Ms. Holsten dances the hula onstage
Eleanor Holsten comes onstage dressed in a yellow mumu with tropical flowers in black printed all over it. She wears flowers around her head. The Hawaiian music starts. She starts swaying, to cheers from all the crowd, which has stood up to welcome her.
Why the big deal? Eleanor Holsten is 102 years old. She has been dancing for 97 years. Every time she gives a come on look to the audience, here at a “Coronado’s Got Talent” type show, they roar. Every time she suggestively wriggles her butt, the place erupts in whistles. The thing is, she’s not brittle as you’d expect any, well, more mature person to be. No, she’s positively slinky. At the end, they won’t let her go, for minutes of stand-up applause.
“I was a cigarette girl when I was 15,” she tells me in a clear voice. This was at a place called the Tahitian Hat. She was “maybe” 15. “I was pretty. I was a little hottie,” she says. “I sold lots of cigarettes, cigars, gum. Smoking was legal in theaters back then.”
Eleanor Holsten, hula dancer. She is 102 years old. Has been dancing for 97 years
What wasn’t legal back then was underage girls selling cigarettes. “Well, mom always signed in for me, because I helped sales. People would come because they wanted to see me. Buy their cigarettes from me. It was only partly for the movie.”
And when the cops came? “I’d go to the women’s bathroom and stand on the toilet so I could see them coming. And when they looked in at floor level, they wouldn’t see my legs!”
She started dancing early. “My mom thought I had something wrong with my legs. Because I wouldn’t walk or run. I wouldn’t even sit on chairs. But then one day my mom left me with my aunt. And she put some dance music on the [Victrola]. And I just had to dance. I danced all afternoon long. ‘There’s nothing wrong with her legs,’ my aunt told Mom. And I never stopped. I have been dancing [onstage] since 1921.”
She has survived three husbands, starting off with Pete Peterson. “He was part of the Vagabond Comedy Music group at a club in Miami. He was famous because he could play his ukulele with his feet.”
She says it matter-of-factly, like no big deal. “I loved him best of the three, because he was the most fun. He was full of life and I was young, and he really loved me. Yes, he was Number One.”
I have to ask the “How do you do it? Live so long, stay so young?” question.
“You’ve gotta have fun, hon. People are too serious these days. Times weren’t easy back then, but we had fun.”