'Cool' series shines light on heroines

As much of the world swelters under a blanket of August heat, it's nice to know that somewhere, 13 women are cool - very, very cool. Their coolness is generated by a passion within them, not the temperature outside.

Next week, the cable network Romance Classics kicks off a new series dubbed "Cool Women" (Friday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.) dedicated to celebrating some of society's unsung heroes by exploring their achievements and examining their motivations.

A cool woman, says producer Debbie Allen, a veteran choreographer and award-winning director, "is a woman who knows that in making her dreams come true, she can impact her community, whether it's one block or a whole nation."

A sampling of the first 13 women includes: Cynthia Barbee, the first female fire captain in Los Angeles; Bhairavi Desai, founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance; and Adrienne Dellas, a dancer artist and teacher at the Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington.

"We've scoured the country to find compelling stories," says Kate McEnroe, president of American Movie Classics (AMC is the parent network of Romance Classics). "We feel like they are some of the best of unsung heroes here in America."

Each segment is introduced by a celebrity. And in an unusual stylistic choice, the documentaries incorporate artistic interpretations to enhance the profiles. Thus, a profile of women in the military is introduced by retired Gen. Colin Powell doing a dramatic reading bracketed by three women, dressed in various military uniforms, doing a tap dance.

Ms. Allen says she was drawn to the project as an opportunity to do something untraditional. "We're using dance and poetry and song to celebrate and highlight who the women are," she says. "So, right in the middle of their profiles, we'll segue to music or dance that celebrates."

While this approach might appear to limit the subjects to lighter fare, Allen says absolutely not. "One is a dance about a woman who lost her son, and another is a dance of women marching courageously with men at their sides, called 'Let Us Walk' " - part of a feature on the Million Mom March held earlier this year in Washington.

"These people have devoted their lives to their causes, and they don't necessarily get media attention," says dancer and actress Jasmine Guy, who is also featured in the series. This show shines a light on their passions, but, the performer says, "it also helps to give us ideas about what we can do within our own circles and within our own communities, how we could add purpose to our lives and ... broaden beyond our own families."

Many of the celebrities profiled say they were drawn to the show because it relates to what they have learned in their own lives. "As a communicator, whether you're a dancer, actress, singer," says Pam Tillis, who is profiled in "Cool Women," "you're trying to give voice to people [who] don't have a voice out there."

The country-western chart topper says she feels a responsibility to that idea: "I got a note from a girl the other day, and she said, 'Your music has helped me because I could hear myself and see myself in your songs.' "

The series, "Cool Women," Ms. Tillis says, is doing the same thing, showing the "great qualities of a woman, the strength of a woman, the creativity of a woman, the accomplishments of a woman."

The show's producers are asking viewers to nominate the next batch of women to profile at www.romanceclassics.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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