The women swayed their hips in coordination with their arms and slowly walked around chairs on the stage to the beat of Chris Brown’s “Under The Influence.” They then shimmied into the chairs and transitioned into a sensual upper body roll and shoulder rotation.

For the finale, they sashayed to poles propped up on each side of the stage — yes, the kind of poles you see at strip clubs — and spun around them before using them as support as they lowered to the ground, rocking their hips as they went.

Mica Saunders, the founder of Moxie Moves, leads a chair dance with her group, Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, at PoleCon International, at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Mica Saunders, the founder of Moxie Movez, leads a chair dance with her group, Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, at the International Pole Convention at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland on Saturday, June 17, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

This group of women was a little different from other performers at the International Pole Convention at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland. For one, there were no short skirts, stiletto heels and other risqué attire. They wore black shirts with “baddie” in pink across the chest and leggings with colorful skulls and sneakers.

But most notable was the maturity of the group — all over the age of 60 and from the Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging. They call themselves the Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, since there’s one grandpa in the bunch.

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So what would make a group of seniors take up a seemingly young person’s activity?

Blame Mica Saunders. Saunders, a senior activity specialist, planned to attend PoleCon several years ago with her grandma, Florence Parker, also known as “Gaga,” who started to enjoy pole dancing in her late 80s. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the annual event and Parker died in 2020. Saunders wanted to honor her grandma when she found out PoleCon was going to be held in Maryland.

The annual PoleCon strives to celebrate diversity in the pole-dancing community by bringing hundreds of people together for workshops and performances, with vendors selling lingerie, body accessories and hand grips so dancers don’t slide from the pole. The event is seemingly a declaration that pole-dancing attracts people from all walks of life; it has evolved from a bachelor party experience. Whether you’re in it for the workout, sensuality or sense of community, the convention welcomes and promotes it all.

Saunders started asking for donations so she could take a group from the Zeta Center, where she teaches yoga through her business Moxie Movez. She also arranged with Colleen Jolly, CEO of the International Pole Convention, for them to do a short performance.

Shirley Howell, part of the Moxie Movez Grannies, said she thought Saunders was kidding when she first told them they were going to perform. She said the group adopted Saunders as their granddaughter when her grandma died and they’d do just about anything to help her out.

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“I want to support someone who wants to support us,” she said.

Saunders raised over $1,500 and a transportation company donated a ride to and from the convention in a small van. Every Wednesday since April, over a dozen women practiced the routine choreographed by Saunders. Some were surprised by how much they liked it.

“It made me feel frisky,” said Howell, 70. “I thought it was dead, but it came back out.”

Shirley Howell, performs alongside her group, Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, on stage at PoleCon International, at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Shirley Howell performs alongside her group, Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, on stage at the International Pole Convention at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland on Saturday, June 17, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Saunders took her first pole-dancing class in college and she has been exercising with seniors since the ’90s when her mother worked at an adult day care in Baltimore. She’s an advocate for their activeness and wants more people to spend time with their older loved ones or friends.

“I think seniors need a little bit more attention. I feel like they’re the generation that has been forgotten and pushed to the side,” Saunders said. She purposely added a voice recording of “Gaga” to the beginning of the Moxie Movez Grannies performance to further remember her. On the recording, “Gaga” said “pole-dancing is good for you.”

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A message expressing love for “Gaga” is written on the arm of Susan Kim at the International Pole Convention at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland on Saturday, June 17, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Jolly said it’s “pretty rare” to see seniors pole-dancing, but as current pole dancers start to age, it’s getting less uncommon. Some of the other showcases at the convention included acts titled Men of Pole, Latin Heritage, and Troupes and Groups. Jolly put the Moxie Movez Grannies in the youth showcase category because she said “they’re young at heart.”

Several of the Moxie Movez Grannies wanted to promote more representation for seniors at PoleCon. Age shouldn’t be a barrier for having fun or trying new things, several of them said. Idelia Brooks, the oldest member of the troupe at 94 years old, said exercise is why she thinks she’s lived so long.

Between the click-clacking stilettos during another group’s performance, Brooks added, “I gotta do everything I can do while I can do it.”

She watched with the others as different dancers perfected pirouettes or coordinated carousel spins with their feet off the ground. Admittedly, Brooks was taken aback by the attire. She’d never seen anything like it, she said, as people with pastel wigs and shimmery and metallic, bikini-like outfits moseyed about.

Idelia Brooks, performs alongside her group, Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, during PoleCon International, at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Idelia Brooks performs alongside her group, Moxie Movez Grannies +1 Grandpa Dance Troupe, during the International Pole Convention at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland on Saturday, June 17, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

“They ain’t seeing my butt today,” Brooks joked.

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Lois Cannon, another Moxie Movez Grannies member, is inspired by Brooks’ longevity. Cannon thought the routine was very appropriate for them. She originally said “no way, Jose,” when she was approached about the opportunity. But, she said, Mica’s personality is so genuine and she trusted her.

“She makes you feel comfortable. … It [the performance] didn’t have to be extreme. It was something that I could do,” Cannon said.

If given the chance, she said, she’d perform again. She wants her four children, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren to know that the performance was “something that she did for herself to still make her feel young.”

Lois Cannon performs on stage during the International Pole Convention at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland on Saturday, June 17, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Marybeth Hazel from New Jersey said she was in tears as she watched from the audience as the Moxie Movez Grannies performed. She felt empowered. She felt seen. She quickly hugged Mica and explained how at 70, she just started getting into pole-dancing and she easily gets discouraged.

Seeing the performance reminded her that “getting older doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said. “You can live out your years able-bodied.”

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jasmine.vaughn@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983. 

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