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In Howard County, tap dancing classes aren't just for kids

In Howard County, tap dancing classes aren't just for kids
Adults over 55 are taking tap dancing class at the Kinetics Dance Center in Ellicott City as part of Howard County Parks & Recreation's Active Aging program. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The small dance studio is as noisy as you’d expect with a boom box belting out dance songs, a shouting instructor and a group of enthusiastic dancers tip-tapping across the hard floor

The dancers themselves, however, might be less expected. Rather than giddy children or limber young adults, these dancers range in age from their 50s up to their 80s.

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The class, held Wednesday mornings at Kinetics Dance, an Ellicott City studio, is part of a growing list of offerings from the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks created for adults 50 and older.

Maribeth Vogel, right, of Ellicott City and other adults over 55 take a tap dance class at the Kinetics Dance Center as part of Howard County Parks & Recreation's Active Aging program.
Maribeth Vogel, right, of Ellicott City and other adults over 55 take a tap dance class at the Kinetics Dance Center as part of Howard County Parks & Recreation's Active Aging program. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The list includes other dance classes (ballet, swing dancing, square dancing) as well as a long and growing list of both indoor (painting, fitness) and outdoor (archery, fishing, paddling) classes.

The roots of this booming business for baby boomers are simple: Howard County is getting older, and older Americans in general are looking for more options to occupy their time and to stay fit and social.

A 2017 county study found that the number of residents 65 and older is likely to more than double between 2010 and 2040.

“We decided we needed to expand our programs for this age group,” said Ruth Coleman, hired in 2017 as manager of the department’s Active Aging Program.

As a result of this push, the offerings for older residents has ballooned from 23 programs with 2,473 participants in the fall of 2017 to 37 programs with 2,804 participants in the fall of 2018, with more expected this fall, according to Coleman.

“The whole idea of the 50 to 75 age group is being redefined,” Coleman said. “Just because you retire, doesn’t mean you just want to sit off to the side. Maybe there’s something you always wanted to try but didn’t have the time for. Maybe you want to travel. Or maybe you want to try tap dance.”

The regulars at the Kinetics Dance studio certainly do.

“I love it,” said Judy Goldhirsh, 75, of Columbia. “It’s good exercise, it’s fun, it gives me a wonderful feeling of freedom and movement.”

“Many times,” she added, “the classes (for aging adults) are knitting or sewing or mahjong – things where you just sit and talk or whatever.

I know I need to work out but I’m not very good about going to an athletic club. If I’m dancing, I’m much more likely to get my exercise.”

Tap dancing instructor Gina Bates Brown, center, teaches the tap class for adults over 55.
Tap dancing instructor Gina Bates Brown, center, teaches the tap class for adults over 55. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

“It’s good exercise and I like the sociability,” agreed Joan Harvey, 81, of Columbia. “And Gina’s a good teacher.”

“Gina” would be Gina Bates Brown, a former professional dancer who has taught dancing for nearly 30 years and, at 51, is old enough to take the class.

This is Brown’s first senior class. She makes a few accommodations for the age of her students — “With the little ones, I tell them ‘Jump higher!’ I don’t tell (the seniors class) to jump higher” — but otherwise, she sticks to the usual routines.

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For the students, she added, “It’s great for mind, body and soul.”

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