The Cheerful Grannies Dance

Women’s Day, November 26, 1991

Women’s Day, November 26, 1991. Click to enlarge

The image of the cheerful granny, used in the past to sell big ticket items like refrigerators, was completely transformed in this 1991 advertisement for exercise routines.  In this case, Beverly Gemigniani, founder of the group, was selling something that she made herself.

According to an enthusiastic account in the how-to book 100 Best Retirement Businesses, Gemigniani got involved in the aerobics world when she and her husband moved to Arizona in the 1980s. She soon discovered exercise routines were not geared to the needs of older women, so she decided to make that her focus.  It turned out to be a lucrative market. By the mid eighties, she moved beyond exercise classes to form a traveling dance troupe that performed at local events like county fairs.  The group hired an agent and by the early nineties they had appeared on TV shows, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and even at the Bush I White House.

The video enterprise (there were three in all) started in the late eighties. It brought the Dancin’ Grannies into households across America. Following the conventions of the time, they dressed in high cut tight spandex leotards with socks and gym shoes–think Jane Fonda, only older. When I searched for information about the videos on line, I found a lot of snide comments of the “can you believe this” variety.  Perhaps it was the name, the matching outfits, or the coordinated routines—you can find them on Youtube—that look a little like water ballet on the ground. But if you think about it another way, the Dancin’ Grannies were in the vanguard of the senior fitness movement.

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3 Responses to The Cheerful Grannies Dance

  1. eimear says:

    there was a similar exercise routine on the tv for older people on british tv. its slightly surreal watching it now, but anything out of context will. I work in a sports store and its rather ‘amazing’ how people stop being active as they reach a certain age (and its a lot younger than you think) and equally at some point they come to a store trying to figure how to get fitter again either for themselves or on medical advice – its too overwhelming for some to go to a ‘personal trainer’ or gym. The one thing I always notice is poor posture – which I am sure Beverly would have sorted out. There was a fantastic program on bbc with angela rippon about how to be young or something,….. it was a 3 parter and examined optimum health while aging…. the best counterbalance seemed to be dance classes or dancing! Well done Beverly

  2. Carol in Denver says:

    Many or most fitness endeavors rely on good feet: walking, dancing, playing tennis etc. As we age, bunions, corns, various foot problems arise that make being on our feet painful. To be sure, exercise bikes and other equipment make exercising possible, and thank goodness for that, but Dancing Granny apparently did not have painful feet.

  3. Fabrickated says:

    As a “grannie” I find I both adopt the term and also react against the connotations, eg this iPad is so intuitive even a grannie could use it! I like Eimear’s comment too. In some of the homes we run for “the elderly” we have yoga and stretching without leaving your chair. I am all for higher expectations being made – its amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it. PS I went to anti-gravity yoga last night – its a bit like circus skills!

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