For a delirious moment Beatrice M. lifted upwards towards the sun. As she flew the sky deepened from blue to blue-black. Suddenly Beatrice leapt into a velvet curtain of stars. There she danced among the gods – straight up her pole.
The auditions listed on Tumblr and Facebook had to be be a joke – they just had to be. Dancing with the Stars was not Beatrice’s favorite television program. It was a way of life, her lodestar. She had even taken nose-picking grandson Clarence to get stuffed with Hooters’ chicken wings just so the little brat would program her DVR. Beatrice could not stop watching “Dancing” again and again.
But this text message couldn’t be right. A national “Pole Dancing with the Stars” program? With a special competition for the “older demographic?”
It must be another Florida scam. They just loved fleecing old people in this place. In Florida fraud was the biggest game – bigger than Florida versus Florida State football.
Beatrice wondered. What was the racket this time – the “initiation fee,” or the “start-up subscription?” They always got away it with it. No major crook ever saw a prison cell in this state. One fellow stole a billion dollars from old people and took the Fifth amendment seventy five times. He didn’t go to jail.
They elected him governor.
Beatrice thought about the stories she’d tell her fellow gossips at Villa Crescenda, the “most exclusive independent living space on the West Coast.” As she entered the dance studio she was already concocting several tales.
Then she met Tony.
He even looked like Tony Bennett, only slightly younger. His voice was gravelly and hoarse, but this Tony was a dancer, not a singer. He glided across the stage like a reincarnated Astaire. When he grabbed the mike and smiled, Beatrice couldn’t help smiling back. Tony looked so earnest. He might even be telling the truth.
Certainly it was quite a spiel: the international franchise that was “Dancing with the Stars” was branching out. They wanted everyone, everyone everywhere – young and old – to “participate” in the show. Kellogg’s and Roche were funding an unprecedented international geriatrics competition. Every contestant was required – with genuine birth certificates – to prove they were at least 75 years old.
Beatrice’s right arm – the one where she had shingles last year – trembled. For the first time since turning sixteen she would not need to lie about her age.
Everybody said she looked younger than her 76 years. Many thought she might be 45. Okay, almost no one thought her older than 57. She had danced all her life – ballet, ballroom, Latin; met and impressed Jack LaLanne; studied Ashtanga yoga in LA; and still worked out daily to murderous PX 90 tapes.
Tony was speaking directly to her heart. She had always known she was destined to be a star. This was her time, her last chance. Before she kicked, everyone in the world would see her kick high.
She slowed her breath, tried to focus on what Tony was saying. “Okay, you wanna know why we’re in Sarasota. Well, remember that program with Courtney what’s her name? Yeah, and all the Cougars? Yeah, the Cougars. Now that show may be forgotten, but we remember that it was set in Sarasota. Yeah, that’s right. And when I see all the gorgeous women here, I know I’ve come to the capital of Cougarland.”
If Tony was going to make his pitch for the initiation fee, this was the moment. “Yeah, we know, some of you have younger guys waiting outside. Some of the hottest and coolest older folks dance in this town. And that’s why I’m talking with you. Here. Right now. We need you, folks. And together we’re gonna have a helluva good time.”
After her tape was over, Tony took Beatrice’s hand and held it a long time. He partnered her for a few steps.
“You know, I do have younger admirers,” she said, shyly. Yet when Tony cut the music, Beatrice admitted something for the first time: perhaps that last “younger man” may have lied about his age, too.
“You dance great, B. You move like a much younger dancer. But can you do pole?”
“Tony, if I can do ballroom with a 91 year old with Alzheimer’s, can’t I do pole?”
She grinned. Tony shook his head. He was skeptical, but gave her two months.
Now she had her mission.
The people at the Fruit Jelly studio were remarkably friendly. They gingerly placed her in the cages and harnesses, and showed her the basic moves. Witnessing her rapid improvement, the dance teachers began inviting her to their night-time revues. Usually she got in free as Amber’s “great-aunt” or Angela’s “step-grandmother.”
Their performances were revelatory. She was excited to be working among such young and skilled polefessionals. Their gymnastic feats were so outrageous she thought they belonged in the Olympics, not gyrating across a tiny stage slick with sweat. But what she respected most about her teachers was the depth of their emotional lives – and their ability to simulate ecstasy perfectly – for so incredibly long. These women were more than great dancers – they were superb actors who deserved every hundred dollar bill their G string could hold.
Beatrice kept learning – and losing weight. Then she unleashed her secret weapon.
Harold, her 91 year old partner with mild cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s was just a slight exaggeration) possessed a limo. It was old yet serviceable. Encouraged by her enthusiastic young mentors, Beatrice took a good piece of her Social Security check and bought the Cadillac of portable, extensible poles.
If she could dance pole inside a limo she could dance anywhere – especially on TV.
The two months were up. Tony watched her routine with a growing half smile. Yet Beatrice froze when she saw him take out the tape measure.
“Look B, you’re good. You’re better than good. You’re really good. But you gotta know the truth. Everybody looks fat on camera.” Before she could overcome her paralysis Tony completed his measurements.
“Two inches, B. I need you to cut two inches.” Tony winked. “It’s not hard. I’ll show you how, I promise.”
The individualized diet he devised proved surprisingly pleasant. After a short time, strawberry Boost tasted like the most marvelous milk shake – you just had to chill it to the right temperature. Ensure for breakfast and dinner was cinch, as was her enforced “spiritual” fast every Thursday evening and Sunday morning. The evening snack was a pure delight – she had never loved peanut butter Cliff bars so much.
But dieting was not enough. Beatrice doubled the pace and length of her workouts.
The night before the competitive round, Beatrice took a long hard look in the mirror. The tape measure told the tale – she was down two and half inches. She would never be more ready.
Going to Hooters with Clarence was initially annoying. But getting to know the girls had been fun, and now she enjoyed their gossip. This time Clarence’s extensive electronic know-how provided her the edge.
Beatrice looked over the crowd. They were with her. She announced that her program was dedicated to the men and women in uniform. Her “American Lights” performance flew up and down a spinning pole studded with red white and blue coruscating LEDs. They blazed like miniature stars around her tastefully skimpy costume.
Beatrice smoked the competition. As she finished she collapsed in excited exhaustion.
Tony grabbed her by the waist, pulling her up off the floor. “Fantastic, B. Fantastic. You were like those World War II pin-ups my Dad loved. You’re like a new Betty Grable!”
Her dance routine was such a smash – and her figure so divinely thin – that the producers used her tape to try and sell the show. But the History Channel turned them down. HC’s programming executives told Tony the concept was intriguing. However, they felt the show was creating “the wrong kind of history.”
Nor did Lifetime agree to carry Pole Dancing with The Stars. Nor did Netflix.
Yet in the age of the Net everything is negotiable. As of this writing Beatrice has heard her program will be featured on a series of retirement and post-retirement websites. And the producers have finally agreed to her demands. Beatrice can place most of her publicity photos and short dance videos on her Facebook page. With Tony as advisor, she is working on her next program – a special homage to Gloria Swanson’s extraordinary performance in Billy Wilder’s unforgettable tragedy, “Sunset Boulevard.”
“The old days are here again. The past is never past,” Beatrice tells me. She’s still watching Dancing with The Stars – a deliciously chilled can of Ensure – shaken but not stirred – at her side.
And show business has rekindled Beatrice’s entrepreneurial enterprise. Her new business is named “Think Like a Cougar.” In the promotional video, B confidently strides across a kitchen larger than a mansion:
“Yes, folks, Sarasota is Cougarland. And cougars really know how to stay SuperThin.”
The camera cues a spinning pole, quickly jumped on by an exceptionally attractive, much younger male. “Your dining and dancing need to be hot hot Hot! Let me show you how.”