By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Pom poms rustle and silver shoes flicker during “Japan Pom Pom” workouts, shifting to a dance beat of lively joy. With members ranging in age from 60 to 89, this is no ordinary team. But don’t you dare call them grannies.
âAt first we weren’t too happy to be called ‘grandma’s dancers’,â says Fumie Takino, the bubbly and energetic 89-year-old who founded Japan Pom Pom – middle age 72 – over 25 years ago.
In a recent weekly practice, resumed after a year off, masked members checked the temperature before stretching, then moved on to their dance routines – socially distanced, of course.
Although most wore sweatpants and t-shirts with a glittering “Japan Pom Pom”, for the performances they wear sequined cheer suits and mini-skirts. For a routine, Takino wears a leather biker jacket and sunglasses; in another, all sports silver wigs.
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“It’s dancing; moving your body is nice,” she said. “And the costumes are incredibly showy. Some people join in just so they can wear them.”
Originally started with five people 26 years ago after Takino saw a team of overseas cheerleaders in the media, the group now has 17 active members. Members, all over the age of 55, must pass auditions.
Now the group is featured in government brochures on active seniors, periodically appears in television reports, and performs on popular charity shows.
Fumie Takino, 89, founder of a senior support team called Japan Pom Pom, and other members of Japan Pom Pom perform a dance routine while filming a performance online in Tokyo, Japan April 12, 2021 .
Japan, one of the fastest aging countries in the world, with nearly 30% of its population over the age of 65, is known for the longevity of its elders. But the acceptance of the team took time in a nation with fixed notions about the lives of seniors.
âWe went to a senior club, and they really didn’t like us. They didn’t smile once. ‘Japanese women wearing clothes like that, at their age!â, Recalls Takino. “Now I think about half of the people agree with us and half still can’t accept us.”
Members comment on the boost from the practice together and Takino’s positive outlook. âAs our chef says, try anything,â said Tami Shimada, 69. “If something interests you, forget your age, forget the people who say it’s not good for that reason … I think it leads to a reason to live.”
Takino, who has three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with another on the way, practices what she preaches. She tried scuba diving, parasailing, ukulele, and skydiving, which she calls “the best,” and graduated with a master’s degree in the United States in her 50s. Today she also studies Spanish, attends a senior dance class and takes walks. She is obsessed with computer loneliness.
Every evening, she drinks a small beer and says that an appendectomy has been her only health problem so far.
Takino can’t believe she’ll be 90 next year, but reluctantly admits that she doesn’t think she’ll always be cheering at 100, although the group will.
âOver the past three or four years I’ve started to feel a lot more tired. Then having to be home because of the pandemic really took my stamina down. I don’t feel a thing while I train. , but the next day I feel pretty tired, âshe said. “I forget everything while I dance.”
(Supplementary report by Akira Tomoshige. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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