At the age of 40, I finally learned to tap dance.
Twice a week, I strapped on my Capezio Mary Janes and overcame my fear of looking and sounding stupid. What if I was the only one tapping between the beats? I learned flaps and shuffles, later riffs and time steps. I loved it. Like stomping in mud puddles as a kid but now you make noise. I put those shoes on and my feet couldn’t help but move. Dance requires complete immersion. You have to empty your mind and concentrate on the steps, the music and the beat. After awhile, muscle memory kicks in, your body remembers the steps and takes over, leaving your mind far behind, and you just dance.
I always wanted to take ballet as a child, but took piano lessons instead, following in the footsteps of my three older sisters. But how I yearned to pull on those tiny pink ballet slippers and dance. I was a small, skinny girl, always picked last for any team, and my lack of coordination would’ve benefited from ballet.
The first class I signed up for in college was beginning ballet. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by girls who had been dancing since they could barely reach the barre: sleek ballerina buns, low-backed leotards and ripped legwarmers, ballet slippers repaired with duct tape where the toes had worn through. I don’t know why these girls were taking beginning ballet; maybe it was a requirement for a dance major.
During ballet two, the teacher took me aside after some wobbly pirouettes. I wasn’t a good turner, despite spotting, a device you learn to keep from getting dizzy. I’d crookedly twirl across the floor, my head spinning. “You should probably take beginning ballet first,” she said. “Then you’ll be ready for this class.”
“I already did,” I answered, my face burning. The teacher shrugged and turned back to the class.
After college, I got an office job. Three nights a week I took ballet and jazz with other adults, a much-needed release after a long day of sitting. But I never tried tap, sure that my lousy sense of rhythm, something I’d struggled with on piano, would make tap a form of dance I would never conquer.
We moved to Florida a few years later and a new dance studio opened. I signed up for adult beginning tap. The teacher was young, enthusiastic, n imaginative choreographer. She made every part of that class fun. My adult dance training had helped; I didn’t feel so uncoordinated. Everyone was as bad or worse. No one watched anyone else because they were concentrating on their own steps.
We performed in a recital that June, donning spangly plum-colored flapper dresses and feathered headbands and vamped to “Easy Street” from “Annie.” We probably looked ridiculous up there, women of all ages and sizes, strutting onstage, trying to remember the steps. But what fun we had! I still have the costume.
Since we settled on the Island, I haven’t taken a tap class. I miss my shoes. There used to be a dance studio and adult ed classes here. Can we get a class going? Tap is not easily practiced at home — it’s hard on your wood floors.
I miss the satisfaction of mastering a complicated step that eluded me a month before, of coaxing my feet to move ever faster. Surrounded by other dancers, your tap shoes have a conversation with each other, calling back and forth. There’s that moment before the music starts, the anticipation of dancing a routine you’ve done a hundred times before. Maybe this time you’ll get it right.
Are there other tappers on this Island? Let’s make some noise.