By Ashley Mackin
"You’re never too old to dance and have fun,” said fitness instructor Linda Balducci, which is one of the many reasons she attends the Tapping to the Stars classes at the Firehouse YMCA Community Center on Herschel Avenue each week.
The Wednesday, women-only program is ideal for physical and mental exercise in a supportive, social environment, said teacher Nancy Cottrell.
While learning the dances, ankle flexibility, knee joint and thigh muscle strengthening occurs. “So it’s your whole leg that gets worked,” Cottrell said. “I like Broadway-style tap, where it’s not just your feet and legs involved, but there are ballet movements with your arms. It’s the whole body that’s engaged.”
The physical challenge is the No. 1 appeal for most participants, including Balducci. A close second is the mental exercise dancing provides.
“For our age group, it’s a challenge to the brain to remember the routines,” she said. “As you get older, the memory goes, and the tapping and the sequences challenge you in a good way. It’s more fun than crossword puzzles.”
Because most of the dancers are in their 60s, the commonality lends to camaraderie, making for a supportive, social environment. Before class on Aug. 21, two dancers warmed up together and helped each other with timing. During class, Cottrell led the group through dances they already learned, with quick cues like, “knees up” and “right side.”
“The main motivation is having fun, and tap is a very happy form of dance,” Cottrell said, adding that she and some of the dancers in the class danced ballet as children, but find new energy in tap.
“The music is lively and everybody looks like they are having a good time doing it,” Balducci said. “And I enjoy having a good time!”
Those interested are welcome to come and watch a class; the advanced class starts at 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday.
“Women can be a bit skittish about it; they’ll want to, but think, ‘I can’t do that,’ and that’s not true,” Cottrell said. “With a little bit of motivation, you’ll be doing a dance by your first class.”
The more advanced dancers, who’ve been taking classes together for years, perform around San Diego. They occasionally stage shows at senior centers, and participate in the San Diego Senior Talent Show each year.
After class, the six or so dancers sometimes shuffle off for a cup of tea (or a glass of wine), continuing to socialize.
If you go
■ Beginner class: Forms in September; three-person minimum required. Women only.
■ Meets: 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Firehouse Y, 7877 Herschel Ave., La Jolla
■ cost: $70 for four-week session
■ E-mail: nancy@TappingToTheStars.com
History of tap dancing
■ History of tap dancing Tap dancing is considered both a form of dancing and percussion music.
■ The two variations include Broadway tap and jazz tap. Broadway tap focuses more on the dancing, while jazz tap focuses on the sound the shoes make.
■ Tap dancing has roots in English clog dancing and Irish step dancing.
■ Tap dancing gained popularity in the mid-1800s with the rise of minstrel shows.
■ Vaudeville shows in the early 1900s also featured tap dancing.
■ Due to the two-colored rule, which forbade black people from performing solo, the majority of Vaudeville tap acts were duets.
■ Shirley Temple became a tap dancing sensation in the 1930s, starring in more than 60 films in 27 years, her first when she was 4 years old.
■ During the 1930s, tap dance was integrated with Lindy Hop dancing. “Flying swing outs” and “flying circles” are Lindy Hop moves with tap footwork.
■ Tap dancing’s popularity began to decline in the 1950s with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll.
■ National Tap Dance Day is celebrated May 25, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on Nov. 7, 1989. (May 25 was chosen because it is the birthdate of famous tapper Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, 1878-1949.)