Kitchener-Waterloo

Tap-dancing fitness program draws more than 80 seniors a week in small Ontario town

With an average age of 72, the Eden Mills Tappers are proof that you're never to old to try on a pair of tap shoes.

'I don't see myself stopping any time soon,' says 75-year-old Marcia Howard

The Eden Mills Tappers rehearse for an upcoming performance on stage at the town's community hall. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Marcia Howard was 70-years-old when she put on her first pair of tap shoes.

"It's just so much fun. We laugh a lot. I love the exercise. It's excellent cardio, and it's certainly good for the brain," she said.

Howard is one of the Eden Mills Tappers, a group of seniors in a small hamlet just outside of Guelph, who have been tap dancing together for five years.

The group started as a line dancing class, part of a wellness program for older adults.

Marcia Howard is one of the members of the Eden Mills Tappers. She says tap dancing is "food for mind, body and soul." (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

But when the former teacher quit, new instructor Jill Simpson decided to try something new.

"About halfway through I thought, 'Can we spice this up a bit? Why don't we all go to the secondhand store and buy tap shoes,'" Simpson said. "We did about two tap shoe line dances and everybody said, 'Let's just tap.'"

Five years later, the fitness program now draws more than 80 people a week and now has regularly performances for live audiences.

The Tappers have been performing in front of an audience for three and half years. They will take the stage at the town's Swing Dance Night this weekend. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

The tappers have come a long way since they started. Despite an average age of 72, many had never danced before, let alone put on a pair of tap shoes.

"I've always been interested in tap dancing, but I'd never done it. And I was looking for something that my wife and I could do as an exercise," said Rory Fox, the only man in the group.

While he says it can be difficult being the "token male," Fox enjoys the health benefits of tap dancing, particularly when it comes to memory.

Rory Fox says the Tappers have tried to recruit more men, but for now he's known as the group's "token male." (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Simpson has developed a fitness program for aging brains and has worked with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario and the MS Society of Canada.

She said research has shown dance is an effective way to prevent dementia as people age.

"Tap becomes incredible exercise because you think, 'I'm going to go to the store.' You never think about your feet taking you there," Simpson explained.

"We think about what we're going to do when we get there and our feet just do what they normally do, where in tap and dance, generally, we are thinking about all of these different parts of our bodies simultaneously, connecting right and left hemispheres of the brain."

Jill Simpson is the director and choreographer of the Eden Mills Tappers. She has also developed a fitness program for aging brains (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

At 75-years-old, Marcia Howard plans to keep on tapping well into her eighties.

"I might not be performing, but I'll still want to be doing the exercises as long as, you know, my knees hold out and all of that kind of stuff," Howard said.

"I don't see myself stopping any time soon."

The Eden Mills Tappers' next public performance is Saturday night at the Eden Mills community hall.

About the Author

Robin De Angelis is a multimedia journalist based in southwestern Ontario. She has previously worked as a reporter covering local news in Sudbury. Get in touch on Twitter @RobinElizabethD or by email robin.deangelis@cbc.ca

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