The women of the ShenShowstoppers shine.
With their sparkling scarves and bedazzled pants, the group can tap its way through “When You’re Smiling” sung by Micheal Bublé or the more rambunctious “All Shook Up” with ease.
At least that’s what seven members of the group did last week at the Clifton Park Senior Community Center. They were led by Janet Murphy, a former Rockette, in ensuing dances to Frank Sinatra singing “My Kind of Town,” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” In between numbers, there were costume changes galore, with flipping capes and interchanging hats and headbands.
A healthy round of applause followed.
“You’d be surprised what they can do,” Murphy said. They even surprise themselves sometimes.
The Showstoppers have been around since 2003 and are made up of women from ages 69 to 94. A few years ago, they started performing at the invitation-only Senior Interstate Tap Show in New Jersey, where they impressed dance teachers and students alike.
“New Jersey inspired us to be our very, very best and after the first time, we realized, these are people who really understood tap dance. They would recognize the time steps and the pinwheel,” said Kate Dudding, one member of the group.
“I can’t tell you the [number] of people who have told me that their more mature ladies and adults can’t do time steps,” Murphy said.
But her dancers, or her ladies as she likes to refer to them, have got the complicated steps down, even though most of them didn’t grow up dancing.
“I always wanted to dance. I grew up watching the old Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire movies but my parents gave me piano lessons. When I was 45, I said I really, really should do something for exercise but the only thing I wanted to do was dance,” Dudding said.
Thus, she started taking dance classes locally and she eventually made her way to the Senior Center and joined the Showstoppers in 2004.
That was a few months after Jackie DiLorenzo had been dancing with Murphy at the Senior Center.
“We were very fortunate to have Janet because we were taught the best that we could have been taught,” DiLorenzo said.
She’s 94 and is quite active, plus she’s got perhaps the best memory in the group.
“Sometimes Janet choreographs as she goes along and if she comes up with something new on Friday, by Monday, sometimes Jackie is the only one who remembers. Not Janet or anybody else,” Dudding said.
“Jackie remembers everything,” Murphy agreed.
The dozen or so members of the Showstoppers take several classes a week, including jazz, tap and ballet style dance classes. Each is 45 minutes to an hour and while it’s physical exercise, Murphy treats it as an art form first.
“I do my own choreography. The ladies are expected to learn all these different dances,” Murphy said. Much of her choreography is inspired by her days as a Rockette, during the 1980s. While she doesn’t make the Showstoppers do high-kicks, she is always looking for ways to challenge them.
“We may complain initially when she introduces a new step but then [we say] ‘She’s trying to elevate us.’ ” Dudding said.
DiLorenzo also appreciates what dancing does for her mind.
“It’s wonderful. They tell us that they consider the dancing one of the best brain healers to keep your brain active and healthy,” DiLorenzo said, “It challenges the brain because you’re learning formations and you’re learning different movements.”
“You learn the steps but then you have to get them in the right sequence and the ones in the middle [are tricky],” Dudding said.
According to the Center for Disease Control, about one in two women engage in no physical activity by the age of 75 and the loss of strength and stamina that’s often attributed to aging is partially caused by inactivity.
It’s part of the reason why the Clifton Park Senior Community Center offers dance classes, including Murphy’s and even Latin, line and Hawaiian dance classes.
“It’s all just great ways to exercise and it doesn’t feel like you’re exercising. It’s not work, it’s fun,” said Sue Leonard, the director of the Center.
The ShenShowstoppers are perfect examples of that.
“The ladies have a blast and that’s the big thing is they’re just having fun and they don’t let being seniors stop them,” Leonard said.
“It’s a fun thing to do. You’re doing such a good thing for your body and your brain,” DiLorenzo said.
“When you’re right on the beat and your arm is where it’s supposed to be, it’s better than chocolate,” Dudding said.
The group has gotten some new members this year, including Linda Gellman and Nancy Hamel.
For Gellman, the socialization aspect of the group has been key.
“This group had been together [for a long time and] they’re very welcoming,” Gellman said.
She joined only a few months ago and because she hadn’t danced in years, she had a lot of catching up to do to join the Showstoppers’ recent performance.
Thus, she decided to film videos of each dance during classes to study and rehearse them at home.
“I started to take video and we created a shared site with video tutorials,” Gellman said. That way the other members could rehearse at home too.
According to Murphy, each member has a role in the group. Dudding often creates the costumes, Gellman filmed the practice videos, and others help to land performances. But most of all, they support one another on and off the dance floor.
“We are a dance family,” DiLorenzo said.
They’re still accepting new members and Murphy would like to start holding more beginner classes for those who don’t have dance experience but would like to join the ShenShowstoppers.
For more info call the Clifton Park Senior Community Center at 518-383-1343 or visit shenshowstoppers.blogspot.com.