Dean’s List: A benefit for Schenectady’s Dancing Lady

A lot of people know Barbara Katz, though they might not be able to tell you her name.

A lot of people know Barbara Katz, though they might not be able to tell you her name.

She is The Dancing Lady whom you see at Jazz on Jay in Schenectady and at the Sunday green market around City Hall. Wherever there is free live music, you’re likely to see her dancing, arms lifted as though she is conducting an orchestra, feet moving in a little shuffle gait.

Often she is wearing an unusual costume, a funny hat, an ensemble of clothing that she likely collected at the various thrift shops she visits regularly.

County Legislator Karen Johnson says she’s never seen anyone who enjoys music and dancing so much. “I have 16 seasons of Jazz on Jay, and I have a photo of her dancing in every year.”

It’s not always a solo act. Her joyous reaction to the music is infectious and sometimes others are moved to rise and dance with her for a while.

Katz is one of those characters who add texture to the fabric of urban life.

She shows up on occasion at local government meetings to voice her opinion — about sidewalks that aren’t cleared in winter or intersections that are difficult for pedestrians to navigate.

Friends whom she visits will tell you that she enjoys talking about her art or her treks to the thrift shops or the City Mission. Sometimes she “rewinds,” and starts the conversation all over again.

Katz is also an artist. I think the first time I saw her she was drawing and coloring pictures at the Muddy Cup at Proctors where jazz musicians were playing.

She makes vibrant, colorful pictures of scenes, people and animals she encounters as she walks around Schenectady. Her media include crayons, pencils, markers — anything she can acquire inexpensively. Her pictures are simplistic but appealing, and have been shown at places around town, including Anthology Design Studio, Ambitions Cafe and at City Hall.

Times are tough, though, and Katz’s resources are modest. There are times when the cost of art supplies gets in the way of paying the rent or eating properly. Her health — she is 74 and a breast cancer survivor — is fragile.

Aware of those challenges, Katz’s friends at Anthology Design Studio hope to help her out. They will showcase Katz and some of her art from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday during Art Night in downtown Schenectady. They’re encouraging everyone who can to drop by Anthology, at 469 State St., meet Katz and make a contribution to the cause.

“Barbara is so excited to meet everyone, dance the night away and raise some money to help make life a little more comfortable,” said Kara Brunk, who works at Anthology and has befriended Katz. She describes the Dancing Lady as “a little down on her luck” and in need of some positive reinforcement.

Brunk created fliers for Friday’s event, and Katz has been distributing them around town. At the time we talked, Brunk noted Katz had been back three times for more fliers.

She says Katz, whose outlook is always optimistic, would love to find a job, though it’s not easy in the current economy and at her age. She has applied at Walmart but so far no callback.

“I think she’d make the best greeter,” Brunk says.

Brunk is hopeful “a ton of people” will turn out Friday night to support the Dancing Lady.

I hope so too.

Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected]

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