Empowering the community and each other
Katherine Shortlidge was easy to spot. As she walked into the restaurant, the movement of her lean frame exuded poise and grace. Wearing a youthful side ponytail and a black T-shirt with the words “Calendar Girls” emblazoned on the front, her face lit up in a wide, warm smile as she greeted me from across the room. The self-described “jock” who played Division 1 basketball for Penn State—prior to completing multiple master’s degrees and teaching gifted children for 35 years—now calmly embodies her new role as director of one of Southwest Florida’s most popular dance teams. Founded in 2006, the Calendar Girls borrowed their name from the popular 2003 movie when forming their team. And true to inspiration, they adopted a charitable cause. At the time of my interview, the group had raised enough money to sponsor 16 world-class guide dogs that would be given to veterans through the Paws for Patriots organization of Palmetto, Florida. And they're almost ready to sponsor the 17th, which they'll name Anchor. At a cost of nearly $60,000 to sponsor just one
puppy, the endeavor is impressive by any standard. “It’s a tangible gift,” Shortlidge explains. “When you give to the United Way, or whatever, you don’t see what you’re getting.” But with Paws for Patriots, the ladies not only get to see their gift, but interact with it as well. “We field trip there a couple times a year, and they love us.” The dogs visit their performances as well. “When we perform, our customers see the dogs that we’re sponsoring, and they’re more generous because they see exactly what we’re doing. And that we’re doing it for a veteran,” Shortlidge notes. Team member Kris Breyley was convinced to join the ranks after watching such a performance. “It so struck me to watch them in that environment, supporting our troops, raising money for the guide dogs. That was just a real turning point for me in finding a way to give back to the community as well as entertain, dance and network.” The connection the team shares—whose members range in age from 50 to 80—goes far deeper than their mutual love of movement and charitable causes. “Most of us have had careers, we’ve had children, we’re taking care of elderly parents … in the ’70s we went through women’s liberation, we were at Woodstock, we went through all of that,” says Breyley. Knowing that they weren’t too old to stop dancing, and that there must be more ways to give back to the community than the roles that society would relegate them to, these fiercely independent women are redesigning what they think this stage of their life should look like. “You will never find a more accepting group,” Breyley enthusiastically reassures. “It’s just such a boost to your selfesteem to come into a group of women who are donating their time and effort to something that is meaningful to them, and it’s a really good feeling to be a part of that.” With 130 performance days a year, and practices at least twice a week, the dedication that the team demands is no light matter. “I want them to know that dancing is fun, but it’s serious business. It’s hard work,” Shortlidge explains. That hard work is paying off. The team was invited to audition for America’s Got Talent, where they performed their popular “Gangnam Style” piece, choreographed by resident choreographer Lori Madl, who’s responsible for all of their recent routines. “They were so proper, and we were so American,” Shortlidge says, laughing as she recalls the audition process after she loaded 30 women into a donated limousine and drove to Miami where the event was hosted. Although they didn’t make it through to the next level, the judges loved their enthusiasm. “It really was something that we’ll always remember as a team,” she adds. “Gangnam Style” is just one of many unexpected themes that the Calendar Girls perform. They keep a playlist of at least 16 routines, and will accept the challenge of finding a song for every occasion. Over the years they’ve done Dolly Parton shows, Cher-based themes, a Havana night and even performed the group favorite—“Super Freak” by Rick James. And they aren’t stopping anytime soon. “We’ll do it all. Over the years, no one’s stumped us,” Shortlidge confidently confesses. “There’s no challenge that we’d back down to creatively. Whatever the theme, we’ll actualize your dream.”
Southwest Florida's Calendar Girls, which formed in 2006, will schedule 130 or more performances in 2017. Entertainment proceeds benefit a guidedog program for military veterans.
Calendar Girls make their show costumes and choreograph dance routines based on appearance themes that can include zombies and cowgirls.