In the entertainment world, Norma Wolff is what you call a triple threat: she sings, she dances, and she directs. As the leader of the Sassy Seniors, a resident-led variety performance group at Charlestown, the Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., she calls home, Norma's goal is simple: have fun and entertain.
"It's a homegrown thing; we aren't professionals," says Norma, a Rhode Island native who moved to Charlestown with her husband Maxwell in 2016.
The idea for the Sassy Seniors came to Norma while she was teaching a line dancing class on campus.
"I taught a routine that featured a variety of different types of music—polka, country, rap, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we started an entertainment group? We would already have our first number.' So I asked if there was anyone interested in forming a musical variety show, and a few of the people in my class said yes," says Norma.
The nine-member group formed one year ago and performs a one-hour variety show at local senior centers, retirement communities, and other venues throughout the area.
"We do a little bit of everything," says Norma, who choreographs and directs the shows and selects the music. "It's a combination of dance, skits, and singing—kind of like a vaudeville-type show. All of our music is classics from the forties, fifties, and earlier. For example, we do a duet of 'Button Up Your Overcoat,' a solo of 'Ain't She Sweet,' and I do a jazz routine to 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' and another dance number to 'Second Hand Rose' from Barbara Streisand's musical Funny Girl. It's a lot of fun. I enjoy it."
Like Norma, most of the members of the Sassy Seniors have never been formally trained or even performed in front of an audience before joining the group. Norma does not hold auditions, but she does meet with newcomers to see how their talents can best be utilized. The group holds weekly practices to rehearse for upcoming shows.
"I never took lessons, but I have always loved to sing," says Norma. "I didn't start dancing until after my kids grew up and moved out. Dancing keeps me in shape both mentally and physically because I have to think about the steps and remember them. It's all-around good for you. But you don't need experience to be part of the group. If you want to sing, you need to be able to hold a tune, but other than that I can teach you the rest."
Joan Jewens began taking Norma's line dancing class three years ago, soon after she moved to Charlestown from Delaware. She enjoyed it so much, decided to give the Sassy Seniors a try.
"When Norma asked me if I would like to be part of an entertainment group, I was reluctant at first because I've never done anything like this before," says Joan. "I can't carry a tune in a bucket, so I do the dance numbers. Norma has a knack for finding people's strengths and abilities. Now I love it!
"When I started out, I wouldn't look at anyone in the audience," Joan continues. "But now something happens when that music starts playing. I'm getting more comfortable and can pick someone out and smile. I just can't believe I'm involved in something like this. It's a whole new aspect to my life. In fact, I've sent flyers for our shows to my friends back in Delaware, and even they can't believe I'm involved in something like this. I really enjoy it. It's just delightful."
Strike a chord
The Sassy Seniors charge a nominal fee for their performances of which 100% is donated to Charlestown's Benevolent Care Fund, an emergency fund which allows Charlestown residents in need to continue living at the community, regardless of their ability to pay.
Norma is currently recruiting new singers from Charlestown. No experience is necessary, just a sunny disposition and the desire to bring joy to people's lives.
"Music is a very, very powerful thing," says Norma. 'When we perform, we can see that music brings out the life in people."