Reena Newhall wears professional leather clown shoes available at A Chorus Line Danceware and Costumes in Valencia. (Photo by Dan Watson)

Reena Newhall: The SCV’s First Lady of Dance

Reena Newhall was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. during WWII. While her father served in the military, Newhall and her mother lived with her grandparents, immigrants who arrived in the United States in 1914 from the Ukraine. “We lived in a building that had a view of the Brooklyn Bridge and with people of very diverse backgrounds,” she said. Newhall notes that her old building is still standing in the now “gentrified” section of Brooklyn, which boasts multimillion-dollar condos.   Education Newhall attended a Catholic high school in New York. “It was a school that trained nuns,” she said. “I decided I was more interested in show business than in being a nun.” Newhall said her high school education did teach her compassion and concern for people.   After high school, Newhall attended the new Fashion Institute of Technology at 27th Street and  Eighth Avenue in New York. The school is now an internationally recognized college for design, fashion, art, communications and business. “I met some interesting people there, including designers Lilly Dache and Mr. John,” she said. Dache was a French-born American hat and fashion designer and John was an American designer of women’s hats. “It became the most prestigious school for fashion,” said Newhall. “It was a two-year course and I learned to make costumes. I also learned about management and accounting. I also learned how to make an advertisement, and many other skills I thought I’d never use, but found came in handy in later years.”   Becoming a dancer “My favorite memory of growing up in New York was going to Coney Island,” she said. “I would dance on the table when I was 3 years old, and get free pizza. I tell people that I started dancing for free pizza on Coney Island.” As Newhall grew older, she became more and more interested in dance. “I tried out for a couple of gigs on Broadway,” she said. “I used to go to the auditions and try out. I didn’t always make it, but sometimes I got lucky.” On one of her “lucky” days she was hired to be in the chorus of a Barbra Streisand show, before Streisand was a household name. Newhall also appeared as a background dancer on “The Arthur Murray Party” TV show hosted by Arthur and Kathryn Murray. “It got me interested in ballroom dancing. They had a studio on Fifth Avenue in New York, and it was a prestigious studio,” she said. “I was selected to teach at their studio. I had several celebrity clients. We would teach them the basics of ballroom dance for movies and shows.”   Moving to California Many of the students who graduated from the Fashion Institute would continue on to Ivy League or other four-year schools. However, Newhall remembered the phrase made famous by New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley: “Go West, young man.” Newhall was living in the early years of the women’s liberation movement with the likes of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem encouraging women to seek new opportunities for themselves. “I thought ‘Men?’ Why not women, too?’ I wanted to see what Hollywood was like,” she said. Her entire family — her mother, sister and grandmother — lived in New York, but Newhall decided to move to Los Angeles. “I thought I would just try it and see how it worked out,” she said. “It turned out that my family followed me out here.” At age 21, Newhall arrived in Los Angeles with $200 in her pocket. “I knew I had to get a job,” she said. As fate would have it, the Whisky a Go Go nightclub on Sunset Boulevard was auditioning for cage dancers. Newhall was hired to “dance in a cage,” she said. “I made really good money. It was fun.” “My costume wasn’t revealing,” she said. “I was a former Catholic school girl, so I was very covered up.” It was an exciting time for Newhall. She made new friends and soon was teaching at a dance studio in West Hollywood and a makeup artist at La Femme Fatale. Newhall, now 25, was supporting herself and enjoying life in West Hollywood. “I remember my mother saying, ‘Isn’t it about time you got married?’” she said. Newhall said, “No, I’m doing well.”   Moving to Santa Clarita However, Newhall soon met a man, fell in love and moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1968. The couple had three children. Newhall said when she first arrived in California, she was surprised at the “laid back” culture of Los Angeles. “No one was wearing hats or gloves,” she said. “In New York, everyone always dressed up.” However, compared to Los Angeles, the SCV seemed “primitive” to the New York native. “It really was a one-horse town at the time,” she said. “I didn’t even have a good pair of jeans.” However, it didn’t take long for the SCV “to grow on” Newhall. “The people, the terrain — it was a little hotter than I was used to, but it soon felt like home,” she said. Her marriage didn’t last, but Newhall liked living in the SCV and decided to stay. After her divorce, she went to work opening Reena’s Dance Studio on Seco Canyon Road in Saugus in the mid-1970s. The first school was so successful she soon opened another location on Lyons Avenue in Valencia (now the site of the 99 Cents Store), and in Canyon Country, near the Canyon Country Post Office on Soledad Canyon Road. “I was managing three dance schools with 20 teachers and was the single mother of three children,” she said. Newhall remembers those days fondly. “It was really a team effort,” she said. “We all helped each other.” When disco became “all the rage,” Newhall offered disco classes for adults. “It was quite ‘the thing,’” she said. As the schools grew, the students entered dance competitions and often won. She sold the dance studios in the early to mid-1980s to Carla Hunt Smallwood, and it is known today as Dance Studio ’84, the longest continually operating dance studio in the SCV.   Becoming a Newhall Reena met Tony Newhall when she became his ballroom dance teacher. The couple married in 1982. They had a daughter in 1983. During the time they dated, they became cruise directors on Delta Cruise Lines, which offered passage between Vancouver B.C. and San Diego. “I had a friend who asked that I ‘sub’ for her on a cruise, so I talked Tony into coming along,” she said. The couple taught dance classes and gave dance exhibitions. “One cruise was booked with a group of travel agents and it was 90 percent women,” said Newhall. They decided to host an all-female “pajama party” for the guests. The event was so successful the cruise line made it a regular feature for the travel agent cruises. “We continued to do cruises whenever we were available,” she said. The couple, who live in Valencia, soon became busy with SCV nonprofits. In 1972, Tony Newhall founded the Boys & Girls Club of SCV Benefit Auction. “It was called the Auction of Thrills, The Social Event of the Season,’” she said. “We still have the auction catalog. Now everyone has an auction, but then it was new and exciting.” The Newhalls were involved in many of the most notable SCV events including Frontier Days and the Fourth of July Parade. They also support Single Mothers Outreach, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church and the Canyon Theatre Guild. “I enjoy working with the nonprofits,” she said. “It is important to give back now.”   A Chorus Line For many SCV residents, A Chorus Line, located on Cinema Drive in Valencia, is a “must-visit” Halloween store. The store carries dance shoes, dancewear and costumes. Newhall founded A Chorus Line in the late 1970s, when her dance teachers complained about having to go to Hollywood to buy dance shoes. She rented a small commercial space and began ordering shoes for her teachers. Newhall’s small store soon attracted the attention of College of the Canyons and CalArts students. “We had to get a bigger space,” Newhall said. The store continued to grow as the film industry discovered A Chorus Line, and would come into the store to obtain costume pieces and other unique items. “We still work with some of those companies that need specialty items and such,” she said. “We carry a lot of things that people can’t find elsewhere.” October is always a busy month for A Chorus Line because of the extensive line of costumes the store carries.   Family Tony and Reena Newhall’s daughter Lindsey is currently working in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. She has lived in China and Thailand and writes for Vice Magazine. Reena’s three children from her first marriage are Eric, Beth and Jana. She also has six grandchildren. Her son Eric is a lawyer with a law firm in New York. Beth and Jana now manage the day-to-day operations of A Chorus Line.

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