Above, dance instructor Mary Mazzetta with her brother Frank. – Tina Johansson photos
“Don’t stop moving,” – Mary Mazzetta
by Tina Johansson
At her age, most people would be taking it easy. But at a recent reunion of her former students sponsored by the Highwood Historical Society, Mary Mazzetta, 91, couldn’t stop dancing.
As she entered the doorway to St. James Parish Hall in Highwood recently after flying in from Fort Lauderdale, Mazzetta was warmly greeted with hugs, kisses and compliments.
During the 40s through the 70s Mazzetta, known as “Miss Mary,” was a fixture of the City of Highwood. She taught dance – usually tap and jazz, later adding ballet – to hundreds of girls (and some boys) in the city’s recreation center and organized performances for the community. It was apparent that she made an impact on several generations.
“You can tell it’s her. It’s her,” said an excited Carol Ugolini of Highwood, as Mazzetta entered the room.
“I don’t think there was anyone in this community that didn’t know who Mary was,” said Adrienne Pedrucci Inman, a resident of Grayslake, who began taking lessons from Miss Mary when she was five.
One guest announced she still knew how to do a move she learned from Mazzetta decades ago called “Shuffle the Buffalo.” With this the former student began to shuffle her feet. She was quickly joined by the guest of honor, her former dance teacher.
Children as young as three were taught by Mazzetta. “She made it fun. We have a lot of good memories,” said Sharon Gaughon Persinger of Arlington Heights. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
Deborah Tamarri of Atlanta, Ga. was in town for her 50th high school reunion and stopped by to see her beloved dance instructor. When visiting with Mazzetta she told her, “My lessons with you paid off.” Tamarri said she is now an avid dancer because of it.
Likewise, Susan Bortolotti, formerly of Highwood said the instruction from Miss Mary took her to dancing five times a week, doing everything from the Jitterbug to Country and Western. “I’m into Ballroom dancing now,” she said.
There were fans of dance and not just former students of Mazzetta that made the event.
Ellie Cole Soldano who is in her 80s said she recalls taking dance classes as a child alongside Mazzetta who was a student then with the last name Casorio. The girls took classes in Highland Park at the former Alcyon Theater in the 1930s. “I still remember how to do the Red Robin Bopper and also my very first dance number – Ten Pretty Girls,” said Saldano. “I can almost do it start to finish.”
The wood-floored stage in the church hall served as the venue for an impromptu performance of Mazzetta’s past students led by their former teacher.
Lisa Cervac of Highwood, a former dance student was busy manning the front table. “I didn’t have the nerve to get up there and dance with Mary. That woman has more energy than I did when I was 21,” said Cervac. “At 90-something she is still a ball of fire.”
Later, Mazzetta and her 84-year-old brother Frank Casorio of Michigan City, Ind. did a little soft-shoe number for the delighted crowd. Incidentally, Casario is a professional singer who would sing during half-time in his sister’s productions.
In the mid-1970s Mazzetta quit teaching dance in Highwood to follow her late husband Peter, a golf pro, to the Sunshine State where he took a job as a golf instructor.
Though she moved away, she kept up giving dance lessons. Today she instructs seniors and has a troupe of more than 20 ladies who perform regularly. “We do one show a week from October to the end of April. At Christmas we do eight shows. I keep very busy,” said the petite powerhouse.
“I call her the Energizer Bunny,” said son Tom Mazzetta, who flew in from Colorado to be with his mother at the reunion.
Her other children were there including her daughter from Florida, Mary Jo whom everyone knows as “Muffie,” and son Jim of Libertyville. Mr. and Mrs. Mazzetta had another son, Peter, who died 12 years ago.
After the event, Mazzetta said she was overwhelmed with the number of people she reunited with. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “They were just children when I taught them, and now many are in their 70s.”
One of the highlights of her time teaching dance in Highwood was when star Danny Thomas stopped by while in town to promote his charity. “I’ll never forget that. After the recital he bent down and kissed some of the girls on the cheek,” said Mazzetta.
When asked if she had any longevity advice to give, Mazzetta said, “The secret is don’t stop exercising and don’t stop moving. Never stop moving.”
Her favorite dance of all time? “The Charleston,” she said. “And yes, I can still do it.”