Inspired by the film ‘Poms,’ these Greenwich seniors sit down and cheer for fun and exercise

Inspired by the film ‘Poms,’ these Greenwich seniors sit down and cheer for fun and exercise

GREENWICH — Dorothea Bellafiore doesn’t know any other 103-year-old cheerleaders.

“I don’t know any other 103-year-olds,” the sharp-witted mother of five said.

But that doesn’t stop her from taking center stage with The Pom Squad, a group of active-minded chanters who strutted their stuff at a recent variety show at The Mews of Greenwich, a downtown senior living community.

Linda Radice, who has been organizing exercise and recreational activities at the community since 2018, decided to incorporate a little cheerleading during the twice-weekly chair exercise classes after seeing the 2019 film “Poms” starring Diane Keaton. The Mews’ librarian first screened the lighthearted movie that focuses on a group of senior women who are game to spit in the eye of ageism by signing up for a cheerleading competition.

Radice was so inspired by the movie that she bought the DVD.

“I must have watched it a gazillion times,” she said.

Radice usually begins class with a stretch-along warm-up, transitioning to dance moves to music from classical to country. Cheering pairs well with senior exercise because it involves a lot of hand moves that support upper body strength and tone, she said.

“And they have a ball,” she said.

Resident Ethel Renek has been dancing for most of her 89 years, favoring interpretive dance. The former Pound Ridge, N.Y., resident said Radice’s lively attitude inspires the group to put enjoying themselves above any other concerns.

“She has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and a sense of humor,” said Renek, who cheered, read her original poetry, sang and danced at the recent show.

Choosing the effervescent Shania Twain tune “Up!” for their performance is one indication of The Pom Squad’s vibe.

“If you’re not able to touch your toes, touch your knees,” Renek said. “The point is to not judge ourselves.”

Bellafiore had to make time in her busy schedule for cheerleading: She has a standing weekly date to play bridge and holds a Zoom chat with her five children — from Boston to Hawaii — each Sunday.

“I’m a people person,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “I like the people here very much. The more people I see, the more I like.”

Born 100 years ago just outside Tipperary, Ireland, Mary Lavelle admits she found cheerleading a bit of curiosity when she first arrived in America in 1955.

“I thought it was a little hilarious,” said the mother of three. “I wondered where it started. All these young girls, scantily clad.”

She’s still not sure about the activity, but she said cheering from a chair during exercise class is an extension of the way she was raised.

“I was the second youngest of three girls and four boys,” she said. “We kept things spotlessly clean and we walked everywhere — to school, to funerals. Everyone walked. We just had good clean water, clean air and exercise.”

She and her late husband sent their own children to parochial school, where the nuns taught more than reading and writing, she said.

“They taught you to take charge of yourself,” she said. “That’s what’s important.”

Joining a cheerleading team and performing at the senior community talent show at 100 makes perfect sense, she said.

“Life was great back then, but I’m just as happy now,” she said. “You have to make your own fun and be around people who make you happy.”