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Sioux Falls elderly dancing troupe takes final bow

January 5, 2019
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In this Dec. 14, 2018 photo, the Dancing Divas perform at Good Samaritan Society-Luther Manor in Sioux Falls, S.D. The women danced to "My Kind of Town" by Frank Sinatra. (Loren Townsley/The Argus Leader via AP)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Eight women strutted into the room dressed in matching sequined hats and ties, turning the Luther Manor cafeteria into a stage.

The residents filling the space quieted, and nurses stopped in the hallway to watch.

The women danced to “My Kind of Town” by Frank Sinatra. Then they changed into technicolor gypsy outfits, polka dot dresses, checkered racing skirts and sequined Navy uniforms to accompany each classic song they performed.

They call themselves the “Dancing Divas.”

Rhinestone “Diva” pins proclaim them as exclusive members of the performance group, with dancers ranging in age from 74 to 81 — though they danced with a skill belying their age.

Their performance at Luther Manor on Dec. 14 was their final show, a culmination of 11 years as a group performing at nursing homes within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls and a rigorous three-day-a-week training schedule.

The group was more than a hobby to group founder Joanna Salmon, 75. It was showcasing their skills as performers.

“If I do something, I expect it to be great,” said Salmon, who choreographs the dances and picks out music. “It can’t be garbage. If I do something for the public, I’m going to make it the best I can.”

Performance is in Salmon’s blood. She started performing as a child with her family. She was part of “The Browns,” which included herself and nine brothers and sisters who performed at venues across the Midwest. When she was 13, she started teaching dance at her sister’s studio until she was 31 and moved to Los Angeles with her husband.

When she moved back to Sioux Falls after 2005, she decided to start the “Dancing Divas.” Salmon picked the original 15 from a line dancing class, the Argus Leader reported.

Melva Hilmo taught the line dancing class and is the youngest group member at 74 years old. She’s committed to the group and has had a passion for dancing since she learned to dance around the kitchen table as a child.

“Even when I broke my foot, I came and supported the girls at the performances,” Hilmo said.

Marilee Smith, 81, is the oldest dancer. The Dancing Divas group has let her enjoy dancing again. She would go jitterbugging with her husband when they were young, but he doesn’t dance anymore.

“It’s an important thing in my life right now,” Smith said. “I’m going to miss it so much — the girls, and I’m just going to miss the performing too.”

The three women’s favorite part of the performance is interacting with audience members after the show.

Salmon remembers one performance when she spoke with a woman who was smiling throughout the whole show. When Salmon asked why she was smiling, she said it was because she’d be blind by the same time next year when the Dancing Divas would perform at the nursing home again. This was the last time she’d be able to see the group’s flamboyant costumes and watch them dance.

While Frank Petereit isn’t a dancer, he’s also part of the group. The 88-year-old has been entertaining the audience with his harmonica, jokes and poetry while the divas change costumes for about two years.

“I enjoy doing something, and I enjoy playing the harmonica,” Petereit said. “I’m honored to be part of the group. It’s a blessing for me.”

He’s considering going solo now that the Dancing Divas are over.

Salmon doesn’t have any plans just yet, but she’s “going to do something.”

Whatever it’ll be next, dancing will always be part of her life, she said. Salmon has a 90-year-old sister who will still try to get up and dance whenever she hears a tune. She expects the same future for herself.

“I’ve spent my whole life dancing,” Salmon said. “It is my life.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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