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There’s no stopping the Showstoppers, not even the coronavirus

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday December 6, 2020

Three years ago, I dropped in on the South County Senior Center in Edgewater just to see what was going on.

Though I was familiar with the Wiley Bates senior center in Annapolis – an impressive place with many benefits, from history and art classes to hot lunches, for area seniors – the south county center was not on my radar, so I decided to have a look.

As I toured the south county center in November 2017, I found another impressive senior community, not unlike Annapolis Bates.  Little did I know, however, that my visit to south county would coincide with the weekly rehearsal of Showstoppers, a senior performing arts group. 

When I asked what was going on, Showstoppers director, Joanne Dewilde said, “Hang out till we are finished and we can talk.”

I soon learned that Showstoppers is a unique group of talented seniors whose ages, today, range from 60-96 years.  Each person has a passion for music, dance, and comedy – really all the performing arts.   As one of the long-timers said, “If a magician showed up, we would do magic.”

Pictures of the showstoppers from acts throughout the years
The Showstoppers in various acts over the years!

Over the years since, I’ve learned a lot about the 40-plus dancers, vocalists, comedians, and instrumentalists who cluster in smaller groups with playful names like Harmony Grits, So Ole Sistas, The Silver Liners, and The Sultry Sirens.  These join with others to form the Showstoppers.

The Showstoppers use their rehearsals to develop and practice 3- to 5- minute routines that can be part of a one-hour variety show.  But rehearsals are also an occasion for exercise, enrichment, and engaging with others – all healthy activities for those in later life.

“Many have been dancing, singing, or playing musical instruments since their youth and some are quite proficient,” Dewilde said.

“For others, Showstoppers is a first-time, ‘bucket list’ experience.  I hear comments like ‘I always wanted to tap dance and now I can.’” 

One of the ladies said to me, “The rehearsals are great fun and good exercise, but the real reward is performing when we can see the joy in the faces of the people in the audience.” 

Dewilde added, “Performers like to perform, and seniors care about other seniors,” I thought, that pretty much describes the Showstoppers.

The Showstoppers perform at assisted living and other continuing care retirement communities as well as nursing homes, veterans’ homes, and senior centers in Anne Arundel County and beyond. 

They also perform at luncheons and special events for fraternal and service organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis or other community organizations. 

In each venue they showcase all types of musical, dance and other talents.  Showstoppers who are instrumentalists play everything from ‘Turkey in the Straw’ to Irving Berlin. 

Twelve or so line dancers work  hard to dance in sync with each other and the music, such as “Let’s Hang On (to what you’ve got…)”. 

Heidi Kammer, a vocalist with the 15 or so Harmony Grits singers, is continuing to use talents she honed as an active duty member of the US Navy Band from 1973 until she retired as an E7 chief in 1995. 

“I loved the Navy because I could use my musical talents to serve my country.  I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.”

A favorite tradition is singing “God Bless America” at the conclusion of a performance.  According to Dewilde,

Last week I called Dewilde to check up on the Showstoppers – to see how they were doing with all the fallout from the coronavirus.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. “The Showstoppers – not all but around half of our 40 members – decided they weren’t going to be stopped by a pandemic,” Dewilde said.

The Showstoppers practice in an outdoor space due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
The Showstoppers practice in an outdoor space due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Even though the South County center has been closed since March owing to the coronavirus the spirit of the place lives on in several of its programs – including the Showstoppers, who continued their rehearsals on the parking lot of the center during the fall while the weather was still nice.  After the cold weather set in the American Legion in Annapolis made their facilities available for practice.

“Of course, our practice sessions, both outdoors at the SCSC parking lot and, more recently, indoors at the Legion, included all safety precautions: masks, social distancing at six feet and sanitizing the microphones with Lysol wipes after every use,” Dewilde said.

What are they practicing for? 

“We have two performances on our schedule so far – both in December – so we are keeping our fingers crossed.”

The first is an indoors bake sale/fundraiser on December 12th from at the Londontowne Community Hall at 170 Mayo Road in Edgewater, where the Showstoppers will be outdoors performing Christmas carols from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm, taking all appropriate safety precautions.

The second is a Christmas show and lite lunch beginning at 1:00 pm on December 18 at the American Legion Hall at 1710 Forest Drive, where the Showstoppers will provide the entertainment. 

For details on both of these billings, go to their website at www.ShowStoppersofscsc.com

The South County Show Stoppers’ motto is, “We aspire to inspire before we expire”. 

The Showstoppers inspired me at my first encounter, more than three years ago.  But their dedication through the pandemic to keep going and keep serving only provides more evidence that growing old is less about losses and more about our unyielding capacity as human beings to adapt, especially when motivated by the power of a transcendent purpose.

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