They may say that beauty is fleeting, but the ladies who compete in the National Ms. Senior America Pageant prove otherwise.
This year, the competition’s 36th, 45 women from across the country came to participate. State and county title winners all, these 60- to 90-year-old beauties took part in a three-day extravaganza filled with evening gown showcases, formal interviews, talent performances, and presentations of life mantras. It’s a unique contest full of glitz and glamour, but with far more life experience than the usual beauty pageant.
That life experience shows during the course of the competition. Contestants appear in wheelchairs, some lose their dentures. But many show that they’ve still got chops, dancing up a storm on stage.
One contestant, Ms. Alabama, even dances en pointe. It was the first time Elaine Willingham had performed in 11 years, after she had suffered a major foot injury — a fractured metatarsal — at 51.
The human foot is quite complex, as it contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments. Recovery can be rather difficult, and although Willingham has been in therapy for the injury, she still had to work her way through physical discomfort to perform her talent portion. Luckily, she was able to tour jeté her way into the top 10… and then, the top five.
As the owner, founder, and artistic director of the Cullman Ballet Theatre School for the past 43 years, Willingham is no stranger to the stage. She used her platform at the Ms. Senior America Pageant to share her life’s philosophy: to never stop learning, to get out of your comfort zone, and to always count your blessings.
Although she feared the competition’s judges might not be familiar with the difficulty of her routine, she was overjoyed when she was named as second runner-up. Despite the fact that she came to win, she realized during the course of the competition that she’d much rather be able to promote her home city and state — and run her thriving business — than travel around the country as the pageant’s winner.
Nevertheless, her achievement is a big one for Alabama. Her placement solidifies her position as the highest-ranking contestant from Alabama in the pageant’s history. Given the immense amount of talent in this year’s contest and her other obligations, Willingham feels her third position was exactly on point(e).