Shirley's return to tap was "like riding a bicycle," she recalls. "My husband thinks it's great, too. He said, 'Just don't try to talk me into it.' Not a problem. He does his thing, I do mine."
In recent years this has meant that Shirley and her daughter are frequently off palling around with the other tappers, on the way to such out-of-town gigs as the "Rockin' D Roundup Talent Competition," in which the group placed first last year.
"Going on competitions is a social time," Shirley says. "We hang out at the Santa Monica Pier or Disneyland. And last month my husband and I had our fortieth. Everyone in the group showed."
At the Southwest Y, at 5181 West Kenyon Avenue, the parking lot is almost always packed to capacity. From the reception desk, you can often see a pool aerobics class in which elderly women hoist plastic milk jugs half filled with water in time to musical accompaniment. You might encounter a vast day camp full of preschoolers in cowboy hats, all happily screaming "Howdy!" On moonlit nights, a mysterious group known as the Southwest Moonbladers meets to skate until midnight. The Southwest Y is the very embodiment of a community rec center.
In the first-floor trophy case, you'd expect to find evidence of all the Y's myriad activities. Instead the space is completely devoted to the Southwest Tappers--filled with trophies earned at everything from the Forty Plus I Heart Dance (first place) to the Showbiz Regional Talent Competition (first place) to the Colorado Show Wagon (first place again). At the Y, it is the general consensus that the women of the Southwest Tappers are the hotshots.
Today they're in Western outfits--black leotards and tights, black shorts with red satin fringe, matching vests, red sequined cowboy hats and Western-boot-shaped spats. The number is "Born to Boogie," a rollicking country-Western drinking song, and Dottie is no longer dancing in a chair, but on her feet.
"Ladies!" Nancy Rullo screams over the music. "Hats!"
The line obliges, turning the hats toward the mirror so that only the red-sequined crowns are visible. Billye Regan hangs to the side, doing scaled-down versions of all the steps. Each of her knees is crossed by a deep, jagged scar.
The ladies assume a shoot-'em-up posture.
"Okay, ladies! 'Mame'!"
Good. Rehearsal can and will go on, for the next hour at least. "Mame" alone will occupy the next fifteen minutes.
"The problem," someone says, breathing heavily, "is that this song kind of breaks down near the end. I know I do."
"Well, everyone has different energy levels," Dottie answers, with perhaps a hint of challenge in her voice. "Some people dance. Some people do nothing."
Okay, "Mame" again. This time the run-through is nearly perfect. And it's a good dance, a showstopper. It ends with the Southwest Tappers standing shoulder to shoulder, arms around each other's waists, smiling into the mirror, in a state-of-the-art kick line.