The documentary ‘Calendar Girls’ follows an exuberant dance troupe of elderly women in Florida
Wearing matching sequined unicorn hats, rainbow tutus or white furry boots, a troupe of 30 elderly women have built a reputation in South Florida with choreographed dances to pop songs. Called the “Calendar Girls”, the dancers are not professionals, but put on 130 shows a year – and do their own makeup and styling from YouTube tutorials – under the rigorous guidance of 71-year-old athlete Katherine Shortlidge.
Calendar Girls ready to dance in unicorn hats and rainbow tutus. Credit: I love Martinsen
Their lives are the focus of a new documentary that has toured the festival circuit and hits 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 their adult children and careers coming to an end, they seek a new direction. Through the performance, some women feel more comfortable in their own skin, wear over-the-top outfits and glitzy makeup they might never have worn before, push themselves physically and creatively, and focus – perhaps for the first time – on prioritizing yourself over others.
A Calendar Girls dance routine involving hand mirrors and pink leopard outfits. Credit: I love Martinsen
“(Their) transformation was very interesting,” Martinsen said in a video call. “You don’t think about it much, but you keep changing your whole life.”
Some found the dance group by chance: Nancy, a former police officer who retired early due to degenerative hearing loss, joined after seeing the troupe perform at a mall and having the opportunity to express a different version of herself.
“We talked about this movie like it was 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 troupe for two years after meeting the Calendar Girls at an event while vacationing 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 recalls. They contacted Shortlidge, who founded the band over a decade ago, for an initial interview, but weren’t expecting to film a documentary on the subject.
As they spoke to other members of the troupe, they were moved by the impact of dance on women’s self-esteem. The filmmakers wanted to portray a different view of life after 60, one that emphasized the personal relationships of dancers and their dedication to their practice. Some of the women struggle with health diagnoses, partners who don’t support their non-traditional decision to dance, and working past retirement age. Being part of the Calendar Girls gives them a support system.
The dance troupe breaks out into a formation that spreads its arms at different levels. Credit: I love Martinsen
Loohufvud pointed out that many movies often don’t 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,” she said.
Martinsen added that the movies also don’t tend to value their current experiences. “Very often (the story is about) their past lives. It’s not about their present life.”
Through performances by the Calendar Girls, the women raise money for Southeastern Guide Dogs, an organization that awards trained dogs to veterans. Shortlidge said at the start of the film that the band gave it new meaning.
“It will be 14 years of my life since I did this – there is nothing I regret,” she said. “I love performing. I love the idea of serving my community… We’re not just old dancing chicks, we’re doing it for a reason.”
Add to Queue: Women, cropped
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is behind one of the hottest new podcasts of the year. She has invited a guest list that includes Serena Williams, Margaret Cho, Issa Rae and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau to dismantle the reductive labels attributed to women, such as “good” or “bad” moms, 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” female artists in their later years. “The best way to succeed as a female artist is to be old. Not necessarily yet dead, but with the specter of death hanging over you…” she writes. “Preferably you’ve been doing art for a long time, and it either gathers dust in your home, rarely, if ever, or it’s exhibited mostly in alternative and educational spaces… You’re a safe bet at the same time as you are a discovery.”