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Dancer, activist Shirley Woliver dies

Shirley Woliver, 88, was a social and cultural

Shirley Woliver, 88, was a social and cultural activist from Plainview. Credit: Handout

A graveside service with immediate family was held Thursday for Shirley Woliver, a social and cultural activist who had danced with some of the nation's best and died Tuesday in her Manhattan apartment after a lengthy illness. She was 88.

Woliver grew up in Manhattan's East Village and during her teen years became involved in modern dance and classical Indian dance. She studied under and danced with ethnologist/choreographer La Meri, modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis, modern Indian dance choreographer Uday Shankar, the brother of Ravi, and, finally, the Martha Graham Dance Company.

"She danced into her 20s," said her son, Robbie Woliver of Melville, a columnist for Newsday's former Night Beat section.

In the early 1950s, she and her husband, Irving, who died in 1985, moved to Plainview and became active in the growing community. In the mid-1950s, she was president of the then Plainview School District Parent Teachers Association, while her husband served on the school board.

She is credited with being the founder of the district's now long-ended Children's Cultural Workshops, which became the successful prototype for such Saturday programs nationwide.

In 1961, she founded the now-defunct Theater for Plainview, which brought big musical acts, Broadway shows and dance companies to the area.

She also taught dance.

In 1974, she received her bachelor's degree in communicative and creative arts from SUNY Old Westbury, where at the same time she taught African dance.

A political activist since her youth, she worked in the civil rights and anti-war movements as a member of such groups as the NAACP, Women Strike for Peace and the anti-nuclear group SANE. More recently, she had been involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"Always a bohemian, she moved to Greenwich Village in 1974," her son said.

She was well-known to many in the music industry as office manager of the New York Music Awards office from 1985 to 1992, and her nurturing of many musicians at the village's Folk City nightclub, where she was "house mom" after her son and his friends bought the venue in 1980. It closed in 1987.

"Until her health turned last year she headed her building's large tenants group," her son said. "She also ran a theatrical production company, Omnibus Productions since 1986. She was a Renaissance woman."

She is also survived by a daughter, Sheri Woliver, of High Bridge, N.J., and three grandchildren.

Yesterday's service was at Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale. The family said a memorial service will be held in September.

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