Health benefits of hoofing are increased energy, cognitive stimulation, cardiovascular health and bone strength. Top hats are optional.
With some reluctance, my circle of friends agreed to participate in a tap dance class for women over 65. Our promoter in the group said it would be “loads of fun.” Of course, she was a former cheerleader and a tap dancer from “back in the day.”
The rest of us held memories of Ginger Rogers moving elegantly through space, making us self-conscious about our aged bodies and worried that we would look like a bunch of klutzes pretending to be graceful.
While a bit of a jolt to see ourselves at every turn in the mirrors surrounding the room, we couldn’t stop our feet from beginning to clickity-clack.
When we pulled into the parking lot for the class, we were all wondering what we had signed up for. The studio was hidden at the end of a long hall in an old warehouse. We were presented with a pair of well-worn tap dance shoes in the small entry.
Complaints began immediately as some needed to remember to bring socks or the shoes were too tight or too big. But gradually, those black leather shoes with metal taps attached to the toe and heel were tied on. One by one, we walked onto the shiny wood floor of the expansive dance studio.
While a bit of a jolt to see ourselves at every turn in the mirrors surrounding the room, we couldn’t stop our feet from beginning to clickity-clack. Each woman seemed to experiment with the sounds they made with their feet. Every one of us was in motion.
Our skilled instructor understood who she was dealing with and guided us through what she named a “Tappy Hour.” We started with easy patterns of steps and built upon them to end in a flourish. To say we were delighted is an understatement. Several of my friends were so invigorated by the experience that they signed up for weekly classes.
Ellen Keane, owner and founder of Keane Sense of Rhythm in St. Paul, Minnesota, says she started her “Tappy Hours” in 2006 for the over-65 group by welcoming everyone, no matter their ability. She focuses her classes on ways tap dance improves brains, bones, and balance.
“We don’t do any jumps or leaps, so joints are protected.”
Keane says. “We don’t do any jumps or leaps, so joints are protected. And adding some wonderful tunes gets everyone moving.” It’s no wonder her classes fill consistently.
Our little group of ten was no chorus line. One of our dancers was recovering from a stroke and brought her cane onto the dance floor. It didn’t take long for us to realize that adding a dancer’s cane for balance made the shuffling easier.
Rewards Outweigh Fears
Another group member was stepping away from caregiving her husband with dementia. She said she felt renewed from the hour of concentrated fun and movement, describing it as an hour mood booster. “Put on your dancing shoes and dance away your blues,” crooner Cliff Richard sings in the 1963 movie “Dancing Shoes.”
The rewards of tap dance outweigh the worry of looking silly. Research has shown the health benefits of hoofing are increased energy, cognitive stimulation, cardiovascular health and bone strength, not to mention burning calories.
The combination of movement with wonderful music was a great escape with benefits.
“Sound healing,” described by the Chicago Tap Organization, “profoundly affects one’s state of mind.” The sound of tapping and making “noise” has been shown to act as a release of energy that triggers emotions. For us, it was feelings of happiness. We laughed a lot.
Keane says, “Surprise is the most common reaction to my classes.” She tells of a woman in a class with a Parkinson’s diagnosis who improved her balance so much she began taking ballet too. Others report improved bone mass and stronger leg muscles.
Keane doesn’t expect anyone to remember the routine from week to week, but she believes muscle memory does take over. This thinking has been tested in several research studies. As noted in a report from the National Library of Medicine, there is growing evidence that dance as an intervention for older adults could improve and help maintain cognition.
Several options for tap dance classes can be found in community centers and dance studios. And many places can customize the programs, even offering seated classes. However, it is recommended that if there are any health concerns, a doctor should be consulted before beginning.
Of course, YouTube has online courses, but there is no one there to prevent you from getting hurt, and the fun of socializing is missing — not to mention the smell of a well-oiled wooden dance floor.
Little did I know when I was in second grade doing the shuffle ball change to “Glow Little Glow Worm” that I would revisit these moves when I was 77. The combination of movement with wonderful music was a great escape with benefits.
Top hats are optional.