The announcer on the overhead speaker belts out: “Presenting Jean’s Golden Girls, under the direction of Jean Dixon Elliot, women ages 55 to 92. They have 415 children, 876 grandchildren and 192 great grandchildren.”
The basketball stadium explodes as the 75 women take to the court to perform. When the soloist, age 92 years young, does the splits, the crowd goes ballistic.
Jean’s Golden Girls was founded by former professional dancer, Jean Dixon Elliott at the request of generations of mothers, whose children danced and performed under her tutelage over the years. For close to 50 years, Elliot has been a driving force for dance within Utah. Her choreography continues to be exciting and audience thrilling.
“We just wanted the exercise and knew Jeannie could provide it. We asked her to do a women’s only dance class as she had taught most of our kids." Laughing, one of the Golden Girl’s explained, “We all said, ‘I will come and exercise, but I am not going to perform.’ The next thing you know, you are at Madison Square Garden on the basketball court in New York dancing!”
The studio is small. Brick walls and a great wooden floor are flanked by dusty mirrors that have seen thousands of children take their first spins, and great grandmothers learn to “boogie down”. The quiet of an empty studio gives way to laughter, tears, hugs and joy as the 100 dancers stream into the building. The music starts to pump and Jean calls the class to order. Jean has the amazing ability to teach all levels of students.
After taking her dancers through a heart- pumping warm up, she teaches them several new numbers. Jean’s instruction is fast and dancers learn quickly to watch, follow and dance. Old numbers are reviewed and the next week’s show is polished. Before the dancers can take a full breath the class is over until the next day. Classes are taught every weekday and most performances are on the weekends.
Society may value youth and beauty. The ideal age for women may appear to be getting younger and younger. Jean has a different perspective. Women are selected not based on size; rather she selects them based on how well they fit with the other women. The dancers come in all shapes and sizes- tall, thin, short, and thick. The dancing whittles away pounds and adds muscle. Many women in their 80’s and 90’s have doctors who are amazed they can dance at “their age” but agree that the women are stronger and healthier for the effort. Knee and hip replacements are common.The rehab is easier because of the dance.
No one is required to perform but sign-up sheets fill quickly. The Golden Girl’s have performed on the Jay Leno show. The group also performs onstage in venues like, Nashville, Branson, Las Vegas, and cruise ship tours.
They are most recognized for their performances during half time shows at professional and college basketball games. They have thrilled audiences from coast to coast, kicking up their heels at Jazz, Clippers, Nicks, and the Nets games. They perform yearly at colleges such as BYU, Utah, Weber and Utah State.
While the performances are wonderful, the true strength of the Golden Girls is the personal victories and losses that are shared.
As the dancing creates a bond, the dancers reach out to the community. A woman loses a son and learns about an unknown grandchild from group members. The women in the group network to get the families together. A family is facing financial devastation because of a child’s medical bill, and the dancers throw a massive yard sale to help the crisis.
Divorces occur. Children move back in. A new great grandchild is born. Another dancer auditions for heaven’s dance line. Through it all, the 100 women are there for each other.
They have reached the age when wrinkles are not a crisis, but laughter is essential. One woman comes to class thrilled that her husband bought her a piano. Quietly, another women reminds her that her husband past away several years ago. “I know”, she replies with an evil grin, “I sold his motorhome, I just knew he wanted me to have that piano.”
While the dance benefits each woman personally, the true benefit is the friendship and support each receive by being a “Jean’s Golden Girl”.