Tap, tap, tapping on Ocean Park floors

Dancers in the Undecided Tappers kick up their heels during a recent practice. The mid-40s-plus women's troupe marks its 10th anniversary this year. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

OCEAN PARK - With the click of their heels and a slide in their step, a local group of women has turned their passion for dancing into a gift they share with the community.

The Undecided Tappers started meeting twice a week in Ocean Park a few years ago just to have fun, but at the same time trying accomplish something very important to them. "To show people that they can still have fun, even if they're old," said club president Marya Butler.

The group is made up of about 12 women, ages 45 and up - the oldest member still tapping and kicking at 80. The tappers have been entertaining the community for almost as long as they have been together, about 10 years, most recently at a Christmas party for the residents of Evergreen Court in Ocean Park. They have also performed at several other events and venues in the area, including Lower Columbia College in Longview.

Even though these ladies aren't as young as they once were, that doesn't seem to effect the kind of moves they attempt, including several slides, shuffles, twirls and kicks. During a recent Saturday practice at the Moose Lodge in Ocean Park, after a short break and some discussion, the ladies decided to practice a complicated routine many of them enjoy, a tap dance version of the mambo. The routine involves many sophisticated moves and was choreographed by member Lone Malast's daughter, Mette-Lisa Leavens, who visits from time to time. Leavens has been dancing since she was two, for a time professionally.

"We always want new stuff to do," said Malast, "a challenge."

When Leavens visits to teach a new routine, the ladies videotape her so they can work on it once she leaves. Malast said the new routine her daughter is working on now for their group is a tap dance set to the tune "Putting on the Ritz."

The group was originally formed in 1993, when a couple women started meeting at the Elks Lodge in Ocean Park to learn and practice tap dancing, though they operate a little differently today.

"I know when I came in, there was just the four [women] dancing up front and they said, 'Oh, just go in back, you'll catch on.' But nobody ever told me what the steps were," said Lorrie Kellis. "At that time, they didn't tell us what the different steps were, or how to do them or anything. We just tried to copy what they were doing, but we didn't know what we were doing."

Kellis has "graduated" into becoming the instructor for the group, teaching the steps used in their routines. Kellis doesn't have any real training in the art but says that she kind of learned through osmosis, picking up things as she went along.

The name of the group evolved by - not evolving at all - calling themselves Undecided Tappers.

"And we are. I mean we're undecided on which foot to put out in front of the other," said Butler. "But we have so much fun it doesn't matter. I mean, we're undecided as to where we want to go for coffee."

And the dozen or so ladies who make up the group certainly don't mind newcomers, in fact they encourage people who are interested in trying them out - with the one stipulation that they be at least in their mid-forties.

"We help them out and we show them how, because we need the practice too," said Butler.

The Tappers meet twice a week - on Saturdays at 9 a.m. at the Moose Lodge and Wednesdays at 10 a.m., at the Eagles Lodge, both in Ocean Park.

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