East Falls retirees tap into ‘pure joy’

Whenever the time came for retired librarian Wendy Moody to head out to aerobics class, she, like many of us, would drag her feet to the gym. 

She was searching for motivation, a reason to spend one of her very rare free hours working up a sweat. The practical benefit of getting physical exercise just wasn’t enough.

So, after a 50-year hiatus from dancing, she decided to call Jeannette’s School of Dance in Roxborough to see if they offered any tap dance classes for adults.

Owner Jeannette Julia said she’d consider starting one up if Moody could generate enough interest.

Inspired by the thought, the well-known Fallser put on the charm and called up each one of her friends in the neighborhood. After a fair share of rejections and hesitant approvals, she dusted off her old dancing shoes and started up a class.

Every Monday afternoon, the cheerful sounds of laughter and tap shoes thrashing the floorboards fill the intimate studio on Green Lane. 

For Moody, it’s one hour of pure joy where dragging those feet is part of the fun.

“Just the thrill that I’m tapping again and hearing that sound of the tap, I just look forward to it every week,” she said with a wide, contagious smile.

Reigniting a spark for dance

The group usually consists of seven women – retired librarians, school teachers, administrators or doctors. The class starts off with a series of toe taps and shuffle ball changes followed by a few new steps to add to the group’s choreographed routine.

“It’s invigorating; I love it,” said retired endocrinologist Doris Bartuska.

For some, it’s a chance to get back to their dancing roots. But for others, like Linda Koons, it’s a second shot at a childhood dream.

“When I was little, I wanted to take ballet and then I wanted to tap dance, but my family didn’t have a lot of money and we moved around rather frequently so I never got to do it,” Koons said.

Now, she’s click-clacking away on the dance floor to the tune of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” with the rest of the ladies. She shares that newfound happiness with retired teacher Katy Hineline.

“Tap dancing was something that always fascinated me when I was a little girl but my mother would never let me do it,” Hineline said. “So, in addition to getting my ears pierced when she died, I started tap dancing.”

Tapping to stay young and active 

They say it’s not just about mastering the steps; it’s about staying active and having fun.

“Doing this keeps you young,” Koons said. “Not only does it keep you in shape, but you meet a lot of new, interesting people. At least my brain seems to be functioning. It pushes your brain.”

For many of the women, the biggest challenge is remembering the sequence of steps in a routine.

“One of the things that starts to go as you get older is that your memory isn’t as acute as it used to be,” Hineline said. “So, learning the sequence of moves and coordinating the moves with your feet and your body is really hard.”

But for retired schoolteacher Linda Duttera, the hardest part is balance.

“You don’t realize how much balance you need to do this,” she said. “It’s a constant battle to not topple over and keep your feet from not tripping yourself.”

Balancing obligations and fun

But balance is one of the things that each one of these women seem to have mastered with ease in their every day lives. From volunteering at local museums, churches or libraries to babysitting grandchildren, these retired women are constantly juggling commitments.

Take Moody for instance. When she’s not singing at local nursing homes, or volunteering at the East Falls Historical Society, she’s off working on a new “aging in place” program for East Falls.

“My husband says I raise my hand too much and I need to cut back,” she joked.

But tap isn’t something she or her fellow classmates are willing to give up anytime soon. 

Jeanine Muniz of East Falls joined the class with her niece and god-daughter, Luli Canuso. As they crack jokes with eachother after class, the two recall a recent performance.

“It’s fun, we danced for the family on Easter Sunday,” Muniz said. “They were floored, they couldn’t believe we did it.”


Another definition of a ‘happy hour’

It’s one of the few performances group members have risked outside of class. Recent talks of performing in the school’s recital this summer were quickly turned down.

“We don’t want the 2-year-olds to show us up,” Duttera joked. “Little kids are cute when they screw up; we’re not so cute.”

But that hasn’t stopped their teacher, Jeannette Julia, from pushing the idea.

“I haven’t given up yet,” she said. “The recital isn’t until June 26, so I still have a couple of months.”

But any one of the dancers will tell you, the fun of tap doesn’t flow from performing for others. It’s about the freedom and joy of doing something that’s just for them.

“It’s the one selfish thing we do.” said Moody. “It’s a happy hour; it’s another definition of a happy hour.”

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