For This Cambria Couple, it’s all About the Arts

Written by Jill Turnbow

June 4, 2021

Mar and Shirley Kirkes-Mar continue to fulfill their love of the arts in Cambria.

Cambria is known for being an oasis for retirees. The community offers many ways to develop new interests and flourish in life’s new chapter, or there are ways to dive even deeper into life-long passions. No one knows that better than arts power couple Jeff Mar and Shirley Kirkes-Mar, who moved to the seaside village to retire in 1996 and have both found ways to thrive in their passions for art, music and dance.

Jeff and Shirley met in Los Angeles when Shirley was choreographing for a ballet company and Jeff was hired to edit music tracks. Jeff quickly fell for ballet, then for Shirley, and began composing original music for the company. Jeff holds a master’s degree from UCLA in music composition. As a keyboardist, he played with several bands, one in particular, The Sophisticates, a female trio, took him around the globe. That led to his next gig as the music director for the pop group The Letterman. Jeff has also spent many years as a sound editor in films and television, which led him to Shirley.

Meanwhile, Shirley was a professional dancer in Los Angeles as well as an actress on several television shows, like Laverne & Shirley, (but she wasn’t THAT Shirley) as well as The Carol Burnett Show. She danced on the Dean Martin show and later was the choreographer for Steve Martin in The Three Amigos and Pennies From Heaven.

Then at the age of 50, Shirley picked up a paintbrush. “I just had an eye for it,” she said. “Painting is a lot like choreography. Its placement, where things go on the canvas, is a lot like where things go on a stage. To be a good artist is also like dance. You can gain technique but to be good you have to feel it.”

When they both retired to Cambria, Shirley didn’t plan on dancing again. However, an opportunity arose with a Paso Robles dance studio and she began helping young girls compete in tap and ballet. She taught in Paso for 17 years. To this day she is still teaching adult tap classes at her studio in Cambria.
Jeff immediately found opportunities to work with students as well. He formed a Drum Corp at Coast Union High and has been involved with the high school musicals.

“I had never worked with high school students before but now I have played for 17 musicals,” Jeff said. “I love seeing the evolution of the productions and especially the growth of the students.”

Jeff was also instrumental in Allied Arts move from the old Santa Rosa Schoolhouse to its current location in the old grammar school. At one time he was the president of Allied Arts and continues to work on some of the theatre productions as music director. And, Shirley continues to choreograph both the high school productions along with doing the poster art and has choreographed shows at Cambria Center for the Arts as well.
“To be surrounded by art, music and dance, it’s a good life,” said Shirley.

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