Catching Health Want to get fit without working out?

Want to get fit without working out?

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Tap to the tune of these audacious women

Every week these women strap on their tap shoes and dance, dance, dance.

All age 60 or older, some of the tap students at Studio 408 took lessons when they were kids and others simply danced in their kitchens when no one was looking. None of them lets a little thing like age stop her from dancing now.

Their teacher, Betsy Dunphy, started dancing when she was 7 and never stopped—tap, jazz, ballet, modern dance. “I’ve performed a lot,” she says, “and choreographed for just about everybody—Portland Stage and Portland Players—and I work a lot with Good Theater.”

Dunphy teaches dance and theater techniques at Studio 408 in South Portland. Most of her students are children, ranging from 4-year-olds to teens, but she has a soft spot for older adults.

And tap dancing is great for the over-50 set. It challenges every part of your body. It increases your heart rate. It works muscles you didn’t know you had. It’s great for toning and strengthening your core.

“It’s good to keep fit,” says Evanthea Spanos, who has been dancing for three years. “Mostly I like that I have a lot of fun.”

When I think of tap dancing, I go straight to the feet. But there’s a lot more to it than heel, toe, heel, toe.

“First thing you learn as a dancer is not your feet but your carriage and your posture,” Dunphy says. “You have to be aware of the alignment of your shoulders over your hips … There’s a lot of core strength with tap. It looks like feet, but it’s your whole body.”

It may be hard to keep balanced at first, but learning to tap dance is like learning how to ride a bike, she says. “You need to learn steps slowly. Balancing is hard until you speed it up and you’re more centered…Once you’ve learned it, you’ve got it forever,” she says.

Learning new steps also works the brain. “It’s challenging sometimes to learn the new routines,” says tap dance student Nancy Jordan. “I think that’s really good for us.”

And great for your mood, too. “It’s good therapy,” says Marcia Whited. “I have a demanding occupation. I’m up to here with stress at 10:45 and when I leave here at noon every Wednesday, I’m managing. I’ve danced it out. I’m in a good place. I’m smiling.”

“I always tell people that if everybody tap danced, the world would be a better place,” Dunphy says. “You can never be grumpy when you’re tap dancing. You can be grumpy when you come in but you’ll never be grumpy going out.”

If you want to learn more about Dunphy’s adult tap dance class (the group also performs), call 799–3273. If you’re not in her area, she may know of someone else who teaches. You could also do an online search for dance classes for adults.

Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood, which received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. Find it at catchinghealth.com.

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