Tapping their way to health and happiness

Marge McKenna, third from left, and Nancy Gabor, in yellow, practice to Frank Sinatra singing "Fly Me To the Moon" during the tap-dancing class at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“5, 6, 7, 8!”

Click, clack, click, clack, click, clack.

The hardwood floors at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center come alive with sound every Thursday morning during a weekly tap dancing class.

Bedecked in stylish black tap shoes, the dozen or so students follow along as instructor Laura Russell leads them in a rousing warm-up.

“Shuffle, step, ball change,” Russell calls out.

There is a woman seated in a chair, faintly tapping along in her tennis shoes.

Others also tap a little tentatively at first before finding their rhythm.

Then there are the advanced students, like Maureen Lawton.

Instructor Laura Russell leads the weekly tap-dancing class at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Valencia resident, who said she is over 65 years old, has been tap dancing since she was 3 years old. Lawton has even run her own dance studio, taking breaks only when she was pregnant.

These days, she’s not so serious about it.

“Tap dancing is a lot of fun. At my age, I want fun. I don’t need to be a better dancer,” Lawton explained.

Besides fun, tap dancing is also a great form of exercise.

“I’ve never been overweight and I attribute that to dancing,” Lawton said. “You have to do something to stay healthy. You might as well do something you enjoy.”

One of the participants wears classic tap-dancing shoes at the class at the Santa Clarita Senior Center Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

As a former teacher, Lawton gave Russell high marks.  “She’s great and really makes it fun.”

Russell, who’s been instructor at the center for just over a year but has taught throughout the Santa Clarita Valley for the last two decades, says it’s the students that make the class.

“I think I enjoy it more than they do. They’re fabulous people,” she said. “It’s not just a dance class, it’s about the community and getting to know each other, too.”

That’s certainly evident as the students filter in before the starting time of 9:30.

Several greeted Terry Steranko in the hallway as she laced up her shoes.

Steranko, 65, lives in Valencia and has been tap dancing for the last six years.

“I love it. It’s the syncopation, the energy level,” she said. “It’s a very good challenge.”

Dancers of all levels are welcome and encouraged to attend the class, which costs $5 a session.

“Anyone can come, anytime,” Russell said.   “Some people come in and they’ve never had a pair of tap shoes on. I always give them options to do it at their own pace.”

Mary Panlener, left, and Marge McKenna participate in the tap-dancing class at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Tap dancing has many benefits, as Russell pointed out.

“It builds strength in legs and fee and flexibility in the hips, knees, and ankles. Tap dancing also helps with mental and muscle memory,” she said.

The group puts on several performances throughout the year at the center.

On this day, they were practicing a routine to “Fly Me to the Moon,” which will be performed for a “Volunteers Are Out of the This World” appreciation luncheon on Tuesday, April 25.

For Christmas, they danced to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Robin Clough, recreation and volunteer coordinator at the center, said the performances are always a hit. “You can just feel the joy and energy.”


For more information on this class, call (661) 259-9444or visit www.myscvsoa.org.

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