She’s never grabbed a rebound, set a screen or walked off the court bleeding from a cut over her eye like Udonis Haslem, but Janet Gardiner, a 79-year-old hip-hop dancing great grandmother does have at least one thing in common with the Heat’s veteran captain.
She’s a Heat lifer.
Gardiner made the Heat’s senior citizen hip-hop dance team, the Golden Oldies, for the 12th year in a row on Tuesday afternoon. She was one of 17 performers out of a group of about 50 (all over the age of 60) who auditioned for the team at the Southwest Focal Point Senior Center in Pembroke Pines.
“To me it was heaven that I was able to keep on staying with the group,” Gardiner said.
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The Golden Oldies – if you’ve never heard of them – perform one to two times a month at Heat home games, shaking their hips and elbows to hits like Kanye West’s Gold Digger (they performed it at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game in Houston) and other booty-moving modern day tunes.
Making the team was important for Gardiner because it gives her something to do (the Golden Oldies rehearse twice a week and perform at a number of local corporate event) and it helps her deal with grief of losing her husband of 57 years. John Gardiner, a former Naval officer for more than 30 years, was the Golden Oldies captain until he passed away suddenly at age 79 from cardiac arrest on March 20, 2014.
Janet and John, who met when he was stationed in her native Barcelona when she was 18 and he was 20, were the original Golden Oldies power couple. Before they danced their way into the hearts of their teammates, they fell in love with each other with the help of a Spanish-English dictionary. He didn’t speak Spanish. She didn’t speak English. So they took their dictionary with them on all their dates up until Janet started taking English classes.
After John was reassigned to Virginia for 10 months, he raced back to Spain on his next Naval assignment and married Janet as fast as he could. They spent the first 40 years of their marriage living in Virginia where they had a daughter and the family grew to two granddaughters and then five great-grandchildren. They moved to South Florida in 2000 to get out of the cold.
Sadly, days before their daughter and son-in-law were going to watch them perform with the Golden Oldies for the first time, John, a relatively healthy man according to his wife, dropped dead. It was heartbreaking for the enter Golden Oldies team.
“They would give us all advice on life and love and how to stay married for 57 years,” said Clara Stroude-Vasquez, marketing manager for the Heat, who helps pick the Golden Oldies squad, which has been around since the start of the 2004-05 season. “When [he passed] you saw how tight the team was, how they rallied around each other. She said this group was something she needed after he passed to kind of keep her going.”
Janet, who was a housewife and had never taken any dance lessons, auditioned for the team with her late husband after their Jazzercise instructor convinced them to give it a shot.
“My husband used to cut grass and did things around the house after he retired, but I said ‘No, you have to do something else,’” Janet recalled. “So we started doing Jazzercise. We had no idea what the Golden Oldies was. Then they picked us and we loved it. It was fun.”
Now, she dances on with her new-found friends like 62-year-old Sybil Wilson, a Heat employee since the franchise’s first season in 1988-89.
Wilson said she’s been a secretary, the director of customer relations and now a manager in administrative services. But this, she says, is her coolest job. This will be her third season on the team.
“I can remember the first time I saw them,” Wilson said of the Golden Oldies. “I couldn’t wait to be 60. I’ve never heard anybody want to rush getting older, but that’s how much it means to me.
“Let’s face it, most of the employees in the Heat organization are younger people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s. This group of people – I have a whole new group of friends that understand life the way I understand it. So, it’s nice to be with my peers.”
Wilson said she’s never had anyone ask for an autograph, but she has been recognized “as that Heat Golden Oldies dancer” when she’s gone to the bank near her house.
The Golden Oldies, by the way, don’t make a lot of money ($50 per game performance, plus rehearsal fees). But they don’t do it for the fortune or the fame. They do it for the cool selfies fans ask for, and the occasional roar of the crowd.
“Yes, we may be seasoned in age, but we have a youthful vibe,” Wilson said.
“We all love to dance. We have passion. We love the stage. A lot of us are actors or singers in our own right. So it gives us a stage to perform – and there’s nothing like hearing 19,000 people scream as soon as our names are called. The adrenaline is out of this world.”