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A film by Heather Lyn MacDonald

2005, 81 minutes, USA



"Thrilling! Heart lifting! The Silver Belles are bold, brash and gorgeous."- The Village Voice

"I'm going to dance, dance, dance 'til I can't dance no more, and I'm going to live, live, live 'til I die!"- Bertye Lou Wood, age 96

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BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE follows the unlikliest troupe of tap dancing divas. They are the "Silver Belles," five former showgirls now aged 84-96, performing to standing ovations, as sassy as they ever were. They met during Harlem's 1930's heyday, dancing in the chorus lines at the Apollo Theater, the Cotton Club, Small's Paradise and Connie's Inn, performing with legendary band leaders like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. When the big band era ended, they all went into other work -- but in 1985 they put their shoes back on, and have been dancing together again ever since. They may not kick as high, but they are hip-swaying and show-biz savvy.

Each of the Silver Belles has a distinctive, idiosyncratic personality, but they share a love of dance and the ability to flirt with an audience. "We mug more now than we used to," explains Marion Coles. "I light up like a Christmas tree when I go out there, the right music will just push you," adds Fay Ray. "I may be old, but I'm not cold!" exclaims Bertye Lou Wood, the eldest at 96.

They also have rich stories to tell about the history they made during the Harlem Renaissance, illuminated by a treasure trove of archival film and photos. The music score ranges over eight decades of jazz styles, from the honky tonk sounds of the 20's, the big bands of the 30's and 40's, the bebop of the 50's-to the rhythms of contemporary jazz as the ladies travel the streets of their neighborhoods today.

The film sparkles with the candor of these inspiring women, from their rehearsals at the Cotton Club, to their shows at concert halls around the city -- and over the considerable bumps in between. At the core of the film, amidst the music, the laughter and arguments, is the friendship that has continued over 70 years. The Silver Belles may get pacemakers and break their bones, but they heal and keep on dancing together.