When the Original Florida Follies take the stage with their extravagant outfits, gigantic headpieces, feather boas, and elaborate makeup, dancing away and smiling at the crowd, you can tell that most of these women have been moving like this for a long time. All the performers are 60 to 90 years old — or, in their words, “90 to 60 years young” — and the ranks are full of the well-trained: former showgirls, professional dancers, singers, and dance instructors who, like their less-gifted peers, have chosen South Florida for retirement.
“One day, I went to see my granddaughter’s recital at school,” says Love Crisson, 69, who has been a Follie for eight years. “I said, ‘you know what? I want to be on stage, too.’” She found an ad in a local paper and called the number to join. At the other end of the telephone line was Cathy Dooley, who had started the nonprofit organization twelve years ago as a way to help local children’s charities. (Even now, when the Follies present their Broadway-style revues in venues throughout Broward and Palm Beach County, no one gets a salary; all proceeds go to two local organizations annually.)
After working as a professional dance instructor for more than 50 years, Dooley started the troupe because she says the best thing she knew how to do was entertain. But with two new hips and a knee replacement almost two decades ago, she no longer dances. Instead, she works as artistic director and choreographer, guiding the women through rehearsals twice a week for eleven months. All that work goes into six Sunday shows — matinees — throughout January, February. and March.
At last show of the season in Fort Lauderdale (“Viva Las Vegas” was the theme this time), the Follies earned standing ovations as the women performed Burlesque numbers, a sensual jazz piece, and tributes to Elvis and Frank Sinatra. The audience gasped as the women shook their butts (still got it) and executed splits and turns. “It is easy to work with them because they are my contemporaries,” says director Dooley, who turned 82 this year, of her ladies. “We are entertaining people and we all want to do it.”