RP Dancer Receives Assembly Citation
Fortunately, reconstructive surgery on her left foot a decade later erased nearly all the effects of the disease. “Ever since then, I’ve been dancing up a storm,” says Billig, 85, a longtime Rockaway Park resident.
But complications from wearing an ankle-to-hip cast for a year resulted in one foot being smaller than the other. “I wear a size 7½ on my left foot and a size 10 on my right, so I always had to buy two pairs of shoes, and throw two shoes out,” Billig says, smiling with good-natured acceptance of her varied foot sizes.
That didn’t stop the retired statistical clerk from dancing and singing in entertainment events for the past 60 years, most recently at the Rockaway Park Senior Center, sponsored by JASA (Jewish Association for Services for the Aged).
Her many accomplishments were enumerated in a citation read by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer following Billig’s and other JASA Players’ performances at the center on September 29. Pheffer mentioned frequent visits by Jimmy Durante while Billig was working as a receptionist in Manhattan’s Hotel Astor, where Durante was a frequent guest.
“Durante loved to sit on my desk, tell jokes and kibitz,” Billig says.
Billig also performed in the glee club in the former Temple Emanuel in Far Rockaway, and sang and danced there under the tutelage of Al Miller, a Broadway musical arranger and fellow temple member.
“Al wrote the music for two musicals, ‘Only in Rockaway’ and ‘Knock on Wood.’ I wrote the lyrics, and my husband, Arnie, wrote the book,” she says, adding, “We performed to great reviews in JHS 180 and Far Rockaway High School.”
Born in the Bronx, Billig studied accounting at Queens College until her junior year, when she left to marry Arnold Billig in 1947. The couple, who have three children, lived in Brooklyn before moving to Rockaway in 1950. After the Billigs retired in 1982, she as a statistical clerk with the city Health Department, and he as a probation supervisor, they became snowbirds, spending summers in Rockaway, and winters in their condo in Delray Beach, until her husband’s death in 1989 at age 70. They were married for 42 years.
In 1992, Billig met her companion, Bill Handleman in Florida. They snow-birded together between Rockaway and Florida, until his death in 2006. Billig, who has seven granddaughters, says she remains close with Handleman’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Billig will be moving full time to Florida at the end of October. “I have mixed feelings about it,” the six-decade Rockaway resident says. “But I just can’t take winter traveling back and forth.”