Tap-dancing adults are shuffling, flapping and riffling at festivals, community centers, stages and gatherings across the Oklahoma City metro area. And many keep dancing well into their golden years.
“I don't believe how old I am. I still feel like I'm 30,” said Lynda Tarpley, whose self-named dance troupe has been tapping in the metro since the mid-1980s.
While coy about her exact age, she attributes her stamina and fitness to tap dance. Tarpley's been teaching tap for nearly 30 years and dancing for more than 50.
“It's good for your psyche and your memory,” she said. “And you can make the steps accessible for all expert levels.”
That's why there's such an age range in her classes. From 20-somethings to 80-year-olds, she accommodates them all.
Over the years, she's seen the popularity of tap dancing soar among adults. She started out teaching fewer than a dozen adults. Now she teaches and choreographs for about 150.
Popular dance numbers for her troupe include “Anything Goes,” from the Cole Porter musical, to “Singin' in the Rain,” a song Gene Kelly famously tapped his way through in the 1950s.
Strike a pose
Sherri Smith, a dance teacher at The Poteet Theatre at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, giggles while she fuses clever sound and visual demonstrations to help her adult students learn steps. Billy Idol's 1983 hit “Rebel Yell” plays in the background.
“You can practice this at your desk while you're typing and reading your emails,” she tells her students during the Tuesday evening class.
The truth is, she said, some of her students might need a chair to help them get through a number, but that's OK. Her classes include teen students through retirees.
“I'm 46, and there are parts of me where age is catching up,” she said. “Sometimes I have to put my hand up on the wall, too.”
She said letting her older students know she understands their aches and pains relaxes them. And a good soundtrack to dance to doesn't hurt. Music for her class ranges from 1940s big-band tunes to 1980s rock and '90s pop.
Healthy body, mind
Research indicates low-impact dancing such as tap can help flexibility. With music, it can help bring back memories in patients with Alzheimer's. Smith said she knows it affects confidence levels and overall fitness.
“You can definitely see it from people who aren't in the best shape. You see changes in their joints, knees and ankles; people can move faster, and their stamina gets better,” she said.
While the outward effects are there, personality changes happen, too.
“The shy ones come out, and it helps their self-esteem,” Smith said. “It helps with presence and how you deal with other people.”
It's also a great stress reliever.
While there's a playful competitiveness in Smith's classes, it's more encouraging than cutthroat.
Fun and exercise
About six years ago, working mother Leslie Hardin started her own foray into tap. Her interest was piqued while her now-teenage daughter was taking dance lessons.
Other mothers Hardin met expressed interest in learning as well — some having danced as children or always wanting to. She took classes from other teachers before finding a home at Poteet Theatre.
“I'm not doing this to be a star or anything,” she said. “It's for fun and exercise.”
Not to mention, she said, it's more fun to dance to great music than to listen to the whir of a stationary bicycle.