Tap dancing through middle age with the Cherry Tarts

     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-138538601/stock-photo-girl-s-dancing-feet-in-tap-shoes-and-pink-socks.html'>Tap shoes</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Tap shoes image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    Trying to lure in enough neighbors to make an adult dance class take off, a friend recently circulated an email invitation for “Fun! Exercise! Wine! Tap dancing!”

    As a stay-at-home mother in my mid-40s, my dance card had long stood empty. So, apparently, had those of many of my peers.

    “This is the funniest, and most random, invitation I have received in a very long time,” someone responded.

    “Sounds like a blast!” another friend said.

    “I have no rhythm,” someone else added. “But what the hell?”

    I, too, was in.

    After all, the last time I had been offered such a chance was in Seattle in the 1980s under much less appealing circumstances.

    In a last-ditch attempt to connect with me in my adolescence, my mother had signed us up for a tap class, lead by an instructor in a droopy leotard, who hammered away at a routine choreographed to Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade.”

    My mom dropped out after the second session, forcing me to attend on my own, when all I really wanted to do at night back then was toilet paper my Seattle neighborhood.

    In fact, helping TP the house across the street hovers in my mind as one of the epic adventures of my childhood. Rain fell throughout the night, so the victims, who were hosting an outdoor party the next afternoon, awoke to sodden reams of toilet paper dangling from their trees like bedraggled ghosts — and immediately called my parents.

    My friends and I soon graduated to teenage ennui and swilling from stale cans of Olympia beer that we had stashed in the bushes at “Hidden Beach,” a dismal patch of sand along Lake Washington where we tried to make the night sky swim.

    But evenings picked up again in college, like the time a crowd of us stumbled into a dive bar in Ballard, Wash., and caught a group we’d never heard of, the Dave Matthews Band, before they hit it big.

    In graduate school, I talked my way past bouncers into Manhattan clubs. Once, I think I may have even danced with a sheikh.

    Since moving to the Philadelphia suburbs and having three children, however, the fun has slackened a bit.

    For kicks these days, my husband and I usually end up with the geriatric crowd at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute‘s early showing of the latest subtitled Eastern European flick.

    No wonder my friend’s invitation to drink wine and tap away each Wednesday night at the Upbeat Dance Center in Bala Cynwyd seemed so tantalizing. And I was heartened by the overwhelming response, feeling like even less of a loser with each new write-in.

    Someone opened the email after a long day of traveling. “So instead of reading ‘tap’ dancing,” she said, “I read ‘lap’ dancing.”

    “When’s the recital?” someone else asked, I thought only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

    “I would absolutely die of embarrassment if I had to go watch that,” my 8-year-old daughter said.

    But I was undeterred, excitedly lacing up my new shoes at our first class.

    A friend uncorked a bottle of “Cherry Tart” Pinot Noir and declared that that was what we should call our “troupe.”

    “This is the first time I’ve taught with wine,” Kelsey, our 20-something instructor, said.

    She was used to catering to a much younger crowd, wondering if the music was alright as she cued up Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” and leading us through a series of shuffle steps, paddles and digs.

    “It’s great!” we chorused, remarking later that we hoped Kelsey wouldn’t downgrade us to show tunes, especially after watching us stagger through a particularly intricate maneuver named the “Maxie Ford” — one that I kept mistakenly calling the “Betty Ford.”

    “I feel like we’re in a movie,” my friend whispered.

    “Or a reality show,” I said.

    “Yeah,” she riffed, “the one where a bunch of weary moms find their inner rhythm and go on to clinch the title of some national dance competition.”

    I chuckled and decided that, when you’re middle aged, the night really still is young and the possibilities are endless all over again.

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