What started as a group of friends performing at the Grantsville Old Folks Sociable has become a hobby and a chance to spend time together for six Tooele County friends.
Jan Baird, JoAnn Leonelli, Denise Fawson, Karen Parks, Georgette Shosted and Joan Painter make up the Dancing Queens, a group that has been bringing smiles and laughter to a number of local events for nearly a decade.
“We just have a lot of fun,” Shosted said. “We laugh and have a lot of fun with what we’re doing, and that’s why we keep doing it.”
With the exception of Leonelli, who works as a dental assistant in addition to her other jobs at Real Deals and Liddiard’s, the group’s current lineup is made up of current or former employees of the Tooele County School District. Most of the group attended Grantsville High School, except for Painter.
The group was inspired in part by the popular 2008 film “Mamma Mia,” a movie rendition of the Broadway/West End show that began in the late 1990s and early 2000s featuring the music of Swedish pop group ABBA. That inspired the six friends to perform at the Grantsville Old Folks Sociable.
“We had actually done a hillbilly act at the Grantsville Sociable before, and it kind of evolved from that into the Dancing Queens,” Brooks said. “We were asked to perform on the program and that’s how it started.”
The original group included Parks and Painter as well as Baird and Leonelli, their late sister and two other friends.
Their first performance at the Grantsville Old Folks Sociable certainly was memorable.
“We really practiced hard for that and our sister was adamant that we just practice and practice,” Baird said, laughing. “When it came down to performing, she just completely did something different than the rest of us did because I don’t think she could remember what she was supposed to do.”
At first, it seemed as though the Dancing Queens might have been a one-off performance, as Brooks wondered whether the estimated $60 or $70 she spent on her costume was truly worth it.
But when “Mamma Mia” hit theaters in 2008, the group proved it had staying power.
“When ‘Mamma Mia’ came out, we actually wore our costumes to the movie theater together,” Baird said. “At the end [of the movie] when they do ‘Dancing Queen,’ we stood up and danced. We went out in the lobby and everybody who was there wanted to have their picture taken with us. We were there about 15-20 minutes after the show was over having pictures taken.”
Ever since, the group has entertained audiences at such events as the Tooele Arts Festival, the Fall Fest at Saint Marguerite Catholic Church and the Miss Tooele City pageant. They dance to hits from ABBA’s catalog as well as other popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s — though their repertoire also includes Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
“We do a lot of songs from the ’70s, and those are the songs that I like,” Shosted said. “It’s the era that we’re all from. We do a lot of ABBA, but we do a lot of other songs from the ’60s and ’70s, when most of us were in school.”
They even had the opportunity to perform after a conference at the Hilton in Salt Lake City — a rare paid gig for the group.
“We’ve done a lot of church functions, birthday parties … we’ve done a lot,” Leonelli said.
Clad in spandex and feather boas and armed with various props, the Dancing Queens make it their priority to keep the audience happy and laughing.
“We try to get the audience involved,” Fawson said. “We want them to know that we are having fun and that it is for fun. We don’t want them to think we’re serious, because with the way that we’re dressed, that would be pretty scary if we were serious about it.
“I guess it surprises my grandkids. They’ll go, ‘wow, Grandma, you’ll get up on stage and dance?’ And probably the spandex makes them a little scared.”
Leonelli agreed with Fawson’s assessment of their costumes.
“We’re all over 50 and none of us are in the greatest shape — if you’ve seen us before, you probably know that,” she said, laughing.
None of the Dancing Queens takes her gig too seriously, as evidenced by their practices, which they say consist of very little practice and a lot of visiting and laughter.
But that’s not to say they don’t face some of the same occupational hazards as other performers.
“At the Saint Marguerite’s Fall Fest [one year], we all fell,” Painter said. “Well, mostly Jan fell. We were all tangled in each other’s boas and jewelry. We still got up and continued on and tried not to skip a beat. The sillier it is, you just kind of feed off of it.
“If you think you’ve made a mistake, oh well. You just keep moving and try to catch up with everybody or you do your own thing. We kind of have a routine, but we know that whatever happens, happens and it’s just all in fun.”
Brooks echoed Painter’s emphasis on fun and enjoying each other’s company being the key to the Dancing Queens’ success.
“Comedy is kind of hard to do,” Brooks said. “Sometimes you think, ‘wow, I’m making a real fool of myself.’ The practices are the fun part. The actual performances are kind of nerve-wracking.
“My kids and husband ask, ‘when are you going to give this up? It’s about time.’ But we have fun just practicing and spending time together and that’s why I keep doing it.”