Reina Bolles crowned Ms. Senior California in San Diego


In Spanish, la reina means the queen. Reina Bolles has long been arts education royalty and has her name on a theater. Now she has a real crown, too.

Bolles was recently crowned Ms. Senior California at the state pageant in San Diego, and is proof that glamour doesn’t have to dissipate when the AARP card arrives in the mail.

Neither does talent. The Chula Vista dancer/singer/actress/choreographer can still bring it on the stage and screen, as her Ms. California competitors learned. In October, Bolles will represent the Golden State at the Ms. Senior America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Locally, Reina has performed at La Jolla Kiwanis Club, La Jolla Country Club, White Sands, Casa De Mañana and La Jolla Presbyterian Church events.

“It’s like that old saying, it’s good to be the queen!” Bolles said with a wink. “It was quite a moment when they called my name. They put a glittering crown on my head and handed me a scepter. It was just like being Miss America, but just a little bit older!”

No queen for a day, Bolles, 62, will reign for a year and plans to put her title to good use as an active advocate for arts education. Already an iconic teacher and choreographer in San Diego through her work with the Chula Vista High School SCPA, and the Bonita Vista High School (BVHS) Music Machine show choir, Bolles said she wants to spread the word to a national audience that theater, music and dance can raise students’ intelligence, confidence and all-around academic abilities.

For 25 years, Ron and Reina Bolles served as director and choreographer of the national champion BVHS Music Machine, building a renowned program from scratch at the high school with no show choir.

The BVHS theater is named for the Bolles.

The Bolles co-authored an award-nominated book based on their experiences teaching in the Sweetwater Union District schools. “Learning That Lasts a Lifetime” is a collection of testimonials spanning 35 years from BVHS alumni who used their performing arts experiences as springboards for careers in medicine, education, law, social services, business, government, the military, journalism as well as music, dance and acting.

“Children and teenagers learn high-level cognitive skills and have their brains transformed by arts education,” she said. “The performing arts grow dendrites in students’ brains and form new connections that improve abilities in language, math, special abilities and other forms of human intelligence.

“Participating in the performing arts also helps young people develop their own aesthetic, their own way of understanding the world and their place in humanity.”

Bolles’ resume as a performer equals her vitae as an educator. She starred as Tiger Lily with Cathy Rigby in “Peter Pan,” danced in “Kismet” at the L.A. Music Center, and worked in film and television with the likes of Karl Malden and Rhonda Fleming.

She performed in 18 productions at Starlight Musical Theater and for three years has been a featured soloist for the San Diego Follies. She created and performs in the San Diego Follies Touring Company, which travels to retirement homes and civic organizations throughout the county.

A busy choreographer, Bolles has worked throughout the county. She has always had a soft spot in her heart for active seniors, and currently teaches theater dance to students who demonstrate “chronological excellence,” she said with a wry smile. Her most “excellent” student is 87, she said.

Bolles said she will “bring my A game” to the Ms. Senior America Pageant in Atlantic City, but will be a winner if she can use her new platform as a way to help school administrators and elected officials appreciate arts education and direct more resources toward theater, music and dance.

“It’s fun to act like a queen with a pretty crown and fancy clothes, but great queens are great leaders who work hard to inspire their people and improve people’s lives,” she said. “That’s the kind of queen I want to be.”