Red Hat Mamas bring smiles to seniors’ faces

VISTA — They call themselves the Boot Scootin’ Red Hat Mamas. One mama danced in Hollywood in the 1940s with Ken Murray’s Blackouts. Another traveled with the Merriel Abbot Dancers to open the Beverly Hilton in 1955. Now they are dancing for hundreds of seniors at retirement communities throughout San Diego County.
The group of about 10 women perform everything from the rumba, cha-cha and tango to Western-style line dancing.
“At first I wasn’t sure I was up to dancing at nursing homes,” Carol Quinn-Mancusi said. “I figured it might be sad.” But then she saw the audience.
“We’d watch them come in quietly, some in wheelchairs, and pretty soon they’d start clapping to the music,” she said. Some would even get up and dance along. “They’d tell us we made their day. That sold the group on performing for seniors.”
“By the time they’re finished dancing, everyone is clapping,” said Karen Yarbrough, activities director at Rancho Vista retirement community, where the group performs regularly. The dancers have been at it for about a year.
“I’ll never stop dancing,” Rose Arndt, 64, said. Arndt goes to line-dancing classes at the Vista and Oceanside senior centers three times a week. That’s how she met the others in the group. The performers often rehearse between classes.
“We have line dancing and red hats in common,” Charlotte Emmons, 69, said. The hats signify membership in a local chapter of the Red Hat Society, an international group that promotes fun, friendship and humor for women 50 and older.

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