I'm happy to report that Laf-A-Lot, a 79-year-old dance club that came close to disbanding three months ago, has doubled its membership and is celebrating with a New Year's Eve party at the Town Hall in Kern City.

Shari Fortino, president of Laf-A-Lot, tells me the membership has gone from 40 to about 80.

"And what's good about it is we're getting a wide range of ages," she said. "It used to be that nearly all of the members were over 70 -- now we have three generations."

A party atmosphere will prevail with hors d'oeuvres, favors, tables lit with flameless candles and a free champagne toast at midnight.

"Everyone dresses up," she said. "It's the ladies' big chance to show off their pretty dresses, and a lot of the men wear tuxedoes."

Music will be provided by the Bakersfield Swingtime Orchestra, a six-piece group led by Steve Eisen.

Fortino's husband, Michael Smothers, an instrumentalist and singer, usually plays with the band but for the New Year's party he'll spend most of the evening on the dance floor.

"Michael won't be playing -- he wants to dance with me," she said. "But he'll still sing -- he's the soloist."

During the band's breaks, Fortino, who operates the Debonaire School of Ballroom Dance, will provide instruction for two dances. One will be a country line dance that requires no partners; the other is the 1920s-era Charleston.

Membership is $45 a year but you don't need to be a member to attend the New Year's Eve celebration. The club also welcomes dancers -- male and female -- who are single.

Children's art workshop

Liz Sherwyn, education coordinator at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, has a positive approach to teaching art. And she's wasting no time in getting started on the new year with a three-day workshop that begins on Wednesday.

Her emphasis is on the process of "doing art," rather than the finished product.

"Art is about the process, and sometimes the process is just scribbling," she said. "Once a person is able to give themselves a break and have fun, they are succeeding. And when they are having fun, they learn so much more."

The workshop is designed for children ages 6 to 12, but no matter the age, the key to "doing art" lies in allowing yourself the freedom to follow your instincts.

"Children who have had little or no art instruction (and this goes for adults, too) just need to rid themselves of any expectations of what the product will be," she said. "It's a very stressful thing to sit down and decide you are going to draw the perfect representation of something."

Museum instructors will introduce children to drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and collage. Students also will learn about famous artists and art techniques.

Pre-registration is encouraged. The curriculum is designed to be a continuous experience. As the lessons progress day to day, the students will be completing projects they have previously started as well as building on what they have already learned.

"Because of this, it will be difficult for a student to come in during the last two days and catch up," Sherwyn said. "That being said, we will be happy to accept any students, even if they are unable to make it the first day. I'm sure they will still have a great time and learn about art."


Another program offered by the art museum has been expanded and is now open to children ages 3 to 8 accompanied by an adult. It's called "Side-by-Side" and will meet the second Saturday of every month, starting on Jan. 12.

The workshops are geared toward pre-kindergarteners and primary grade children. The projects are designed to be done again at home by the child and his or her parent or caregiver.

Art Center clay classes

Byrd Tetzlaff is enthusiastic about showing others the art of making objects from clay.

"I love, love, love polymer clay," she says. "It's just the neatest thing in the world -- it brings out the creativity in people who didn't even know they were creative."

Newcomers, she said, don't realize the possibilities of working with this kind of clay, a modeling medium that can be hardened in a home oven. It also comes in various colors.

"You can paint with it, sculpt, make dolls, jewelry -- it's endless," she said. "It really depends on what you're interested in."

Tetzlaff will lead a series of five classes at the Art Center starting on Jan 3. It is designed for children as well as adults.

"It's literally for all ages and it's ridiculously fun," she said. "I admit I love to work with teenagers, though. We love to make monsters from outer space."

Class size is limited, and pre-registration is necessary.

Portrait winner

Jennifer Shrader was the winner of a portrait painting by Patti Doolittle valued at $900. The prize was offered in an opportunity drawing offered at the Bakersfield Art Association's annual open house and Christmas party on Dec. 7.

Kathy Schilling, who heads the fundraising committee, said about $600 was raised from ticket sales on the portrait. The money will go into the BAA's scholarship fund.

A silent auction of art lessons and baskets filled with gift items brought in another $2,100. This will be put into the organization's general fund to help with end-of-the-year expenses.

Black History Month

Looking ahead to Black History Month, Brenda Scobey is in the process of finalizing events for a monthlong observance that starts on Feb. 1 with a gospel concert by the Mighty Clouds of Joy.

"This quartet is one of the oldest gospel singing groups still performing throughout the United States," Scobey said in an email message.

A retired librarian, she has organized African-American history programs annually for the past several years, including last year's "Harlem and Beyond."

The 2013 observance will be based on a book by John Holway, titled "Red Tails: An Oral History of the Tuskegee Airmen." The true story of black pilots who served in World War II, it was made into a film in 2012 starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Gerald McRaney.

"Tuskegee airmen from the Los Angeles chapter will be guest speakers at the book discussion and final concert events," Scobey said. "We hope to have some of them make school visits but the average age of the airmen is 92 years old."