Pompoms rustle and silver shoes flash as "Japan Pom Pom" practices, moving to a lively cheer dance beat. With members ages 60 to 89, they're no ordinary squad.
But don't you dare call them grannies.
Left: Takino poses for a commemorative photo. Right: Takino talks to a squad member during a break from filming.
"Right at the start, we weren't very happy about being called 'granny cheer dancers,'" says Fumie Takino, the bubbly, energetic 89-year-old who founded Japan Pom Pom - average age, 72 years - more than 25 years ago.
At a recent weekly practice, resumed after a year off, mask-wearing members checked temperatures before stretching, then moved into their dance routines - socially distanced, of course.
Left: Takino stretches with other members of Japan PomPom. Right: Squad members prepare to film a dance routine.
Japan, one of the world's most rapidly ageing nations, with almost 30% of its population older than 65, is known for the longevity of its seniors. But acceptance of the squad took time in a nation with fixed notions about senior life.
"We went to a senior-citizens club, and they really didn't like us. They didn't smile even once. 'Japanese women, wearing things like that, at their ages!'" Takino recalls. "Now, I think about half of people are okay with us and half still can't accept us."
Takino can't believe she'll be 90 next year, but reluctantly confesses she doesn't think she'll still be cheering at 100, though the group wants her to.
"The last three or four years I've started to feel tired a lot more easily. Then having to be home because of the pandemic really meant my stamina fell. I don't feel anything while I'm practicing, but then the next day I feel pretty tired," she said. "I forget everything while I'm dancing."
PHOTO EDITING MARIKA KOCHIASHVILI; TEXT EDITING GERRY DOYLE; LAYOUT JULIA DALRYMPLE