Yonkers's 85-year-old tap dancer
Still Kicking at 85
One Woman’s Prescription for keeping happy and healthy
By Marisa LaScala
A dapper young man sits at a piano and strikes up a few major chords. Twelve women in coal-black top hats and sparkly sequin leotards rush to their places in four army-straight lines. As a familiar tune from A Chorus Line wafts across the dance studio, tap instructor and choreographer Selma Rothstein of Yonkers begins to count: “And-a-one, and-a-two…” All at once, the dancers, dubbed the Tappettes, start clicking their heels, kicking their legs, tipping their hats, and weaving in and out in intricate formations.
Rothstein, wearing a contagious grin, calls out instructions from her perch on the director’s chair. “A bit more to the left, Mary!” she orders. “There’s your audience, girls—smile for them!” And as she does, her legs follow along, gracefully, accurately. She doesn’t miss a step.
This is no ordinary dance class. Rothstein is 85 years old. “A great-grandmother of four,” she announces proudly. Her students range in age from a youthful 47 to a spry 85. Rothstein started the troupe—which includes professional entertainers, former USO dancers, and casual tappers—more than 30 years ago. Halfway through their routine, I realize that some of these women have been dancing together for longer than I’ve been alive.
As Rothstein will be the first to tell you, this class isn’t just about dancing; it’s about living. “The reason people my age get old is because they get lonely,” she says, noting that she lost her husband nine years ago. “I’ve heard that loneliness is the number-one killer in America and I believe it. What keeps me young is being involved with these people.”
By observing just a few brief interactions, it becomes obvious her students, who dance for two hours every week at the YWCA in
From retired school psychologist Ina Winick of
From Judy Terracciano, a
Rothstein’s love of dance began when, as a three-year-old, she was told by doctors to take lessons to repair “weak muscles”; by age 15, she and a friend had opened their own teaching studio in
Today, she exercises, stretches, and dances for an hour each day. In addition, she teaches two 120-minute classes each week: the tap class and a “Fit for Life” class that combines stretching, yoga, ballet, and modern dance. What once was a prescription for weak muscles has turned into Rothstein’s personal prescription for a long, healthy life.
Apparently, it works. Recently she underwent minor surgery, but, she assures, “I was teaching again the next week. I didn’t skip a single class.”