Like The Jewish Journal on Facebook!

Published Monday, December 14, 2015

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Tap Shoes

By Deahn Berrini Leblang

Ginny Carson (l-r), Andrea Kline and teacher Debbie Davis lead the group in practice.

The ladies lined up in the Swampscott High School dance studio one Friday morning. As the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” swelled over the speakers, they began to tap. The sound of rhythmic percussion of 46 tap shoes on the wooden floor and the dancers’ obvious joy in motion were such a perfect example of the emotions of the famous Brian Wilson song that, had he been there, he would have smiled and said, “Good vibrations! No kidding!”

The “Senior Moments” tap group, formed over 20 years ago, comprises more than 50 North Shore dancers, ranging in age from 48 to 90.

Their current leader is Debbie Davis of Swampscott. Davis guides the group in four different Senior Centers each week, in Swampscott, Lynn, Salem and Marblehead. On any given day, between eight and 20 dancers show up. An active member of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, Davis began tapping in high school and first took the class as a student. When the previous instructor could no longer teach, she handed the group over to Davis seven years ago. “I was in the right place at the right time,” said Davis. “My goal was to keep the group together.”

She has done that and more. Regular area entertainers, the “Senior Moments” list of performance venues reads like a who’s who of local nursing homes and senior living facilities: Brooksby Village, Bright View, Briarcliff Lodge, Chelsea Jewish Foundation, Hawthorne Hill, Jack Satter House. Not every dancer performs at the scheduled events, and there is no pressure to do so. All levels of ability are welcome, and members hail from all sorts of professions; current members include an artist and a violinist.

Elaine Daly, Paule Lambert and Penny Carnevale prepare for a Charlie Chaplin number.

That the group is about more than dance was palpable during the Friday class in Swampscott. “These are very special people. The group supports one another, in good times and in bad,” said Davis, who read a card during a rest break from a member who had just gone through a difficult event and thanked the group for their support. The card was addressed to “All my sisters,” and ended with, “Keep the beat.”

Annually, the group attends two three-day “Tap Camps,” one in a New Hampshire ski-house and one held locally, featuring daily four-hour dance classes. The group spends the rest of their “camp” time eating and enjoying themselves. Last spring, they went zip-lining. They also attend dance performances together throughout the year.

The group’s weekly dancing is complex and a real workout. Back in the dance studio, with a window opened to let in the fresh fall air, Ginny Carson and Andrea Kline, both of Salem, led in the front as Davis called out a series of specific steps before each number: “Shuffle ball heel step hop hop kick, 7 buffaloes with flap ball change to the left and to the right followed by 4 trains,” she called.

Kline has been in the group for more than seven years. “I had been going through a bad time,” she said, explaining what prompted her to join the group.

“One day a friend insisted, ‘You have to come with me’ to tap. I came and was hooked. It’s a group of sisters.”

Dancer Mary Volo agreed. “I have three sons. I don’t have a sister. My husband has bachelor brothers. This is my sisterhood,” she said.

“It comes down to one four-letter word,” summed up Bette Landry, sporting a hot-pink T-shirt. “Love.”

As the women lined up for a Charlie Chaplin number, a five-letter word came to mind as well: Dance.

Share Share

Return to Seniors →