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No-excuses Tap Dancing - Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 24, 2009

Written by - Chris Swingle, Staff Writer     Photographs by - Jay Capers, Staff Photographer

When the OASIS Tappers perform for senior citizens, they show loudly and clearly that you can be vigorous even in your 80's and 90's.

The emphasis is on loudly, especially on the wooden floor of the Irondequoit dance studio where they sometimes practice their shuffles, riffs and shim shams in unison.  Marion Fahy, at 91, is a role model even within the group.  "I love it," the Rochester woman said of tap-dancing, which she began at the age of 12.  "It does so much for you.  It helps you think better."

Tap-dancing also is great exercise, and being part of the group has social benefits. "It's good for the body, mind and soul," said Dorothy Donaldson, 66 of Brighton during a recent rehearsal before a performance at an independent living program for seniors. She has taken tap classes on and off since childhood. "At times, I feel like I'm 13 again." Tap was the first thing she pursued at OASIS, which serves people age 50 and older and offers beginner, advanced-beginner and intermediate tap classes, as well as the performance group.  The Tappers were the first OASIS performance program, says Priscilla Minster, executive director. Now OASIS also has a chorus and a reader's theater group. OASIS has changed Donaldson's perception of aging, since she's encountered such vibrant senior citizens.

Erika Atkinson of Webster, who teaches all of the tap levels, choreographs and leads rehearsal of the performers twice a week. "They're inspiring," said Atkinson, who's 37. "They're a lot of fun." But the seniors are also different than a class of kids. "They're bossy," admitted Atkinson, who has a 16-month-old daughter and also teaches at TNT Dance Studio in Irondequoit. "It's like having 16 mothers, because they all tell me what I should be doing." She's strict as she runs the groups through their paces: "Fix your line! Pick up your feet!" At the end of one routine: "That wasn't good, We're going to have to do that again." Atkinson has learned to stick with music from their youth, not hers. "I tried to introduce Billy Joel once," she said. "No." Some dancers modify steps because of hip or knee issues. But they generally tackle intermediate to advanced steps and routines.

Bill Rock, 75, of Sweden has been with the Tappers since the group started about 15 years ago, when he was also a master's competitive ski racer. "It's very good leg conditioning for skiing," he said. He's been a recreational skier since tearing knee cartilage while tap dancing, which led to surgery last year. "It's worth it," said Rock. "Because the rest of your body feels so good."

Carol Dundas, 75, of Gates, who bicycles through the Alps, says she's happy to be a role model when she dances. "A lot of people blame their age for anything they can't do." she says. By tapping in unison before audiences of seniors, they offer another picture of old age. "If I can start at 65, you can start at 65," says Connie Brown, 79, of Gates.

The OASIS Tappers' next public performance will be at 7 p.m. April 29 at Rochester City Hall, 30 Church St., as part of National Dance Week. For more, call OASIS, (585) 730-8800 or go to www.oasisnet.org/Rochester.

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