At the Ms. New York Senior America pageant, it's not rude to ask a woman her age -- she's expected to wear it as proudly as a tiara.
Nine women vied Saturday in an audition at the Massapequa Library to be contestants in the state competition in April and the chance to preach the fullness of life after 60.
"I'm 60, but I feel incredible," Linda Grieco, a music teacher from Huntington, told a panel of judges composed of former state winners who wore red, white and blue sashes.
Judge Terri Stevens, 85, who won the competition in 2002, looked at Grieco and said, "A baby."
Marleen Schuss, New York State director of Ms. Senior America, said, "Beauty comes from within, in spite of the aging process."
The final will be held at Hofstra University, followed by the national competition next year. But for all who compete, the prize is sisterhood. Some women are fulfilling new dreams, while for others the contest is a new venue for lifelong talents. They are grandmothers and great-grandmothers adopting each other as sisters at a stage in their life when many feel age is a liability.
"I am a vital senior, and I want people to see that," Jane Rubinstein, 61, a retired art teacher from Merrick, told the panel.
If beauty is from within, the judges still recognized its outer vestiges, complimenting Rubinstein on her long black hair.
"This is my natural color," she said.
For the talent portion, most of the women sang, though one described a dance she would do when she recovers from shoulder surgery and another said she wanted to showcase her painting. Grieco, who last year emblazoned her right shoulder with a tattoo that says "To thine own self be true," belted out a rendition of Donna Summers' "Last Dance" that had the front row bouncing along.
One judge turned to a reporter and said, "She's good."
In the middle of the song, Grieco said, "Wait, here's the dance break" and twirled.
After the new contestants finished, Stevens -- a singer at the famed Copacabana club in the 1940s who had a pop hit with "Unsuspecting Heart" in the 1950s -- regaled the women with "As Time Goes By."
"The pipes are still good," Stevens said. "I'm out there strutting my stuff. God's been good to me."
Pageant officials plan another Long Island audition next month.