By Annie Rhoades
Taking the field on home football games to perform as an Ole Miss Rebelette was just the beginning of a long career taking center stage for alumna Betty Aden (BSHPE 63), first runner-up in the 2017 Ms. Senior USA pageant.
“Who would’ve thought at 75 I’d be dancing on a Las Vegas stage?” Aden mused. “Not me! It’s just something I’ve gotten into, and I’m in a place in my life where I’m trying to live every moment I can.”
The founding queen of Mississippi and Ms. Senior USA pageant hall of fame inductee, Aden hopes more people in their golden years will take a chance and try something new.
“Being in pageants like this—I wish every woman would just do it,” Aden said. “You have all these negative things, people saying oh, I don’t have a talent, or look at my arms and my body, but I tell people this is not a ‘beauty pageant.’ It’s about what you’ve accomplished after 60 years of age. All of your prime time before 60 has led up to what you are today, so it’s a fun time. There’s so many talented women in this state that would love to be doing this.”
Prior to entering the pageant world, Aden’s first love was dance. Her cousin and “idol” was a member of the famed Radio City Rockettes.
“We didn’t have too many dance teachers in our small town, so she came over for a few years to teach,” Aden recalled. “I only took dance lessons for a few years, but it was always in my blood. I also taught myself to twirl a baton by reading a drum major magazine and was a majorette in high school.”
A 1959 graduate of Moorhead High School, Aden completed two years at then-Mississippi Delta Junior College where she formed the school’s first dance team. She enrolled at Ole Miss in 1961 where she was a Rebelette and member of Phi Mu Fraternity.
“My favorite memories are the friends I made and driving my old 1953 Ford pickup truck that my mother had painted a beautiful Ole Miss blue,” Aden said. “I was allowed to go pick up the band members and put them in the back of the truck and drive them from the band hall to Miller Hall for pep rallies. That was so much fun. And of course, marching out on the field in our 100 percent wool uniforms my first year. The next year we switched to a red sequin one-piece outfit—which was quite a change and much more revealing!”
An education major, Aden always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She retired in 2002 after 35 years of teaching physical education and dance, both in the public-school system in Greenwood and at Mississippi Delta Community College.
“It was always my desire to go back to Mississippi Delta and coach a dance team,” Aden said. “I happened to be at the right place at the right time and got the job to come back and coach the dance team full time in 1972.”
It wasn’t until age 72, at the urging of a friend, that Aden entered her first pageant. She was chosen as Ms. Senior Mississippi America and participated in the national pageant in Atlantic City in 2013.
“I thought you know, I don’t have anything to lose,” Aden said. “If I win so be it, and if I lose that’s OK too because I’ve made some great friends. Participating in these senior pageants is an awesome experience. You meet the most amazing, energetic, talented women over the age of 60. A friendship forms quickly, and now I have friends all over the USA.”
Aden was selected by a board of governors to represent Mississippi in the inaugural Ms. Senior USA Pageant held May 17-23 in Las Vegas. She was crowned first runner-up based on a combination of talent, philosophy, interview and modeling.
“We’ve all become good friends, and it was such a fun week for us,” Aden said. “I think young people sometimes think of it as a competition, but we think of it as a great time to experience something new and, for some, perform on a big stage for the first time in their life.”
Aden continues to stay active as the founder and director of the senior ladies performing dance troupe, the Delta Rockers. Over the past eight years the team has performed at state conventions, on a cruise ship and for several clubs and senior organizations.
“We are like the New York Rockettes—we change costumes every routine, but we don’t kick as high.”