In matching sparkly unicorn hats, rainbow tutus or furry white boots, a group of 30-something older women have made a name for themselves in South Florida with dances choreographed to pop songs. Dubbed the “Calendar Girls”, the dancers are not professionals, but perform 130 shows a year, doing their own make-up and styling from YouTube tutorials, under the rigorous direction of 71-year-old athlete Katherine Shortlidge .
Calendar Girls ready to dance in unicorn hats and rainbow tutus. Credit: Dear Martinsen
Their lives are the focus of a new documentary that toured the festival circuit and opens in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, among other cities, this month.
In “Calendar Girls,” Swedish filmmakers Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen follow the group as they navigate a stage of life that can be misrepresented in popular culture: with grown children and careers that have ended, they search for a new address Through performance, some of the women become more comfortable in their own skin, wear exaggerated costumes and bright makeup that they might never have worn before, push themselves physically and creatively and focus, perhaps for the first time , to prioritize. of others
A Calendar Girls dance routine featuring hand mirrors and pink leopard dresses. Credit: Dear Martinsen
“(His) transformation was very interesting,” Martinsen said in a video call. “You don’t think about it that much, but you keep changing your whole life.”
Some found the dance group by chance: Nancy, a former police officer who took early retirement due to degenerative hearing loss, joined after seeing the group perform at a mall and seeing the ‘opportunity to express a different version of herself.
“We’ve been talking about this movie as if it’s a coming-of-age story, but a coming-of-age story,” Loohufvud added on the same call.
The directors, a married couple, filmed the dance group over the course of two years after meeting the Calendar Girls at an event while on vacation with their children in the Fort Myers area.
“They started dancing, and it was so mesmerizing – we couldn’t stop watching. It made us happy,” Loohufvud recalled. They contacted Shortlidge, who founded the group more than a decade ago, for an initial interview, but did not expect to film a documentary on the subject.
As they spoke to more members of the company, they were moved by how much dance had affected the women’s sense of self. The filmmakers wanted to depict a different view of life after 60, one that focused on the dancers’ personal relationships and dedication to their practice. Some of the women struggle with health diagnoses, partners who don’t support their non-traditional decision to dance, and work past retirement age. Being a part of Calendar Girls gives them a support system.
The dance group is organized in a formation by fanning their arms at different levels. Credit: Dear Martinsen
Loohufvud noted that many films often do not take women above a certain age seriously. “A lot of them tend to make fun of the character, like it’s so funny that a woman over 60 wants to be sexy, for example,” he said.
Martinsen added that movies also don’t usually value their current experiences. “Very often (the story is) about their past lives. It’s not about their present life.”
Through the Calendar Girls performances, the women raise money for Southeastern Guide Dogs, an organization that assigns trained dogs to veterans. Shortlidge said early in the film that the group has given him a new sense of purpose.
“It’s going to be 14 years of my life. I’ve done this, there’s nothing I regret,” he said. “I love performing. I love the idea of serving my community… We’re not just old people dancing, we do it for a reason.”
Add to queue: Women, reframed
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is behind one of the hottest new podcasts of the year. She has brought in a guest list that includes Serena Williams, Margaret Cho, Issa Rae and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau to dismantle the reductive labels assigned to women, such as “good” or “bad” mothers, stereotypes of the “diva ” or “angry black woman,” and the double standard of ambition.
Art critic Jillian Steinhauer wrote for Believer magazine about the art world’s tendency to “discover” women artists in the later years of their lives. “The best way to succeed as a female artist is to be old. Not necessarily dead yet, but with the specter of death hanging over you…” she wrote. “Preferably you’ve been making art for a while, and it’s been gathering dust in your house, rarely if ever shown, or mostly exhibited in alternative and educational spaces… At the same time you’re a safe bet. since you’re a discovery”.