What to do in retirement? How about shaking your pom-pons?
The documentary Gotta Dance chronicles the first season of the NETSationals, New Jersey Nets' cheerleading team. Unlike your standard squad, this one's comprised of mostly untrained dancers aged 60 and over. Instead of retiring and hitting the couch, its participants took a chance, auditioned, and won places on the special team. During lulls in games, the group -- some of whom are grandparents of the buxom young fawns on the standard cheerleading squad -- hustles to center court and shakes their stuff to hip-hop music while the crowd goes wild.
It's proof that the terms of retirement are changing for Americans. "My own mother wore her hair in a bun and a housedress," marvels one dancer -- and then she collects a paycheck for shaking her butt in front of 19,000 fans.
Seniors on the NETSationals team (12 women, plus the only man who auditioned) receive both a small stipend and free basketball tickets. When it comes to eking out an income in your golden years, it sure beats greeting shoppers at the Wal-Mart.
It's a form of income that would be impossible for someone younger. "I don't have some of the constraints that come with being younger and having to earn a living," says one dancer, Claire (age 62). "Been there, done that, and now I'm free."
The film has been making its way through the documentary circuit for a while (it won Best Documentary at the Palm Beach Film Festival -- but of course). This week, it finally toddles out before the general movie-going public as it begins its first engagement at the Beekman Cinema in Manhattan. And this summer, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line rolls out its Gotta Dance hip-hop classes that are themed to the movie and the squad.
Dori Berinstein, the filmmaker, also tackled the high-risk world of producing a Broadway musical with 2007's ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway, which provided a first-hand examination of the sour press behind Rosie O'Donnell's production of the tuneful Taboo and the unexpected triumph of upstart Tony winner Avenue Q.
In Gotta Dance, we learn that there are some things that a body simply can't do as it gets older. Cheerleading, though, clearly isn't one of them, although the low-impact choreography dished out by the troupe's taskmistress cheerleaders doesn't appear to pose nearly the problems that simply remembering it did.
One of the stars of the light-footed documentary is Betty, a grammar school teacher on the verge of retirement, who discovers her earthy side thanks to her unlikely part-time job. Hip-hop "is the blues of our time," crows the Baby Boomer. "Hip-hop is for us." She finds such an outlet in the new expression that the only way she can cope with it is by creating a semi-naughty alter-ego, Betsy. While Betty speaks softly to children in front of construction-paper butterflies, Betsy demands skimpier costumes.
Sure, you could play the umpteenth game of bridge at the rec center. Or you could get creative for that extra spending cash in lean times. For those who dread trudging into obsolescence (or taking a job as a Wal-Mart greeter), Gotta Dance is inspiring.