter

Still a Palm Springs resident, Kloss said the long hours at the Follies, which could run from about noon to nearly midnight and include two shows a day, were part of the reason she chose to retire from the show.

But another factor was that a fan base she had acquired was encouraging her to write a book about her life, a project she had never before considered.

Leaving the Follies provided the opportunity to explore her memories and relive in hindsight the trajectory of her career, while also making more time to see her family members.

“Things came back to me, and I have a really good memory from seven or eight years old,” she said of beginning the book project. “Then it just got fun.”

Even if it was never published or had no commercial success, she added, “I thought, if nothing else, the book would be a great memoir for my son and granddaughter.”

Published in February 2013 and available on Amazon.com, I’m Not in Kansas Anymore! Love, Dorothy chronicles Kloss’s life in the fresh, energetic and down-to-earth conversational style that she presents as easily in person.

Among the moments she shares in the book is a chance meeting with her brother, who was recovering in a World War II military hospital where she was performing.

Still dancing and enjoying life

Retirement from the Follies did not mean retirement from show business, however. Kloss is still active as both a dancer and teacher, in collaborative projects with her life partner of 14 years, Ken Prescott, 67.

Prescott, a fellow hoofer, is a singer and also a theatrical director. He met Kloss when he performed with the Follies in the late 1990s. The two teach tap, ballet and jazz to children and adults at Beyond the Beat Dance Studio in Palm Desert. They also perform their own show as a duo at venues throughout Southern California.

For people of all ages, she said, “Tap is a really good workout. It’s great for your legs.”

It’s also the medium responsible for Kloss earning another of her professional honors — the 2011 Golden Halo Dance Achievement Award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council for her many years of work.

Kloss’s sparkling appearance and energy belie her 89 years, and she attributes her good health to lifelong exercise through dance. Acknowledging that many adults her age are on numerous prescriptions, she said she feels lucky to take nothing but a little high blood pressure medication. “And I find a little vodka doesn’t hurt,” she added with a smile.

Another resource she believes allows for aging well is when one can let go of difficult memories from earlier times. “You have all these little ups and downs in life,” she said, “and you get rid of them and you let them go.”

She also avoids thinking of herself as a “senior,” believing the label is often an invitation for older adults to needlessly slow down. When invited to be a guest speaker on the topic of aging, Kloss said she keeps her presentations light and humorous and urges her audiences to find something in their lives to get them out of the house.

“They’re so focused on dying because there’s so much focus on that in the media — on television, in documentaries and in prescription commercials,” she said.

Even senior centers and senior discounts can inadvertently contribute to categorizing older adults as, well, “old,” she said. Such resources deserve high praise for the wide range of benefits they provide, she added, “but they should take the word ‘senior’ out of their names.”

“You don’t have to be old to be sick and on your last legs,” Kloss said. “As long as you can stand, get out there and enjoy life.”

For more information on Kloss and her remarkable life and career, visit dorothydalekloss.com.