Pom poms! Dance routines! Acrobatics! Sequins and fringes and pop music and lots of baton-twirling. The Sun City Poms cheerleading squad has all of this – and more. These women have wrinkles. Ranging in age from 58 to 83, with the majority in their 60s and 70s, the 26 Poms have found fun, health and camaraderie in leg lifts and the splits, pyramids and angels, as well as in the marching and dancing that’s the stuff of cheerleading.
First formed in 1979 as a cheerleading group for a local Arizona women’s softball team, the Poms now perform about 50 gigs a year, from marching in the annual Fiesta Bowl parade to performances at civic events, senior centers, nursing homes and even high school pep rallies. They come from all walks of life; what they share are a good sense of rhythm and natural agility, and a willingness to commit to two rigorous three-hour practices per week. Being a Pom means pushing yourself past your mental and physical comfort zones. And you have to be over age 55.
The locus for all this high-intensity action is Sun City, an active retirement community on steroids just outside Phoenix. Built in 1960, Sun City is a mecca for energetic seniors who want to keep living life to the fullest. One hundred and twenty clubs keep the population of some 40,000 busy with everything from synchronized swimming and lawn bowling to pickleball, musical performance, dancing, yoga, bridge, backgammon, book clubs, computer, ceramics, racquetball, ukelele, tennis, a women’s chorus and theater.
In 2013, Todd Antony, an award-winning London-based photographer, traveled to Arizona to shoot a photo project about the Poms. He described them as an “absolutely brilliant bunch of ladies . . . complimented by the perfectly manicured Tim Burton/Stepford Wives-esque streets of orange trees, cactus and coloured stone chip lawns.”
According to the acrobatic Lois Strong, Antony was meticulous about posing them – which was somewhat hard on her since she had to hold her leg up in the air for quite some time.
On a recent conference call with Senior Planet just 15 minutes after returning from a gig, three of the Poms shared their passion for being Sun City cheerleaders. Lois, 77, with 14 years experience on the squad, is the longest-standing member. Pat Weber, 83, has been a Pom since 2004 and is one of their choreographers. And Ruth, 68, a Pom for “only” four years, is the current director. All three proudly described lives dedicated to the Poms – along with family, hospital volunteering, tap dancing, teaching, tutoring and even target shooting.
Antony’s photos tell the rest of the story.
“Our acrobatics is what really put the Poms on the map. There are other senior dancing groups but we are the only one that has senior ladies doing acrobatics. Back in the 1990’s a group from Japan studied us and created an offshoot of what we do in their country, but it is more of a stage routine.” —Lois
“At the end of the signature Pom routine, which is danced to the song ‘Hot Stuff,’ each lady is introduced by her name and age. When I was in my 70’s, there was a gal in the group who was 80, and she got huge applause. At that point I made up my mind I was going to stay in this group until I was at least 80 and the oldest one, so I could get that applause!” —Pat
Pat was our only baton twirler until she had back surgery and had to stop performing. She was also one of several who did headstands. We need more people to go on the floor on their hands and knees like me. If I’m not on the floor, some of the acrobatics wouldn’t happen. —Ruth
“Physically and mentally it’s a very good thing. You have to learn the routine, all the little parts to it, put it together, and then be sure you know it in the right order. I used to think dancers were Bozo’s, they just got out there and did anything. I’ve changed my mind. —Lois
“Being in those costumes is a good feeling. It makes us feels sexy . . . as sexy as a 68-year-old can be. And an 83-year-old!” —Lois
“Good health and fitness is what we try to portray. No matter how old you are, you can do something…. Some young people have come up to me and said, ‘Wow! I can’t do what you do. I’m in my 40’s and you’re almost in your 80’s.'” —Ruth
“I think we inspire high school students also. One of our favorite venues is performing at high school pep rallies. As soon as we step on the floor, we can’t hear the music because the kids are screaming and yelling. I think it’s because they see their grandmothers in us and think it’s great these women can do this.” —Pat
“Shortly after my husband and I retired to Sun City, he passed away rather suddenly, so it was really a lifeline for me since I didn’t know anyone. It gives you a reason to get up early in the morning, a place to get dressed and go to, and a reason to be there. We take pride in our personal appearance. When you’re a Pom, you’re presenting an image, too.” —Pat
“It’s a camaraderie. I’ve met so many people being in the Poms. Gals get together and do different things or have lunch afterwards. It’s a very social group…. My husband died almost two years ago and if I didn’t have the Poms, there probably would have been days at first I might not have even gotten out of bed. They really kept me going.” —Ruth
“I just think the older you are, the better you get. I’ve just turned 83 and I can hardly wait to be 85. There’s nothing to fear.” —Pat
Meet a few more Poms
Photos: © Todd Antony. Todd Antony is an advertising and fine art photographer, originally from New Zealand, who now lives and works in London, UK.