Tap Dancing to Fitness

This light-on-her-feet grandmother learned that dreams can come true…and keep her healthy, too!

By Linda Storer, Maumee, Ohio

Close-up of tap shoes

Close-up of tap shoes

My favorite movies have always been old musicals starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and other Hollywood greats. I have probably seen Singin' in the Rain a dozen times, and I never grow tired of watching Gene Kelly tap dance his way across the silver screen.

I used to dream, "If only I had taken dance lessons as a child, maybe I could have made it in the movies…or at least community theater." But at the age of 40, I thought I was too old to learn how. Oh, how wrong I was!

It's never too late to try something new—particularly where your health is concerned. I signed up for my first tap-dancing class years ago, and now, in my 50s, I'm still going strong.

Tap dancing is a terrific form of fitness. It keeps my heart strong, my lungs healthy and my muscles active. In addition, it fights osteoporosis and keeps my mind sharp since steps and routines must be memorized.

Opening Night

My tap-dancing journey actually started in my physician's office. My doctor discovered that I had an irregular heartbeat and scheduled a stress test. To my surprise, I did very poorly on the test. She advised me that my irregular heartbeat was nothing to worry about, but said I needed to start exercising.

I searched for just the right form of aerobic workout, knowing it had to be something I would enjoy or I wouldn't stick with it. That's when a close friend, Ruth, invited me to join her at a tap-dancing class at a local dance studio.

I wasn't sure that I was up to the challenge, so Ruth invited me to their first recital. I loved the music, and it looked like everyone on stage was having fun.

With Ruth's encouragement, I took the plunge and went to my first class. Having never tapped before, I was a bit overwhelmed and nervous, but everyone was so friendly that I quickly put my fears aside.

I knew right away that I loved to tap, but it took a while before I was comfortable with the basic steps. On nights we didn't have class, Ruth, who has danced her whole life, came over to work with me on the basic steps. My husband, Jody, even hung mirrors in our garage so Ruth and I could practice.

Soon, the steps were becoming a little easier, I was making new friends and I was enjoying each class more than the previous one.

I find that tap dancing helps control my weight and increases my energy. After a long day working as an executive secretary for the University of Toledo, my dance class gives me a second wind. The extra energy is especially welcome when our two grown sons, Curt and Matthew, and our three grandchildren come to visit.

Best of all, my doctor is very happy with the amount of exercise I'm getting. My heart is strong, and I'm in great health overall. In fact, I had my first bone density test last year and passed with flying colors.

Robust Routine

My advice to anyone interested in learning how to tap dance is to go for it. Contact a studio in your area and ask if they offer a beginners' class for adults. Be sure to ask, too, about the availability of tap-dancing shoes. If a class isn't being offered, get a few friends together, approach a studio and request one.

When our Maumee, Ohio dance school—the Manhattan Dance Studio—started a class for beginners, only six students enrolled. Since then, we have had up to 60 students at one time.

A year after I started tapping, I recruited my sister, Karen. We're among the nearly 40 women, ranging in age from 37 to 74, who make up the studio's dance troupe. We practice three times a week, learning new steps and formations to get us ready for our next big show.

We're very active in our community, performing at festivals, parades, retirement homes and church events. We received an award from the Ohio Senate in recognition of our charity work and our promotion of good health through dancing.

We participated in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade one year, and we've competed in national dance contests as well. We always receive rave reviews, and judges tell us that they have never seen a troupe quite like ours. We even won first place at an international competition, tapping against dancers half our age.

Tap dancing can be challenging, particularly when the troupe is getting ready for a show. The end results, however, are always rewarding. I stick with it for the love of dance, the friends I have made and the support I receive from fellow dancers. But most importantly, I do it for my health!