Senior tappers to show their steps during free concert

Bobbie Burke and her fellow senior dancers have tapped into something special. Burke, 93, is the oldest of about a dozen women who practice tap dancing every Friday morning at the Grand Haven Community Center, under the direction of instructor Cathy Weideman. The class members will perform two numbers as part of a free Prevailing Winds Community Band concert, scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Covenant Life Church, 101 Columbus Ave. in downtown Grand Haven.
Marie Havenga
Aug 12, 2011

 

There’s more to this class than choreography and clicking. The dance steps for some are steps back in time. It’s as if the women have found a path back to the music of their childhood.

Burke now travels that path in a wheelchair, and her hearing has skipped a few beats — but she taps on, undaunted.

“It’s in my soul,” said Burke, who took dance lessons from age 6 to 21 while growing up in Iowa.

The Grand Haven resident joined the senior class when it launched three years ago.

“Cathy is a great instructor and we’ve become like family here,” said Burke, who once studied under Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. “We laugh a lot. You have to laugh a lot. You have to laugh and love.”

It was 1924 when Burke first set foot in a dance studio. In her mind, when she’s sitting in her wheelchair and tapping out the tunes, she’s young again. The arthritis that grips her joints is a mirage; she’s floating across the dance floor in the arms of a prince.

“I always keep time with the music,” the eldest class member said. “I’ve never really stopped dancing.”

Weideman  has been teaching the North Ottawa County Council on Aging dance class for three years. She said dancing is a way for people to engage their entire being and tap into a deeper part of themselves.

“Tap dancing really unleashes your spirit,” Weideman said. “It connects these women. I think it also connects them back to their younger years. It brings back a lot of reminders of when they were younger.”

Grand Haven summer resident Margot Quillen knows the steps. Quillen grew up in Grand Haven and took dance lessons at the former Miss Markle School of Dance that was across the street from Ferry School.

Quillen was 3 when she first strapped on tap shoes. She said she’s never lost her passion.

“It is just so wonderful,” said Quillen, 63. “I just love the movement itself, and the exercise. When I dance, I can visualize myself as a child. But the best part is there are no mirrors here. If there were mirrors, I think we’d all quit.”

Peggy Haig, 75, tapped for the first time when she signed up for the class three years ago. The Grand Haven Township resident said she’s hooked.

“I’m an example that you can teach an old dog new tricks,” Haig said. “I love this.”

The seniors will don colorful rain ponchos and twirl umbrellas as they tap through Gene Kelly’s version of “Singing in the Rain” on Saturday. They’ll also click the cadence of “Boogie, Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrews Sisters.

Dollie Ennenga of Spring Lake is also a tap newcomer. She joined the class two years ago.

“I’m very nervous about the performance, but I do quite a bit of practicing at home,” Ennenga said.

April Siegers, 70, drives up from Holland every week to dance in memory of her sister — former Ferrysburg resident Arlene Everling, who died two years ago at the age of 66. The two signed up for the senior tap dance class together.

Siegers said her sister is still her dance partner in spirit.

“She would have loved to be a part of this,” Siegers said of Saturday’s event. “She loved to perform.”

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Senior Tap Dancers and Prevailing Winds Community Band performance
WHERE: Covenant Life Church, 101 Columbus Ave., Grand Haven
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
ADMISSION: Free

 

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