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Oxford Woman is Fire Dept. Assistant By Day, Drag Racer and Tap Dancer by Night

By Alyssa Schnugg
Staff writer

Even at 62, Davii Jo Chinault can still rival the Energizer Bunny.

Petite in stature, the long-time Oxonian lives big.
“I was always hyper,” she said. “My mother taught me cross-stitching when I was young to help burn up some of my energy, but it didn’t help that much.”
She took jazz and tap dancing lessons, and when she became a teenager she learned baton twirling.
“I’ve always loved dancing,” she said. “I love being on stage and performing.”
In January, her life-long friend Debbie Paine, a dance instructor in Oxford who has been teaching all forms of dance to Oxford’s children for more than 40 years, asked Chinault if she’d be interested in taking a tap dancing class for adults.

Davii Jo Chinault keeps active by tap dancing every Monday at the Deborah Kaye School of Dance Adult Tap Class.
Photo by Alyssa Schnugg.

“I had a friend who wanted to learn tap so I advertised for an adult tap class and had a good response,” Paine said. “Davii Jo joined right away. She has the mindset that we all should have and that is that we’re never too old to do things we love and enjoy.”
Held on Mondays at Paine’s dance studio in the shopping center behind Oby’s off University Avenue, Chinault and about 12 other women tap for an hour and then enjoy a light, healthy lunch together.
“I just love it,” Chinault said. “It’s great exercise and we have so much fun. We laugh at ourselves and at each other.”
The Deborah Kaye School of Dance Adult Dance Team Photo provided

In April, the dance group entered a dance competition for dancers 20 years old and up.
“We did really well,” Chinault said. “We scored a 295 out of 300.”
Tap dancing isn’t the only way she keeps busy.
During the day, she’s the administrative assistant at the Oxford Fire Department.
Chinault in her drag racing car. Photo courtesy of Chinault.

When she’s off work, she spends time working on her purple drag racing car. She got into drag racing in Holly Springs in 1975 with a group of friends. In 1994, she bought her own car and raced at the track. She and her husband, Johnny, enjoyed racing and working on their cars for about 10 years together before his back issues slowed down their racing days.
“We’re just waiting for his back to get better so we can get back to it,” she said Monday while taking a break from her tap dancing class.
On Sundays, she’s a volunteer zookeeper at the Memphis Zoo where she works in the African veld section of the zoo with the hoofed mammals—giraffes, gazelles and zebras.
Getting some love from gazelles, Chinault volunteers at the Memphis Zoo every Sunday. Photo courtesy of Chinault.

“I do everything a zookeeper would do,” she said. “I feed them, clean their areas and give medications when they need them.”
Growing up, a favorite activity she shared with her father was visiting the Jackson Zoo.
In 2008, she contacted the Memphis Zoo and asked about volunteer opportunities. She started out working at public events and eventually got to work with the animals in 2014.
Keeping busy on land wasn’t enough for the bubbly Chinault. In 2016, she received her scuba diving certification.
“I’m very claustrophobic and my mind tells me I can’t breathe underwater,” she said. “So I wanted to fight that fear and I did. But it was scary.”
Chinault and a dolphin friend.
Photo courtesy of Chinault. 

She is also a certified dolphin trainer.
“That was just something I thought would be fun to do,” she said, chuckling.
Chinault believes keeping busy keeps her healthy, both in mind and spirit.
“I have the attention span of a 3-year-old,” she said. “I just love to have fun. The older I get, the sillier I get. Sometimes, I get a little burned out and I have to back off for a bit.
“My husband asks me how I keep up with everything. I’ve just always been like this.”


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