Dancers range in age from 58 to 102 — friendship, fitness, fun and community-giving are the central values of the group
By Christine Green
At a recent Oasis Tappers practice Bonnie Bourdage of Penfield said that of all 18 dancers in the troupe she is “one of the babies” at age 73.
But then Jeanette Gruttadauria, 63, of Greece noted that she is “the baby.”
Problem is, they are both wrong.
The true “baby” of the group is Dawn Quattro of Gates. At age 58 she truly is the youngest of them all.
But who is the oldest Oasis Tapper? Well, that’s Marion Fahy of Rochester.
She is a spry 102 years old.
If it isn’t already obvious, the Oasis Tappers are a vivacious, fun group of men and women tap dancing their way through their golden years.
“We just have wonderful people, we have a lot of fun, we have great dances, we love to perform in front of audiences and make them happy. It just gives you a nice feeling,” said Marie Bross, 76, of Victor. She has been part of the dance troupe for over 13 years though, as a former dance teacher herself, she has been dancing most of her life.
The group formed under the guidance of Rochester dancer and choreographer Cayla Allen. Allen started teaching tap dance classes for the over-50 crowd through the Oasis Institute in 1995. Oasis is a nonprofit organization that provides learning experiences and opportunities for adults over 50 at locations around the country. They currently serve over 10,000 people in Rochester and the greater Finger Lakes region.
Erika Atkinson of Webster took over as director and choreographer of the Oasis Tappers 18 years ago. Classes take place at TNT Dance Explosion on Titus Avenue twice a week. Participants must have taken at least one intermediate level tap class and have permission from the director to join. There are currently 18 active troupe members that range in age from 58 to 102. As of right now 17 of the dancers are women. John Baccoli, 88, of Irondequoit is the only gentleman dancer. He’s good naturedly taken on the role of a soldier coming home from war for their “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” routine as well performing as the king himself (Elvis Presley, that is) in another performance.
The tappers perform their routines at senior centers, nursing facilities, festivals, parties, holiday events, and a variety of other venues all over the area. They’ve even performed on stage at Geva Theater.
The Oasis Tappers are serious dancers with years of collective experience and practice, but their dedication to dance is only surpassed by their dedication to each other.
Anyone witnessing their joyful interaction as they practice can tell that there’s a lot of laughter intermingled with the sounds of the silver taps on their patent leather dance shoes.
“It’s a wonderful group of people,” said Jean LaBarbera, 76, of Gates. “They are such great people and I enjoy tap dancing a lot.”
In addition to being a joyful experience it’s a good workout, too. Ginny Stephenson, 81, travels to the city for practice from Brockport because dance, “keeps your spirits up. We dance to music that makes you happy. And it’s good for you.”
Indeed, despite the chilly fall day outside the dancers were working up a sweat practicing nonstop to Christmas songs for their December holiday shows.
Maryanne Lettis, 76, lives in Brighton and is the Oasis Tappers production manager and has danced under the tutelage of Erika Atkinson for 18 years. Being a member of the Tappers has been a special part of her life.
“I have always loved tap,” she told 55 Plus magazine. “I grew up with movie musicals. Oasis Tappers, under Atkinson’s choreography, is the closest I will ever come to dancing like those great dancers; and with a group of men and women who love it as much as I do.”
Atkinson [who is only in her 40s] isn’t quite old enough to be an official member of the Oasis Tappers yet, though she is a dedicated leader for the troupe.
“My favorite part about this group is that they all love being there. They are eager to learn, to advance and to perform. They love the music I play, and are so excited to learn new choreography. They are very inspiring to me, as some of them are 40 years older than me! This makes me feel like I can dance forever. They are wonderful as well in the fact that they are like moms to me and grandmas to my kids. They give me advice, help when I need it, and really are my second family. So very supportive. Every one of them is special to me.”
Friendship, fitness and fun are clearly the central values of the group, but community giving is also an essential part of why each one of the Oasis Tappers give it their all when they dance. Seeing the happiness their productions give those who watch is the highlight of every show.
“We have lots of instances where people in wheelchairs are sitting in the front row and their feet are going like crazy and they’re jumping in their seats,” said Bonnie Bourdage, 73, of Penfield. “It’s just so fulfilling to say we were able to bring some joy to them.”
More on Oasis Tappers?
Want to learn more about the Oasis Tappers? You can find them on Facebook where they have posted videos of several of their routines. To learn more about joining the troupe and the Oasis Institute visit rochester.oasisnet.org. For performance information email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Some dancers of the group Oasis Tappers ready to rehearse. They perform their routines at senior centers, nursing facilities, festivals, parties, holiday events, and a variety of other venues all over the area.