Tappers Extraordinaire in Brunswick County

by Jun 20, 2018Brunswick County Life, South Brunswick

Linda Boretti leads South Brunswick women from non-dancers and novices to Tappers Extraordinaire.

A chance meeting and an unusual sharing of information derailed Linda Boretti’s plans for retirement and changed the lives of countless wannabe dancers.

Here’s what happened as told by those who were there 17 years ago when this all began. It seems that a group of women from St. James were at a neighborhood party when the conversation turned to the upcoming St. James on Parade talent show. Someone suggested that they dance in it, and they all readily agreed that would be fun, except for one big problem – none of them knew how to dance.

“That’s not a problem,” said Paula Watts, who may have had a little too much to drink. “I’ll teach you how to tap dance.”

In the stark light of morning, Watts remembered her offer and panicked. She hadn’t tap danced since she was 5 years old, and at nearly 70 she thought she probably couldn’t do it now, even in the unlikely event that she remembered some of the steps. And then fate blessed her.

Watts’ husband, George, played golf that morning with John Boretti. The two had never met, so the usual “Where are you from? What did you do?” questions were exchanged. Boretti mentioned that his wife, Linda Boretti, was a professional dance instructor and had her own studio back in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, George Watts couldn’t wait to get home and tell his wife about this fortuitous coincidence. He suggested that she call Linda Boretti, which of course she did immediately.

Boretti agreed to help Watts out of her misery and teach these women how to tap dance well enough to perform in the upcoming St. James talent show, which all 15 of them did.

Now Boretti has weekly classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced tappers, and she estimates that over the years she has taught more than 100 later-in-life dancers. They are now well known as the Tappers Extraordinaire and they have performed from Wilmington to Myrtle Beach in some very impressive venues, in addition to performing for many fundraisers and community events.

The Tappers have danced in three of Brunswick Community College Foundation’s productions of Dancing with the Brunswick Stars, which raised money for student scholarships. They performed on the Henrietta in Wilmington for a Thalian Hall fundraiser and at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach.

Their latest gig was a highly professional Christmas performance at the Brunswick Senior Resources Center in Southport, in which they teamed up with Tom Pezanowski’s Upstairs Gang and Jane Izod’s madrigal singers for a very appreciative audience of folks from the nearby convalescent homes.

The group began as the Rockerettes and was made up primarily of women who lived in St. James. The next class called themselves the Taptations. Not long after that, women from Southport, Oak Island, Bald Head Island, Boiling Spring Lakes, Leland and Sunset Beach joined the group. In 2005 they changed their name to the Tappers Extraordinaire.

Extraordinary they are, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had some missteps along the way, which long-timers Barbara McMichael and Gerri Sovak love to recall.

Sovak’s favorite story is about when they were doing a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity in Brunswick Community College’s Odell Williamson Auditorium.  “One of the women who had some difficulty seeing got too close to me in the dance line and our sequined costumes became attached,” she recalls. “I told her to just hang on to me and we would shuffle through together.” Could the audience tell what had happened? I guess we will never know.

McMichael and Sovak also reminisce about the time at the Amuzu Theater in Southport during the Charles Dickens Christmas Festival performance that the group was on stage and ready to dance to “The 12 Days of Christmas.” But the music started out on the third day of Christmas. A quick-thinking Linda had them start over, only to have the singer’s timing way off on try number two. So they started over for a third time. And that time they got it right.

The group’s other performances at the Amuzu Theater have all gone off without a hitch. They did their first professional show there in 2006 when they were in Jesus Christ Superstar. Shortly after that they had the opening number in Amuzu’s performance of Chicago. If you saw Chicago played anywhere else you probably don’t recall seeing an opening chorus line. That is because there wasn’t one. This was suggested by the play’s director, having remembered the audience’s enthusiastic response to the Tappers performance in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Most of Boretti’s students haven’t danced since they were children and some never did but always wanted to. “For many of the girls, it’s their dream come true,” Boretti says. All agree they are having a wonderful time dancing, learning new steps, forming new friendships, laughing and encouraging one another. They are like a close-knit sorority, which is an enviable and totally unexpected happening in their later years.

The women have high praise for their instructor, describing her as wonderful, extremely upbeat, happy, patient and supportive. One of her newer students says, “She brings out the performer in all of us. If you had told me a year ago that I would be tap dancing in front of a bunch of people, I would have said you are crazy. But there I was at our Christmas show, tapping my little heart out in front of a bunch of strangers and having the time of my life.”

Her students are also quick to point out the benefits of dancing, both mental and physical. Former student Pat Wahl says, “It’s great exercise. After I started dancing my cholesterol went way down.” Dawn Pieper says she wanted to dance to maintain her mental capacity and improve her tennis game. When asked if it helped her tennis, Pieper sheepishly smiles and says, “Well, they (USTA) put me back up to a 4.0, so maybe it did.” She goes on to say that she had never danced before. “You can tell the ones who have. It must be muscle memory that makes them do it so well,” she says.

Teri Dixon is a good example of that. She started with the Tappers a little over a year ago and has already moved up to the intermediate class, although she still does the beginner’s class as well, because she said she needs the practice. She says she hadn’t tapped since she was 5 or 6, when she took both tap and ballet. “All I remember is the Shirley Temple position and that I danced in “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Duck.” But apparently that was enough to give her a running start all these years later.

Pat Tucker played Dolly Parton in that first St. James talent show, and when she saw the Tappers she knew she wanted to be one. She joined up right away and has loved every minute of it ever since. MaryAlice Smith and her husband had a condo in St. James for years before they finally moved there permanently. Several years ago she saw the Tappers perform at Waterway Park and decided right then that she would join them as soon as she could. They moved in August and she joined up in September. She tapped in her 20s and is thrilled to be back doing it after a 40-year layoff.

For Boretti, who has been dancing ever since she can remember, the Tappers are a continuation of a lifelong career of teaching. After graduating from Boston College she received her dance teacher training certification from Dance Educators of America in New York City. She owned and operated her own dance studio in Pennsylvania for more than 20 years, teaching tap, ballet, pointe and jazz.

Her only regret? “When I retired down here, I left all my music and notes back in Pennsylvania.” Little could she have imagined that she would need all of that for a rigorous teaching schedule once again – in “retirement.” And that she would make the dream of dancing come true for so many older women, all of whom are between the ages of 50 and 80-something and are ever so grateful for the opportunity to have fun exercising while enjoying the camaraderie of other dancers and hearing the applause after each show.

Want to dance?

All three Tappers Extraordinaire classes practice on Monday morning at the St. James Community Center at 4136 Southport-Supply Road SE. If you would like to find out more about them or join their group, or hire them for an event, you can email Linda Boretti at lindaboretti@gmail.com.

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