Rather than knitting or listening to talk-back radio, there's a bunch of retirees in New Zealand spending their golden years learning bad-ass dance moves. Aged 72 to 96, 'Hip Op-eration' crew members are challenging what it means to be old - one inspiring performance at a time.
Between them, the dancers have arthritis, kidney disease and dementia. Some have had heart attacks and bypass surgery. One member is legally blind, another is deaf. They've competed all over the world - twerking in Taiwan, popping in Vegas - even though most of the crew don't qualify for travel insurance. "If they die, they die," says founder and choreographer, Billie Jordan, who is just 47. "My group say they want to die dancing, and live their life to the fullest." They have a pact: if a dancer expires on stage, step over them and keep performing.
At 96, Kara Nelson is the oldest crew member, but like Beyonce - who channels an alter ego, 'Sacha Fierce' - Ms Nelson becomes 'Kara Bang Bang' when she hits the stage.
There's no Barry Manilow on Hip Op-eration's playlist. Ms Jordan commissions local artists to compose hardcore trap-rap and dubstep tracks for their performances. It takes 18 months for Ms Jordan to teach the group a two-minute routine. This slow-and-steady approach pays off: the troupe recently won their division at the Auckland hip hop regionals, beating kids 88 years younger. Next week, they'll be competing in Japan.
The lightbulb moment that lead to Hip Op-eration came from a dark place. Ms Jordan was working in public relations in Christchurch when a fatal earthquake struck in February 2011. "I was right in the middle of it and was injured, but 200 people lost their lives," she recalls. "I already had post traumatic stress disorder from growing up in a really abusive environment. The earthquake triggered the PSTD again, and I felt I was going to be killed all the time." Ms Jordan relocated to Waiheke Island, 40 minutes from Auckland, where "there were no tall buildings that could fall on me."
With no friends or job, Ms Jordan got chatting with the elderly locals. "Like me, they weren't planning for a future because they didn't expect to have one. Some of the older ones felt like death was around the corner, they were scared of dying.
"But I felt an obligation the people killed just metres from me to make the most of my life." So in 2013, she recruited as many Waiheke retirees as possible, learnt some dance moves via YouTube, and organised a flash mob. It was such a success, Ms Jordan formed a bonafide hip hop crew and set a #lifegoal: to compete at the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas just eight months later. They did, and the geriatric gangstas became instant celebs.
Hip Op-eration has been empowering experience - for both choreographer and crew. "The women in my group come from 'the silent generation'; they were seen and not heard. A lot of them have been housewives and downtrodden. People think older women need to smile sweetly and dress in lavender and lace, but women are very strong and powerful. So the dance is very 'gangster-style', and aggressive like the Haka. There's a lot of gnashing of teeth, bulging eyes and fierce punching; to show older women are not vulnerable or weak."
More Snoop than stoop, the women of Hip Op-eration walk with pride. "They've become more independent, their husbands now take a back seat. The feel liberated, and say this is the best time of their lives," says Ms Jordan.
Hip Op-eration's biggest supporters, she says, are the young street dancers of the most impoverished areas of south Auckland, whom they visit regularly. The motley crew often stay up till 1am, dancing, talking and swapping Pokemon Go tips. "If my dancers want to grow and develop as people, they need to embrace the youth, get interested in what they're doing. Young people shouldn't always have to go to their house, on their terms, doing boring 'old-people' stuff."
And Ms Jordan is embracing her "new family". "It's a group of strong, courageous women that I have so much respect for. We laugh, have fun, and stick a finger up at society. We want to inspire women everywhere to display and share their strengths, no matter how old they get."
Hip Op-eration will feature in 'Growing Old Disgracefully' on Dateline, SBS, at 9.30pm tonight. Billie Jordan has established a global dance academy; to learn more or enrol your grandma, visit hipop-erationdance.com.