Cloris Leachman, take a bow

When I first heard that 82-year-old Cloris Leachman would be a celebrity contestant on Dancing With the Stars, I was elated.

Then I saw her dance the first two weeks.

I became, in turn, embarrassed and then angry. Was she chosen for the show because she, in fact, could not dance? Were we supposed to — yet again! — laugh at an old person trying to do something that she was too old, too stiff, too brittle to do well? Was she chosen as a caricature?

Then in weeks 3 and 4, something seemed to change. Cloris seemed to make a decision to be the train rather than the track. She took charge, playing to the hilt her sensuality, flaunting her overflowing cleavage, putting her leg up on the judges’ table for the world to ogle and for Bruno to kiss. She got a standing ovation for her tango, not because it could compete with a young, svelte, limber, hormone-driven couple’s tango, but because she conveyed self-confidence, sex appeal, and being totally at home in her 82-year-old body. She didn’t just talk back to the judges (probably saltier than we were permitted to hear), but she didn’t care what they said. She was doing her best, and her best meant entertaining the public on her terms, not theirs.

I have a true respect for the grace, aesthetics and atheticism of dance, none of which Cloris displays, but I give her the “I’m in this sensual body, I love it, and if you don’t get me, you can go bleep yourself” award for attitude!

Were you troubled by her appearance on the show at first, when it looked like we were supposed to laugh at her, rather than with her? What do you think now?


  1. Sally Parrott Ashbrook on October 30, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Joan, I’ve been reading about you and your husband—and your recent loss of him—and I just wanted to say my heart goes out to you. I’m 28 and have been married about two and a half years. Something about the way you’ve written about your husband resonates with me about my own marriage. Here’s to powerful love, no matter how long or short we are able to be in the other’s company.

  2. Joan Price on October 18, 2008 at 4:37 am

    > she MADE them take her seriously as a sensual woman.

    That's it exactly, "not fainthearted"! Thank you for expressing it so clearly and strongly!

    — Joan

  3. Not Fainthearted on October 18, 2008 at 3:24 am

    I haven’t been a fan of the show in past seasons. Not for any reason other than I don’t watch much TV at all.

    This year I happened to catch the second show and I was blown away by Ms. Leachman’s performance. Just as you say, she was unapologetic about her sensuality, her enjoyment of the experience, how hard an experience it was and she also didn’t care if the host or the judges thought she was “inappropriate” or not.

    I watched with my mouth agape as she MADE them take her seriously as a sensual woman.

    I hope I can be 10% of the woman she is when I’m 82. Heck, I hope I can love myself and my sensuality as much THIS year! (I just turned 47.)

    Ms. Leachman, you are a role model. Thank you!

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