VISTA — A tap dancing group based in North County is looking for more senior women in North County who want to tap their toes.
The Toe Tappers is a tap dancing group comprised of senior women ranging from 57 to 80 years old, with some past members joining as young as 55 and others reaching their 90s before retiring from the group. From Escondido to Carlsbad, the women who make up the group live all over North and Inland County and meet in Vista to practice.
The Toe Tappers have been performing in San Diego and Riverside Counties for 35 years. According to Manager Fran Vitek, the Toe Tappers first started as an aerobic dance class in a retirement community mobile home park amongst several residents who wanted to exercise close to home.
Sometime later, a few of the women in that original group who had previous tap dancing experience started demonstrating basic tap moves to the others.
“They showed you what you could do with a step-ball-change and a shuffle hop,” Vitek said. “One thing led to another and the group went from a basic aerobic class to tap.”
The group then started developing routines and performing for audiences, and eventually the Toe Tappers were born.
Today, the Toe Tappers perform for senior communities, club meetings and luncheons. The group has three seasons: its patriotic season, which includes performing numbers like “Yankee Doodle” at Memorial Day and Fourth of July celebrations; its Broadway season, which the group starts working on beginning in January and includes performances through September; and its holiday season, which takes up the end of each year for the group.
“We call ourselves ‘seniors entertaining seniors,’” said Hope Malis, dance captain of the group.
In addition to their dances, the tappers also put a lot of effort into their costumes. Most of the dancers have three to four costume changes throughout a show.
“We dress professionally and wear glamorous costumes,” Vitek said.
Currently, the group has eight members and is looking for two more to make it a 10-member group. Interested dancers should be seniors with some previous tap dancing experience.
“We would certainly like to get another senior who hasn’t danced for a while or who is currently dancing,” Vitek said.
Vitek has danced on and off throughout her life. She enrolled her daughters in lessons when they were younger, which kept her tied to the dancing world. She also occasionally took classes when time permitted.
Vitek first joined the Toe Tappers in 2009 after seeing an article in the paper about the group needing dancers. She contacted them at the same time as another woman, Margaret Clive, who saw the same article. The two auditioned together and became good friends throughout their time with the group.
Many of the other women, like Vitek, also danced when they were younger but went through extended hiatuses due to raising children, career changes and other life occurrences.
“I hadn’t danced for 50 years and then I went to a class and found that I could still do it,” Clive said.
Malis, who is set to become the group’s choreographer once she creates her own dance material in the fall, will teach a dance to those who are interested in joining before they officially audition. Malis explained that she is looking for some basic skills as well as a passion for dance in potential members.
“There’s a passion for dancing that needs to be there,” Malis said.
Each member also pulls her own weight behind the scenes and works together with the others to produce a show.
“We’re a happy little group,” Clive said.
“We are,” Vitek agreed. “We get along well.”
The Toe Tappers are delighted by the reactions they get from the seniors for whom they perform.
“It’s just remarkable to watch the changes come over them,” Vitek said.
Vitek recalled seeing a non-verbal woman moving her hands and feet while sitting in a wheelchair in the front row of a Christmas show the group performed at a senior community in Escondido. When Vitek went to meet the woman after the show, she learned from the woman’s daughter that the woman had owned a dance studio for 40 years.
She may not have been talking at 101 years old, but she was still moving along to the beat.
Photo Caption: The Toe Tappers are looking for more dancers. Photo courtesy of the Toe Tappers.