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Light-footed couple has taught generations of prom queens

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

July 24, 2011
By ILIMA LOOMIS - Staff Writer (iloomis@mauinews.com) , The Maui News

Alvin and Michie "Mitch" Chee never have to worry about finding a date for prom.

That's a good thing - because the Wailuku couple has attended one or more proms each year for the past three decades.

The Chees have become the go-to ballroom dance instructors for high school prom courts, choreographing dances for countless prom queens and their attendants, and teaching generations of

Article Photos

Michie and Alvin Chee pose for a photo in April at the Maui High School Junior Prom. For the past 30 years, the Chees have volunteered as dance instructors for prom courts at high schools around the island.

ALVIN and MICHIE CHEE photo

Maui teenagers how to fox trot, mambo, cha-cha and swing.

"I always refer to them as 'my kids,' " says Mitch, 74.

The Chees, who had enjoyed ballroom dancing since the 1950s and '60s, began teaching teenagers when organizers asked them to work with the court of the Chrysanthemum Ball in 1977.

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EDITORS NOTE - "Neighbors" is an occasional series featuring profiles of the everyday people who make the Maui community unique. To nominate someone you know for "Neighbors," send an email to citydesk@mauinews.com.

"I made them a dance in a synchronized routine," recalls 82-year-old Alvin.

Five years later, they were called by a Baldwin High School parent who asked them to work with the junior prom court - with just a month to go before prom night.

"They were desperate," Mitch says with a laugh. "We did what we could."

An invitation came from Maui High School the next year, and other high schools followed. Some years, the Chees attended as many as three proms in a season - but they always choreographed an original dance for each court, and have never re-used a routine, Alvin notes.

Today, the Chees continue to work with the Maui High prom court. Keeping with tradition, the routine always includes a dance to the "Maui Waltz," followed by a popular song chosen by the students.

Even if they pick a modern top-40 hit, the Chees try to choreograph a ballroom-style dance to the song.

But it doesn't always work.

When students recently selected "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga, the Chees were stumped.

"We (told) them, 'We can't do it, because this song is not danceable,'" Alvin says.

"The kids wanted it," Mitch adds, "but I thought, 'Bad Romance'? That doesn't sound too good for junior prom."

The students ended up going with Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" instead.

"It started as a swing, and went into a cha-cha," Alvin says.

The ballroom dance program remains as popular as ever, even in a Gaga generation, the Chees add.

The other students "really envy the kids on the court," Alvin says.

"You should hear the applause," Mitch says.

In addition to proms, the Chees have been asked to give ballroom dancing demonstrations at parties, and to choreograph dances for brides and their wedding parties. Several years ago, they also taught dancing to 3rd-graders at Kamehameha Schools Maui, for a "presidential ball" held while students were learning about the presidents.

Now the Chees have even begun to teach the children of some of their former prom queens and kings.

"Working with kids, I think, keeps you young," Mitch says.

It can also be a challenge. She says she used to bring a whistle to practice sessions.

"You have to remember that they're kids," she says. "They're a little loud, and that's just the way they are."

But even if the students spend weeks joking around in practice, they always seem to shape up by prom night, she says.

"They've never let us down."

* Ilima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@mauinews.com. To nominate someone you know for a "Neighbors" story, send email to citydesk@mauinews.com.

 
 
 

 

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