It’s a scorching Saturday morning in Cape Coral, but that won’t stop the Calendar Girls.
The dance team shows up right on time at the Cape Coral Farmer’s Market, and they’re dressed to impress in tank tops, fishnet stockings and colorful tutus.
Then the music plays, the women pick up their pom-poms and flags, and they do that thing they do.
They shake their booties to “Shake Your Booty.” They wave flags to “God Bless America.” They hula-dance to “Under the Sea.” And they get funky to “Uptown Funk.”
And despite the blazing sun, several shoppers take time out from their cucumbers and raw honey to soak up the show in the Club Square parking lot.
The small audience smiles, cheers and claps along to the music, including Catherine Norton of Cape Coral. She loves the Calendar Girls so much, she says, she brought along a friend to check out their performance.
“I think that they’re so much fun,” Norton says. “They’re smiling so big, you can just tell they’re having a blast. … And I love what they stand for.”
For now, the Calendar Girls are more of a Southwest Florida phenomenon. They dance four or five days a week at festivals, farmer’s markets, nursing homes and wherever else they can from Marco Island all the way north to Punta Gorda.
But the world is starting to learn more about the Calendar Girls and what they stand for: military veterans (they’re big supporters of the veteran-assisting group Southeastern Guide Dogs), fun dance choreography and living life to the fullest — even when you’re 60, 70 or 80 years old.
The mostly retirement-age dancers star in the new documentary “Calendar Girls,” which premiered in January at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Since then, it’s appeared at film festivals in Florida, Texas, California, Maryland and even Canada and Sweden.
The movie is expected to hit U.S. movie theaters sometime this fall, according to a show publicist.
The Calendar Girls, of course, are loving the spotlight and have sent dancers to represent the team at film fests as far away as Toronto and Stockholm.
Katherine Shortlidge, the team’s program director and a founding member, hopes the movie and its message inspire people — especially older people who might think their best years are already behind them.
The Calendar Girls consist entirely of retirement-age or near-retirement-age women. They’re all between 50 and 80 years old, and most are 65-70.
“I hope it just reminds people, as they age, to find a passion and stay active and stay healthy,” says the 71-year-old Shortlidge. “And stay busy, whether it’s your mind or your body.
“I hope it inspires people. There’s more after retirement other than reading a book or sitting in a chair or watching ‘Gunsmoke.’ There’s more to it.”
The Calendar Girls: Movie stars
The documentary’s directors found inspiration in the Calendar Girls, as well.
Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen of Sweden were visiting Cape Coral family members in 2018 when they took their kids to see tractors and fire trucks at a Touch-A-Truck event.
“Suddenly, we catch sight of a group of women all dressed in miniskirts and sequins,” the directors say in the movie’s press materials. “They climb up a truck bed and start to dance. Their tight tank tops declare ‘Calendar Girls.’ We can’t stop watching them.”
They loved the idea of a dance team made up of mostly senior-citizen women — especially when most dancers you see are much younger. It made them start to question their own prejudices.
“Why are we surprised to see a bunch of women in their 60s dance, flirt and just have a lot of fun?” the directors say. “Is our mental picture of older people out of date?”
Calendar Girls dancer Dee Stout, 69, loves challenging those expectations. And she loves bringing smiles to people’s faces wherever they perform.
“They don’t really expect women of our age, I think, to have this much energy,” she says and laughs. “I mean, I remember my grandmother.
“I’m going to be 70, and I never, ever thought I’d be in a dance team wearing short shorts and crazy hats and all of that. But I love it. I absolutely love it.”
The movie’s directors spent two years traveling back and forth between Sweden and Cape Coral as they followed the Calendar Girls and tried to understand why those dancers do what they do.
Now that 83-minute documentary is finally getting shown to movie lovers at home in Southwest Florida. It opens the annual Fort Myers Film Festival with a May 18 red-carpet screening and a VIP meet-and-greet with the Calendar Girls dancers, themselves.
Eric Raddatz, the fest’s founder and director, says he’s happy to be the first place to show “Calendar Girls” in the dance team’s home town.
He calls it a superb documentary with a “brilliant and thrilling” approach to storytelling.
“The Calendar Girls’ stories are much deeper than just dancing,” Raddatz says. “Their volunteerism and dedication as a group has brought great meaning and importance to each other as well as the community.
“I can’t think of a better place to see this film. (This city) will be one of the first in the world to screen it, months before it is available in theaters and on screening platforms.”
A spark ignites with the Florida Flame
The world might just now be learning about the Calendar Girls, but the dance team has been doing its thing since 2005.
They started life as one of three dance teams for the short-lived NBA Development League basketball team Florida Flame at Germain Arena (now Hertz Arena). Back then, they were known as the Hot Flashes.
“When the (basketball) team folded, we stayed together,” Shortlidge says. “But the Florida Flame said, ‘Just don’t use the name you used here,’ which was Hot Flashes. So we all became Calendar Girls.”
Several splinter groups broke off from the original team, too, Shortlidge says. That included another group — still active today — that kept the original name with a slight spelling tweak: The Hot Flashz.
The Calendar Girls have grown a lot since then. They started with just 16 dancers, Shortlidge says. Now there are 36 of them.
And they stay very, very busy.
The dance team performs about 150 shows a year all over Southwest Florida. That doesn’t include rehearsing four days a week at Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park and an LCEC building in North Fort Myers.
“It is a commitment,” says Calendar Girls dancer Dee Stout, 69, of Port Charlotte. “It is a time commitment. But it’s one I certainly enjoy doing.”
Many of the dancers started dancing when they were kids and perhaps dabbled in it more, on and off, as adults. But retirement gives them plenty more time to pursue their passion.
“My mom put me in dance when I was 3 years old,” says Cheryl Conners, 64, of Fort Myers. “She wanted me to be the next Shirley Temple.”
The former assistant school teacher ended up being head majorette in high school, but she gave up dancing after having children. Later, with her kids raised, she took jazz and tap dancing for a few years. Then she started dancing with the Calendar Girls about nine months ago.
Now she’s dancing more than she ever did before — as many as five or six days a week. And she’s loving every minute of it.
“I love to see people smile,” Conners says. “It makes me happy.”
Dancing for the veterans
Even better: It’s all for a good cause.
The group raises money for Southeastern Guide Dogs, a Florida charity that trains puppies and places them with soldiers with impaired vision.
The Calendar Girls knew from the start that they wanted to support just one main charity, and they knew that charity would involve dogs, children or veterans, Shortlidge said in January. They landed on Southeastern Guide Dogs, which managed to cover two of those groups in one easy swoop.
“It included dogs and veterans,” Shortlidge said. “Not that we don’t adore children — although Southeastern does have guide dogs for children.”
That charity aspect is just as important as the dancing to many members of the Calendar Girls.
“I retired,” Conners says. “I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference. I wanted to give to my community. I wanted to be of service.”
Stout, a retired solution architect for Hewlett-Packard, feels the same way. She’s even toured the charity’s school for guide dogs in Palmetto.
“I really believe in the cause,” Stout says. “It’s an amazing, amazing organization. I’m very proud to be able to say that I support them.”
“I found where I belong”
The documentary “Calendar Girls” world-premiered at Sundance in January (the virtual version, anyway, since all in-person events were canceled due to the pandemic).
But before that big day, the dancers gathered in front of a living-room TV for a little world premiere of their own. And everyone loved it, Shortlidge says.
“We didn’t know what to expect, because they’d spent so many years and just hundreds of hours with us,” she said in January. “And we didn’t know what they’d take out of all that.
“But we were very relieved and pleased that it was so creatively done and so positive.”
Other Calendar Girls agree with her.
“It was wonderful,” Conners says. “It really touched my heart. Of course, I’m not in it (filming wrapped up long before she joined). But gosh, I was so proud of the way they told the story.”
Then, of course, there’s that resounding message of doing what you love, no matter your age.
It’s a message Conners believes in deeply.
She’s been a part of the Calendar Girls for less than a year, she says, but she feels like she’s finally found a home away from home with her new sisterhood of dancers.
“As we get older, we’re not sure where we fit in and where we belong and what we’re supposed to do with the rest of our lives,” Conners says. “And when we find it and we know, it’s this amazing feeling like ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’
“It’s a euphoria when you know that. I found where I belong. I found where I need to be and what completes me as a person.”
Learn more about The Calendar Girls dance team at calendargirlsflorida.com.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at [email protected] or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).
If you go
What: “Calendar Girls” opens the Fort Myers Film Festival
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 18. The film fest continues through May 22.
Where: Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, 2301 First St., downtown Fort Myers.
Tickets: $20 for movie only, $99 for VIP tickets (including early entry, premium seating, hors d’ouevres and more)
More about the event: The screening includes a red-carpet rollout, music, food and a VIP meet-and-greet with the movie’s directors, producers and the Calendar Girls, themselves.