Flaunting their flamboyant outfits and radiant smiles, the Red Hot Mamas pack a whole lotta love in their comically choreographed dance routines, whether at parades, presidential inaugurations, or assisted living homes.
Wherever the Mamas perform as Ambassadors of Fun, spectators’ spontaneous laughter confirms they have achieved their trademarked mission: “Dedicated to Exploitation of Merriment and Enhancement of the Ridiculous.”
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, they will visit assisted living homes “to sing, dance, goof around, visit, and give Valentines,” said Mikki Stevens, 70, who started the female theatrical dance troupe in 1991 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“We perform for community service, assisted living centers, churches, and anyone else who won’t call the cops,” said Stevens, who devotes her time to the Mamas after teaching public speaking at North Idaho College. “We’re zany entertainers and opposition overcomers. Our latest fun was doing a precision-marching routine with silver mops, to the song ’76 Trombones.’ ”
She and her husband of 48 years, Dennis, celebrate Valentine’s Day quietly at home, “reflecting on how blessed we are to have each other.”
Stevens, president of the Red Hot Mamas, said she started the group to answer the question “Is that all there is?” as women age.
Her staccato answer is, “Are you kidding? Get ready for this! Let’s play dress up. Dance. Sing. Hug. Wear too much makeup and too many rhinestones. Get crazy with the girls. Embrace new possibilities. Resurrect dreams. Step out of comfort zones. Explore gifts and talents barely imagined. Bring laughter and smiles to others. Change the world by spreading hope, humor, light, and joy.”
With those ideas in mind and envisioning an entertainment and community service ensemble, Stevens began brainstorming when she and Dennis returned to her hometown, Coeur d’Alene, after living throughout the West. While her husband worked in restaurant management and later construction, she earned her income as a dancer, fitness trainer, natural body builder, actress, and voice animator of several roles, including the teenage Pebbles, the famed Flintstones’ daughter.
At the Red Hot Mamas’ first audition, 40 like-minded ladies showed up, embracing Stevens’ idea of performing in a Fourth of July parade. Today, the troupe has about 40 members from all walks of life, ranging in age from 18 on up into the 90s.
“Some events bring an influx of Bucket List Mamas,” Stevens said. “We’ve taken close to 80 to some events. The two presidential inaugurations drew the most Mamas.”
They have also performed for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade three times; the New Year’s Day Celebration in London, England; television shows; college football bowls; and parades nationwide. The VFW honored them with the Americanism Award for their original script and performance of “The Triumph of the American Spirit” to benefit 9/11 relief efforts. They also offer motivational programs.
The Mamas’ most recent prestigious parade they participated in was the 64th annual Nashville Christmas Parade to benefit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. They wore large silver cowboy hats topped with Christmas gifts, red sequin aprons with silver stars, and baskets filled with gifts and teddy bears hanging from their walkers.
“As we’ve traveled, our silliness has broken down many barriers,” Stevens said. “What Victor Borge said is true. ‘Humor is the shortest distance between people.’ ”
She attributes her inspiration, energy, and love of laughter and joy to her relationship with God.
“God’s love walked me through deep depression and cancer,” she said of having incurable follicular lymphoma. “Once you have it, you always have it. Treatments can knock it back. Oncologists don’t call it remission but say ‘watch and wait,’ which is good.”
To infuse herself with energy and peace throughout the day, she reads Bible verses she has written on cards. Psalm 46:1-3 reminds her God is her refuge and strength. Matthew 5:14-16 advises her to be the light of the world. Proverbs 3:4-5 encourages her to trust the Lord with all her heart.
“It seems I find new favorite verses every time I read my Bible as God ministers to me where I’m at in that moment,” she said. “As I age, I’m encouraged especially by Ezekiel 37 about the dry bones coming to life. Ha.”
She said the way God gives her creative material is “to download everything all at once. God shows me an entire production in my mind’s eye — the outfits, the music, the choreography. It’s all there, like watching a movie.”
Spectators, dancers equally entertained
As they dance, it is hard to say who benefits more — spectators or the Mamas who feel a connection with their audience while executing amazingly nimble movements with walkers or shopping carts or even pink flamingo inner tubes resting on their hips.
“Spreading joy and laughter never gets old,” said Karen Welts, 74, who joined the mamas 22 years ago after retiring as a commercial insurance agent. “Laughter, happy tears, heartfelt joy … those are the things the audiences get from us, but those are the very same things we get from our audiences. How could anyone pass up an opportunity to give and receive such gifts?”
Her most memorable event was President George W. Bush’s first inaugural parade.
“I was so touched at hearing the oath of office being broadcast throughout D.C. as we waited to start down the parade route. We were listening to the new president of the United States being sworn in. Brought tears to my eyes. On the parade route I danced right past the president. He was 20 feet from me with his arms in the air, giving us the most heartwarming look of pleasure. His face reflected pure happiness and silliness as we passed by. I kid you not, he looked right at me!”
Welts joined the Mamas in 1997 after seeing them in a Memorial Day parade.
“I was sure I couldn’t do what they do, even though the idea of joining in the fun intrigued me,” Welts said. “After prodding from my husband, I finally went to a rehearsal and was hooked. I was fulfilling a lifetime desire to entertain in some way. At first, I was shy about performing but found that it’s a wonderful way to reach out to people with joy and laughter.”
She said every parade has special moments of interacting with spectators.
“In London, one of the spectators told us her husband was being nicer to her after seeing us,” Welts said. “A Lord Mayor told us she was about to retire her post and didn’t know what to do with herself. Now she knew there was more she could do with her time after seeing the variety of women in our group all having a grand time.”
Connecting with spectators is unforgettable for Deborah Miranda, 47, the Mamas’ performance director.
“It’s hard to describe the looks on people’s faces when they see us coming down the street,” said Miranda, who became a Mama in 2014 because she wanted to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “I think the mixture of the amazing costumes, choreography, and the crazy music just puts us off the charts.”
She strives to make eye contact along a parade route.
“When you see people’s faces light up, you can change their lives for just one little moment,” Miranda said. “I love, love, love it. People will stop you with their children, with their parents, with their grandparents, and want to take your picture. Even the young generation loves us.”
Auditions and new moves
Miranda describes Stevens as a humble, genius choreographer. “She always says God works through her, and boy does He. She has a gift, and I’m blessed to call her my friend. She has taught me so much about not just dancing, but life and perseverance.”
Miranda, operations manager of Northwest Tile and Floors in Coeur d’Alene, and other Mamas commit to rehearsals twice a week at donated parking lots and a dance studio at Spokane Valley Jazzercise. Along with dance, they are trained in theatrical performance skills, stage makeup, costuming, choreography, drill team, sound tech, and properties management for public presentation.
The Mamas’ next auditions will be in spring.
“We keep it flexible and let girls choose which events they want to perform in during the year, and they commit to rehearsals for those events,” Stevens said.
New dance ideas keep coming to her. “Our surprises for this year might be vacuum cleaners or chopper walkers, sort of like a motorcycle chopper only done on walkers. We’ll attach handle bars, tail pipes, motorcycle accessories and costume our traditional muumuus with a motorcycle theme.”
Members pay $20 monthly dues to pay administrative costs for insurance, storage, their webpage rhmama.com, accounting, and other items. The annual costume fee ranges from $100 to $150.
Miranda said she and other Mamas “can’t imagine not having this wonderful organization in our lives.”
Welts said, “I love every moment of it and every single lady who has been a part of this zany group. We’ve formed lifelong friendships.”
Stevens emphasized the Mamas’ main purpose is community service.
“Every month, we do something to help someone, whether performing for a fund-raiser or helping an individual. The big shows are dazzling and bring smiles of joy to millions of people, but our steadfast underlying mission is the boots-on-the-ground service to help folks.” ISI