“I came here without a feather,” said Sun City Anthem resident Nicole Duffel. After moving here from Carmel, Calif. in 2001, she thought she had left the costumes, sequins and feathers from her former life behind.
A classically trained pianist, Duffel, 60, started her professional career at age 15 as a percussionist for the Monterey Peninsula Symphony orchestra. Her ballet and vocal talents led her to a career that included musical theater, local television commercials, film and finally establishing her own performance group.
A trip to see a Radio City Music Hall Rockettes performance was a defining moment in her life. “I never forgot that inspiration,” she said. She was 3 years old.
After retirement, she decided to teach a jazz dance class at the Sun City Anthem Community Center, 2450 Hampton Road. She thought it would be a good way to keep in shape and meet her new neighbors.
“It all swirled up again – the feathers, the tulle, the costumes – and the people all came together again,” she said. The Anthem Jazz Dancers performing group was born.
The students-turned-dancers ranging in age from 55 to 72 come from all walks of life. None of them had a dance background but are now considered professionals.
“Every time someone takes my classes for exercise, then crosses over to the ‘Sequin and Feather Land,’ they are thrilled beyond belief,” Duffel said.
The Anthem Jazz Dancers have performed at the Las Vegas Marathon, Light the Night at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the AARP national convention and at various assisted living facilities throughout the valley. Helping charities by providing entertainment is the way the group gives back to its community.
“Nothing is better than seeing the smiles on their faces when we perform,” said Sandy Cooley, 72, a retired American Airlines flight attendant. As the most senior member and the acknowledged jokester of the dance troupe, she admits that it is hard work. Two-hour practices are held twice a week.
“That’s a lot for an old broad like me,” said Cooley.
The dancers pay for their own costumes. It always starts with a “$20 deal.” The dancers pay the $20 and Duffel finds a dress or skirt with shape and movement, then reconfigures the piece with feathers, sparkles and tulle. She always brings the hemline up to “show off their beautiful legs.”
Duffel was the artistic creator for last year’s “Wizard of Vegas Rocks,” which involved eight to nine costume changes. She acknowledges that these $20 deals add up.
“That’s a lot of money,” she said, “so it doesn’t matter how many nights or hours I spend putting on appliqués, sequins or feathers.” She never charges the dancers for seamstress and design skills. They pay for the basic dress and they get an original “Nicole creation.”
Duffel clearly feels that passing on her knowledge of dancing and performing is her life’s purpose. Not only are her students getting into shape, they have a newfound confidence and sense of accomplishment that brings joy to themselves and others. She encourages others to join in making “fabulous memories.”
“There is nothing that trims us down faster than having to get into a costume and go on stage,”
she said. “I’m going to wear what? I’m going to show what?”
For more information about the Anthem Jazz Dancers and upcoming performances, contact the Sun City Anthem Community Center at 614-5860 or contact Duffel through her website, www.4nicole.com.