One of my activities has been tap dancing. I’m not someone who took any classes at all as a child, not any kind of dance or musical instrument. I remember my parents offering periodically, but it seemed scary to me. For some reason, I more easily imagined myself failing, rather than succeeding. This was despite the fact that my parents were always encouraging, always sending me the message that I was loved, that I could do anything I wanted. I have a masters in psychology, but I don’t understand.
About ten years ago, Nanda, a friend about my age, then in our sixties, in one of my neighborhood groups (Kiva) mentioned that she attended a tap dancing class at a local senior center. The others in our group commented, “Well, that’s nice,” while I gave her my full attention. I collected all the necessary details and showed up at class the following week on Thursday, the class day intended for beginners.
Here’s what I had been told before going into class that first day: Debbie, the teacher, was patient, kind, and welcoming. She had collected an assortment of tap shoes, that someone new to tapping could borrow. She encouraged new tappers to attend class for a month or two before investing in their own shoes. She offered classes four days a week at three different senior centers. The women in her classes varied in that some had been tapping for many decades, while some, like me, were beginners. Some attended once a week, others two or three days. All were welcome at all classes, but Thursday was the day intended for beginners, where exercises included a lot of repetition and detailed instruction as new steps were added.
I arrived early to class that first day, as advised, so that I could meet Debbie and try on shoes. To be at a tap class without wearing tap shoes would have been pointless. As soon as my shoes were on and I started to to walk in them — tap, tap, tap — I felt like I was at a fair with a long-desired cotton candy! Maybe it was all those Shirley Temple movies I watched? I just knew that I wanted very much to be in this class.
I quickly learned that the other dancers were friendly, patient, and chatty until class started. Once Debbie turned on the music, all discussion ended, as we gave Debbie our undivided attention. She was aware of each dancer and her feet, giving instruction in varied ways, so to meet each person’s learning style. She used the music, counting beats, and slow-motion body movements to help each of us learn. My training as a special education teacher put me in awe of her teaching style, her outstanding skills, and seemingly endless patience. She always welcomed every question and repeated steps at various speeds, as needed, to allow for each person’s needs.
So, for about ten years, I attended those Thursday tap classes, occasionally attending on one of the other days and gradually came to know and love so many of the other dancers. Debbie created an environment of loving community, not a gushy thing, just something where her attitude of respect for each person was multiplied among us. We occasionally joined each other for dinner or a play or a holiday gathering. Debbie tracked our birthdates and created the routine that on a dancer’s birthday, we called from class to sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ then tap our shoes as applause.
About four years ago, I left class early, feeling achy and tired, thinking I might have the flu. It turned out to be a heart attack, which was followed by a stroke, then triple-bypass surgery, but that’s another story. After I was home, recuperating, a group of tappers, with Debbie, came to visit me, a glorious occasion!
Through Covid, Debbie offered online classes, which were surprisingly satisfying. In fact, I can truthfully say that her classes helped me retain my sanity during the past three years. Alas, my physical stamina is no longer able to maintain what is needed to enjoy class. It’s not any one particular ailment, just that overall, I can no longer keep up with this activity that I have loved so much. Maybe, when we can be back in person, if there’s another Thursday beginner’s class, I’ll return. But for now, I’m hanging up my tap shoes.
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