BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Former mayor Jenny Dowell volunteers at Uniting Caroona Kalina aged care home to take part in the Red Hot Mummas dancing group.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Former mayor Jenny Dowell volunteers at Uniting Caroona Kalina aged care home to take part in the Red Hot Mummas dancing group.

Ex-mayor taps into talent at Caroona

PEOPLE must have thought her "crazy” as she ran along the streets in the early morning with cans of Jack Daniels in her hands, says Jenny Dowell.

But they might not have been quite so surprised had they known the reason.

As was the case when she was mayor of Lismore, her actions were all about service to others.

It turns out the bottom of an aluminium can makes for a great tap shoe - and tap shoes were what the Red Hot Mummas at Uniting Caroona Kalina needed for their afternoon dancing session.

"You cut out the bottom of the cans, hammer the base and attach it to slippers with a Velcro dot and it works brilliantly,” says Jenny.

"It makes a really great noise on a hard surface. I've got a great stash of them. If one loses its sticky, you can easily replace it.”

When Jenny, while mayor, learned her tap routine for the Stars of Lismore Dance for Cancer, little did she know her new-found expertise would stand her in good stead in retirement.

Or, for that matter, she would one day call herself a Red Hot Mumma.

Jenny started volunteering with the dance group, made up of residents at Uniting Caroona Kalina aged care, in 2017.

"The group started with me making them a really nice afternoon tea,” says Jenny.

"Most in the group suffer from advanced dementia, so we would spend time talking about childhoods and shared some laughs while recalling songs of the 1930s and '40s.”

Kay Cleverly, lifestyle co-ordinator at Uniting Caroona Kalina, says it was soon obvious a couple of the women had danced in their young days and when the music started, their feet moved too.

The Red Hot Mummas was born.

"The group now really look forward to their Tuesday sessions each week,” says Kay.

Jenny said she first became involved with Caroona when she visited as mayor during official functions.

"I really like their model of personal care and told them when I retired I would like to come and do some volunteering. So in February of last year I just rocked up and they welcomed me with open arms.

"Kay then asked me about the tap dancing I did for the Cancer Council. A couple in the group had obviously been singers and dancers, even though they couldn't remember much.

"But there is something magical about music and dancing, it triggers memories. We'd give them a verse and they'd seem to know all the words from their youth.”

Jenny says there is one woman in the group who doesn't even know why she is there, or even if she can dance.

"I don't know your name,” she says to me, "so I'm just going to call you darling, and then away she goes singing solo and unaccompanied.”

The troupe began tapping with their Velcro and drink can base slippers to Que Sera Sera.

Over the months, the Red Hot Mummas were given some 'real' tap shoes, some ostrich-feathered fans and then the auxiliary funded new red tops.

Their repertoire now extends to about 10 songs and the group has held three concerts.

While sadly two members have passed away and another is no longer well enough to join, the group has welcomed new members in recent times, including two honorary male Mummas, and a daughter who uses the group as a special time to visit, sharing the fun of the afternoon.

"The group all care for each other and have become close, sharing their joys as well as their down times,' says Kay.

"We bring great joy to others when we perform for an audience - we call it our flash mob.”

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