Longform

Just for Kicks

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And got the job! Specifically, in the very center of the line, the spot traditionally reserved for the tallest Rockette. "But there were ten other girls ahead of me, and I missed my mother," Arlene remembers. "I went home to Rochester and did productions at the Eastman Center and got married and had six kids." Her husband worked in aerospace. In 1972 he was transferred to Denver.

He and Arlene are lifelong athletes--biking, golfing and tennis, especially now that he's retired. By the time Arlene rediscovered tap, she'd had nearly a half-century hiatus, but this didn't stop her from sliding back into the old, suave patterns. Her husband began coming to Southwest Tappers classes to watch her dance, and he stayed to cue the tape player. Best of all, Arlene acquired a new friend.

"Oh yeah, Arlene's a super athlete," Dottie Attridge says. "That's her life. I go to this women's fitness camp with her every summer. Lousy accommodations, lousy food--I mean, 1,200 calories, what's that? But great fun. Great fun."

Dottie danced as a child in Queens--"at the Marilyn Mack Academy," she says proudly. "It was the place to go and the activity to do. Also, I played basketball and softball, because in the inner city, if you're not playing sports, you're up on the roof, smoking or kissing or worse."

Worse was not Dottie's style. After meeting her future husband on a dance floor, she married, had six children and moved to Denver in the mid-Seventies. "I taught third and fourth grade for years, and I retired seven years ago," she relates. "But after the first year of that--well, how much can you clean? I tried aerobics, but I knew it would kill me. Then, six years ago, I looked in at tap-dancing, and that was it."

Part of the appeal was the instant female bonding. "They say your friends are made when you're young--ha!" says Dottie. "We're all Catholics in the group, and not to be prejudiced, but we're similar because of that, and we help each other. Three of the ladies have had breast cancer and survived it, and they always come back to the group, although they probably won't tell you."

(They don't.)
After a few years of attending class, Dottie learned that the Tappers were about to make their stage debut.

"What?" she remembers thinking. "They all wanna be Ginger Rogers?" And then she remembers thinking, "Well, it's a form of volunteerism."

But the first audience Dottie recalls dancing for was "rude and noisy. The Lady Elks," she sniffs. "Never again."

She doesn't think much more of recent audiences, either. At nursing homes, she says, "they fall asleep." And as for the group's planned outing in August to a talent pageant in Las Vegas, "I'm not going," Dottie says. "That's where I draw the line. That's a JonBenet thing. They pay to enter, and I find that depressing."

The other Southwest Tappers find it energizing, which is handy, as there are still dozens of costume details to organize, choreography to polish and travel plans to make.

Besides, as teacher/choreographer Nancy Rullo points out: "Girls, your line looks awful. Hands! Hats! Come on!"

After two more run-throughs of "Route 66," Nancy walks up and down the line straightening shoulders, improving posture and dragging her dancers into place by their wrists. Sometimes she dances in front of the line, yelling into the mirror when she spots someone who doesn't have the steps memorized.

"Can you tell I teach preschoolers during the day?" Nancy asks during a break. She's also taught tap since she was thirteen, and she danced professionally in the USO. But never has she happened upon a more demanding corps de tap than the Southwest Tappers.

"They lost their old teacher three years ago," Nancy explains. "She went down to the Central Y. Believe me, these ladies made it into a crisis. My mom's in the group, so I told them, if you can use me afternoons or evenings, I guess I can help you. And sure, they're wonderful. But if they wanna chat," she says, eyeing the casual discussion groups that have formed in corners of the rehearsal room, "they have to do it on their own time."

"Nancy puts in a newer, harder step on each dance she teaches us, and she uses me as an example," says Coke Faltermaier, Nancy's mother. "She corrects me in front of everyone. I notice."

With nothing but pride. Now in her late sixties, Coke is only six years into the tap-dancing alter ego of a life she envisioned for herself as a toddler but was unable to pursue. "My two older sisters tap-danced, but my father died when I was two, so I never had the opportunity," she says. "Then my husband and I had two putt-putt golf courses and I managed them, so I was too busy."

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff