Silver Belles

Chorus Girls Retrace Their Steps At Great Harlem Jazz Clubs

If you traveled to one particular bar in Harlem, you might run into a bartender named Cleo Haynes. If you asked, she'd tell you she's 86 years old.

And if you stuck around, you might find out that this great dame once had a whole different career. Correspondent Harold Dow reports.

In 1933, at the age of 18, Haynes came to New York.

"Well it just popped my eyes because I had just left Mississippi when I came here," she says. And weeks later she was dancing on the stage at Harlem's world-famous Apollo Theatre.

Back in the 1930s and '40s Haynes and her former colleagues were at the center of it all, dancing in the chorus lines.

It was definitely a good time, says Elaine.

"It was always a holiday," says Haynes.

They danced in clubs like the Apollo, the Cotton Club, and the Savoy where thousands flocked to hear the greatest jazz bands in the world.

Cleo Haynes as a young dancer

"They came to see the girls dance," she adds.

They danced as many as eight shows a day - "seven days a week," Haynes declares.

When the big bands disappeared their dancing stopped. But that's not the end of their story. In 1986 they put their dancing shoes back on and formed the Silver Belles.

"There's a sensation that you get it goes all in your head and everything. When you hear that music and you get out on that stage and people start applauding," Haynes says.

Now in their 80s and 90s, they have returned to an old stomping ground: the Cotton Club. "I may be 90 but I feel 20! I'm beautiful, baby!" says Bertye Lou Wood, the oldest Silver Belle.

"There are no other people who can do what we are doing," says Haynes. You feel something when you are out there dancing. We are dancing a little bit slower now but when the music gets good you feel like finger popping, you feel it very good. "

"The music just becomes a part of you," says one.

"We're here. We're walking and talking and eating and sleeping and dancing. And I'm totally blessed," says Haynes.

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