The rat-a-tat-tat of tap shoes resonates throughout the studio. A big out-of-town gig looms less than 24 hours away, and the troupe is working to perfect the pitter-patter steps of the “Lullaby of Broadway” number from the film Gold Diggers of 1935. Never mind that the company’s oldest hoofer was already in junior high when the film premiered. And never mind that arthritis and bum knees have perhaps taken a bit of a toll on the gams of even the leggiest members of this troupe—the Dancing Grannies won’t rest until the curtain call of tomorrow’s performance.
“I love dancing, and it’s just a fabulous feeling to be out there in front of all those smiling faces,” says 73-year-old Linda Hall. “But the Dancing Grannies is more than just dancing. We practice together, we travel together, and we perform together. The camaraderie among us is important, and we’re a very close-knit bunch of girls.”
“And we love the crowds and all the energy we get from them,” adds Katie DiBaise. Spending any amount of time with DiBaise leads one to guess that she was probably the class clown back when the Palmer Method was being taught for writing lessons on Big Chief tablets. Her sense of humor serves her well as the cracking-wise emcee at Dancing Grannies events. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a serious bone or two in her 78-year-old body.
“When I’m out there dancing,” DiBaise muses in one of her more reflective moments, “all I can think of is just…just…‘Wow!’”
Now in their fifth decade of grannie glitz and glam, the troupe originally formed in the late ’70s as the Camelot Steppers before later adopting the Dancing Grannies name. Assisted living centers occupy a number of dates on their schedule, but you may have seen them everywhere from high-stepping through halftime at CenturyLink Center sporting events to country line-dancing through countless area festivals and just about anyplace else where crowds gather.
Road trips can be full of surprises for the still-adventurous women who refer to each other simply as “the girls.” When the company made a refreshment stop at the retro soda fountain of Springfield Drug in the community of the same name south of Omaha, the scene seemed to practically beg for an equally retro, impromptu performance.
“The soda jerks asked us about our costumes, and one thing led to another,” explains 76-year-old Patricia Chase. “Let’s just say that there were free root beer floats involved.”
Assisted living performances remain a favorite for many of the women. “They see our costumes, and the music starts, and their faces just light up,” says Chase.
“And those hands start swaying, and those toes start tapping,” adds 81-year-old Jean Granlund, who has been with the group for more than 25 years. “They always tell us afterward that they’d be right up there dancing with us if only they could.” Granlund and Chase are the de facto leaders of the otherwise loosely organized group.
The minimum age for membership is 50 and the oldest member is now a still-spry 89. Bringing in new recruits can be something of a challenge for a group that, by definition, is limited to women of a certain age. Prospective members generally lead much more active lives than did women in the earlier days of the company, but all, Granlund explains, are welcome to check them out by visiting a rehearsal.
Like all “the girls,” she shares a lifelong love of dance.
“My mother was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland,” Granlund says. “She was a traditional Highland dancer, so dance has always been a part of my life. Later in my mother’s life when she was in assisted living, they didn’t do the sorts of entertainment programs that are common now. I always picture it as if my mother is out there in the audience every time I dance and especially when we perform in assisted living facilities. I know she would be very proud of me.”
To learn more about membership and bookings with the Dancing Grannies, contact Jean Granlund at 402-392-0497.