Mikki Stevens slips into a floral muumuu and carefully plasters on too much makeup. She is ready to perform in a parade with three dozen other women in her northern Idaho dance troupe, the Red Hot Mamas.
Pushing shopping carts—sometimes walkers—and dancing with mops or pink flamingo inner tubes nestled on their hips, the women flaunt their flamboyant outfits and flash radiant smiles.
They laugh as much as spectators do along parade routes throughout the Northwest. They have performed for two presidential inaugurations, three Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades, college football bowl games and television shows.
“Our latest fun was doing a precision marching routine with silver mops to the song ‘76 Trombones,’” says Mikki, 70, president and choreographer for the Red Hot Mamas.
Mikki devotes her time to the troupe after she gets off work teaching public speaking at North Idaho College.
Based in Coeur d’Alene, the Mamas launch their spring parade season May 18, performing at the Lilac Armed Forces Torchlight Parade in Spokane, Washington.
“Our surprises for this year might be vacuum cleaners or chopper walkers, sort of like a motorcycle chopper only done on walkers,” Mikki says. “We’ll attach handlebars, tailpipes, motorcycle accessories and costume our traditional muumuus with a motorcycle theme.”
Besides dancing down a parade route, the Mamas provide motivational speakers and perform at fundraisers, assisted living centers, churches and “for anyone who won’t call the cops,” Mikki says.
“We’re zany entertainers and opposition overcomers,” she adds.
Seeing onlookers’ expressions and hearing them laugh, the Mamas know they have achieved their trademarked mission: “Dedicated to exploitation of merriment and enhancement of the ridiculous.”
The troupe’s performance director, Deborah Miranda, 47, says she strives to make eye contact with her audience.
“It’s hard to describe the looks on people’s faces when they see us coming down the street,” she says. “Our amazing costumes, choreography and the crazy music just puts us off the charts. When you see people’s faces light up, you can change their lives for just one little moment. I love, love, love it.”
Deborah, operations manager of Northwest Tile and Floors in Coeur d’Alene, says she became a Mama in 2014 because she wanted to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
As they dance, it is hard to tell who enjoys it more—spectators or the Mamas who connect with their audience.
“Laughter, happy tears, heartfelt joy—those are the things the audiences get from us, but those are the very same things we get from our audiences,” says Karen Welts, 74, a Mama for 22 years.
Karen joined the Mamas in 1997 after retiring as a commercial insurance agent and seeing the women in a Memorial Day parade.
A Nagging Question
Mikki launched the nonprofit troupe in 1991 after she and her husband, Dennis, moved back to their hometown of Coeur d’Alene. Facing her 40s, a timeless question nagged at her.
Is that all there is?
They had lived throughout the West and Alaska. Dennis worked in restaurants and construction. Mikki was a dancer, fitness trainer, body builder, actress and voice animator of several roles, including the teenage Pebbles, the famed Flintstones’ daughter.
To answer her question, Mikki says she envisioned a humorous entertainment and community service ensemble—one where women could “play dress up,” she says. “Dance. Sing. Hug. Wear too much makeup and too many rhinestones. Resurrect dreams. Explore gifts and talents barely imagined. Change the world by spreading hope, humor, light and joy.”
She placed an ad in a local newspaper, inviting women to embrace her vision and perform in a Fourth of July parade. Forty like-minded ladies auditioned, and the Red Hot Mamas came to life.
Ranging in age from 18 to 90, the Mamas have survived life challenges of cancer, joint replacements and loss of loves ones—yet they still manage to smile.
Mikki lives with cancer—a constant reminder to herself to live intensely every day. She attributes her energy and creativity to her spiritual beliefs.
“God’s love walked me through deep depression and cancer,” she says of her incurable follicular lymphoma. “Once you have it, you always have it. Treatments can knock it back. Oncologists don’t call it remission but say, ‘Watch and wait,’ which is good.”
Not all Mamas live in northern Idaho. Long-distance members watch a video, practice, then meet at an event.
“We had a group from Texas dance with us,” Mikki says. “The girls choose which events they want to perform in and commit to those rehearsals. We’ve taken close to 80 Mamas to the two presidential inaugurations.”
They rehearse twice a week at donated parking lots and a dance studio at Spokane Valley Jazzercise. Monthly membership costs $20. The annual costume fee ranges from $100 to $150.
Mikki emphasizes the Mamas’ main purpose is community service.
“Every month, we perform for a fund-raiser or help an individual,” she says. “The big shows are dazzling and bring smiles of joy to countless people, but our steadfast underlying mission is the boots-on-the-ground service to help others.”