91-year-old retirement home resident starts tap troupe

Posted at 5:56 AM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 08:53:56-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — During the pandemic, a 91-year-old retirement home resident dusted off her tap shoes and started a tap class at The Heritage atBrentwood in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I've been dancing on and off probably all my life. It seems like it anyway," said The Heritage Tappers founder and director Tonie DeTorre.

She tried out for the Rockettes in New York as a young woman but was denied due to her short stature, so she went home and started teaching tap. She continued teaching in various cities her family moved to well past when her children were grown.

Decades later, she and her husband moved to The Heritage at Brentwood retirement home during the pandemic. She was looking for a tap dancing group with no luck.

"So my dancing gave up until I met Kathy [Hancock]. And Kathy said to me, ‘Do you know what we should do? Something about this tap group.’ I said, ‘Oh, Kathy, I used to teach.’ I should never have said that! That was the mistake! So here we are," explained DeTorre.

The Heritage Tappers Founder and Director Tonie DeTorre

Together DeTorre and her friend Kathy Hancock, who also grew up tap dancing, put out a call to other residents and formed a tap dancing troupe.

"My group is fantastic. There's a few of them that have been cheerleaders," explained DeTorre. "[But one woman] she's had a stroke. She is good. Not perfect, but good. And she can really, really dance."

Hancock, who helps DeTorre teach the women, said, "I do what Tonie tells me. Give a little extra help to somebody when she's teaching. But she's the brains behind the operation."

The group started with just five or six women at the end of 2021 but in the spring had a consistent eight dancers.

The Heritage at Brentwood did not have a tap class when Tonie DeTorre moved in so with the help of a friend she made at the retirement home they recruited other women, some with no tap experience, to join their class.

For DeTorre, whose husband's health is declining, she said the tap class has filled a void she really needed.

"The tap has been a godsend to me," DeTorre said tearfully. "I will continue until I can't do it anymore."

Hancock said beyond friendships built, she has seen the women's coordination improve through the class.

"The mind telling the limbs what to do, the balance has improved greatly. So that's kind of nice to see," explained Hancock. "I think they're all very proud and they should be. They've really worked hard. It's not easy to start this at this stage of life. Some of them had no clue about one step following the other but they do now."

The Heritage Tappers Co-Director Kathy Hancock

"I think these girls that are here are just like me, we're gonna stick it up as long as we can. And, they're good. I thoroughly enjoy it," DeTorre explained.

The group is set to perform during the "Amateur Hour" at The Heritage in October and will continue to practice every Monday for their "Singin' in the Rain" performance—a dance DeTorre performed years earlier.

"We had the raincoats. We had the umbrellas. We had boots. So we talked here [with the Heritage Tappers] and they said, 'Well, what did you wear under the coat?' I said, 'We wore bikinis and we danced.' And they said, ‘No!’ So we said, ‘That's enough. No, none of that.’ So we're going to go with the slacks!"

To keep up with The Heritage Tappers' progress, follow their progress on Facebook.

The Heritage Tappers Director 91-year-old Tonie DeTorre choreographs the songs and teaches them to the residents in their class.