Friday night's top billing at San Francisco's trendy Beatbox club was an all-female variety show. Acts included a jangling bellydancer with an impressively gymnastic stomach, a wise-cracking comedian talking trash about her sex life, and a lithe pole dancer, who paired her flesh-colored panties with a purple cape (in tribute to Prince). What made this unusual is that every performer was over 40 years old, the oldest clocking in at 72.
Well, technically, everyone was almost 40. At 39 years, 20 hours, and ten minutes, the show's producer, the pink-haired hula hoop artiste Revolva, had a little time to kill. "My career should end at midnight tonight," she says. "I'll be 40, and we all know women over 40 are invisible, right?" This was the crux of BroadMinded: A Women Over 40 Variety Show, to demonstrate that talent has no expiration date
"Women are told that our appearance is our highest value, and we experience ageism earlier and more profoundly," Revolva says. She's been performing since she was four; she's opened for OK Go and "Weird Al" Yankovic and can keep six hula hoops spinning when she slides into the splits. But as she got older, work slowed down; booking producers were casting younger (and often less-skilled) women. "I got depressed," she says. "Do I have to stop when I don't want to? I needed to see if there are older women still performing, that I can look up to.
She was surprised and humbled at the number of women she found. "You just have to look for them," she says. "You don't see them in the media." Revolva tentatively reached out to some performers; their immediate response was so enthusiastic that she decided to channel their energy into a variety showcase, highlighting women who refused to let "senior citizen" status define them.
Fifty-seven-year-old belly dancer Leela drove 14 hours from Southern California for her seven-minute slot on stage. Bells hugged her hips and thighs; she floated around the stage like her feet were made of tiny castors. "This is the first time I've heard of a show with women over 40 doing stuff!" she says, her voice rising with emotion. "I'm excited to be a part of something so unusual." Leela started teaching and performing 20 years ago, an unusually late start for a dance career. Traditionally, belly dancing careerists work the Middle Eastern restaurant circuit, collecting tips from tables. "For the archetypal belly dancer, one who's young and beautiful, your career ends about 30," she says. "But it's more interesting to watch someone who has a story to tell."
She emphasizes that talent doesn't vanish because your thighs thicken. Leela's had two children; when she dances, she wears an elegant dress instead of a coin-encrusted bikini top. "Performance is not about pretty bodies," she says. "It's an extension of the soul in motion. The more experienced the soul, the more intoxicating the motion."
Seventy-two-year-old dancer Sandy Eggers agrees. "I'm not going to stop dancing because I have more years on my body!" she says. She high-kicked her way across the stage, arm in arm with women brandishing bowler hats and lime green gloves.They were members of the Golden Follies, a Broadway dance troupe co-founded by Susan Bostwick in 2000. Bostwick manages 25 women and three men, aged 60-92 (she says the 92-year-old is a world-class tap dancer). Their audience is usually more refined—more senior center than San Francisco nightclub.
Still, Bostwick was thrilled to participate in BroadMinded; she called the pole-dancing act "remarkable." "We surprise audiences," she says. "Initially people think it will be like their grandma on stage, then they see the talent and energy and beauty." She insists on high standards; all dancers audition and must demonstrate mastery. People pay money for tickets, she explains, so it's important they they see real talent. The Follies dress for the occasion; past costumes include gold lamé jackets and Elvis wigs. Sometimes they wear glittering leotards and towering, Vegas-style headdresses.
Revolva looked thrilled when the audience applauded. Finally, people could see what she saw everyday. "We kicked ass, and it wasn't 'well, you kicked ass for older women.' We just plain put on an amazing show!" she says.
For the show's finale, Revolva burst out of a two-tier collapsible cream cake with "29 Forever" printed on the front. She made a face and pushed the cake away until she was reborn in a glittering silver romper, a hot pink number "40' emblazoned on her midriff. She raised her arms to the crowd.
When she turned around, the word "PROUD" was printed in capital letters on her ass.