Tap dancing is not just kid stuff


Move over, Fred Astaire. There's a new group of tap dancers in town. But they might not look as you expect.

The sound of synchronized rhythms flow up the stairs from the lower floor of the Lincoln Park Community Center. Muted music plays over the clattered taps of metal on the hard floor. But this is not a child's tap dance class. Inside the meeting room, the six senior women practice their tap dance routine, complete with canes.

"So it's hop, shuffle, step, shuffle, ball change, right?" asked Kathy Korhonen, after she finishes the routine to the song "New York, New York."

"Yes, that's it. Isn't it great to be back? I missed it all so much, but the steps are all coming back," replied Becky Erlenbach.

Korhonen and Erlenbach are members of The Top Hats, a group of senior women who get together twice a week to practice for shows they perform in Duluth and Superior. The group is lead by Virginia Magney, an 82-year-old Duluthian and former St. Louis County Social Services employee.

"It keeps us young," Magney said. "We enjoy entertaining and seeing the smiles on our audience's faces."

Magney took a tap class when she was 12 years old and she remembers really enjoying the class. She was disappointed when her teacher told her that they didn't have any classes for teenagers the following year. But she picked the art back up in the 1990s when she began dancing with "The Inspirations," a tap dance group formed in the 1980s and led by Eileen Bonifaci.

"They were pretty popular around town. I saw them in the Christmas City of the North Parade and thought, I will have to do that when I retire," Magney said.

By 2005, most of The Inspirations members had either moved away or died, so Magney formed a new group, called it the "The Top Hats" and began tapping away with new routines.

Most of the women in the group, like Magney, have had previous dance experience, either as a child or later in life. Newest member and Poplar resident Kathy Korhonen learned to tap when she was 4 years old and again when she was 50.

"I started taking tap lessons when my kids left the house. See, when they left I had a piano and a pair of tap shoes just sitting there, so I started taking lessons in both," Korhonen said.

However, some of the dancers never got the chance to learn as a child and are making up for lost time.

"As a child, I really wanted to tap dance, but we had a huge family and there just wasn't a means for me to do that. So I thought, dare I try this at my age? Well, I'm glad I did because it's just been a lot of fun," said Kathy Kadlecek, a member of the group since 2008.

The Top Hats perform their routines mostly at nursing homes, churches and senior centers. Next week they will be the opening act of the Senior Day at Miller Hill Mall. They'll perform to songs like "New York, New York," "Mame," "Sam's Song" and "Stomping at the Savoy" at 11 a.m.

"And of course, we'll be wearing actual top hats," Magney said. "As well as shiny gold coats and dancing with canes."

The group always welcomes new senior dancers, preferably with past experience, gals or guys.

"It's such fun. Dancing is such a joy. It's the most fun way to exercise," Kadlecek said. "You can't frown and dance."

Senior Day at the Mall

On National Senior Health & Fitness Day, Duluth's St. Eligius Health Center is hosting their second annual Senior Day at the Miller Hill Mall on Wednesday, May 27. This event features senior-oriented businesses, products and services, as well as entertainment and activities.

The Top Hats, a tap dancing senior group, will start out the day’s entertainment at 11 a.m. Following that, entertainment will run from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It includes All About Music, Sandy’s Stompers, Ambrosia and Glenn Laspi. There will also informative sessions about eating well, fitness for women, the Mall Walk program and the SilverSneakers FLEX program.

Free blood pressure checks will be available as well as dozens of vendors for the over-55 population.