Jessie Chambers strapped on her first pair of tap shoes when she was a teenager and she hasn’t stopped dancing yet. The founder of Gotta Dance Troupe, a dance group for Fairfax and Loudoun women 55 years old and up, teaches tap, jazz and swing lesson twice a week at the Sterling Annex on Shaw Road.
"I tapped my way through my teens. Then I gave it up for other things. I got married, had children," she said. "I started back up when I retired."
The Sterling resident joined a line-dance group when she moved to the area in the 1980s, in order to stay active and meet some friends. In 1990, she took over the group, changed the dance to tap and put a name to it.
"And we’ve been dancing ever since," she said.
The active senior met her dance partner, Judy Searle at a water aerobics class at the Herndon Community Center in 1992.
Chambers told Searle, a former tap dancer herself, of the Gotta Dance Troupe and Searle jumped on board.
"I’ve always loved to dance," Searle said. "I’ve been dancing since I was 9 years old."
Searle danced from age 9 to 15, when she was injured. The Gotta Dance Troupe brings Searle back to a place she said she missed for quite some time.
"It’s a great way to stay active," she said. "It keeps me young."
SEARLE IS OUT the door of her house by 8:30 a.m. everyday.
"I’ve always been a morning person," she said. "I’m always in a good humor."
On Mondays, the 70-year-old takes swim aerobics, weight training and tai chi. On Tuesdays, she teaches dance lessons at the Sterling Annex. On Wednesdays, she packs a bag for swim aerobics and Pilates. She teaches dance again on Thursdays, and Fridays, she swims and lifts weights.
"It’s a very busy schedule," Searle said, "but it makes me feel good."
Searle said she looks forward to Tuesdays’ and Thursdays’ dance classes because it not only gives her a good workout, but it gives her a chance to teach some of her favorite dances.
Classes begin at 9:30 a.m., but some students show up early to go over dance moves. Chambers and Searle go over tap, jazz and swing to songs like the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Hooked on Swing." Chambers, Searle and the students, ages 55 to 94, warm up for about a half hour. Then they get down to business and dance for about two hours.
"You don’t have to dance to join the group," Searle said. "That part's my job."
THE GOTTA DANCE Troupe completed its 17th season with a recital Saturday, May 5, at Park View High School in Sterling. But these ladies haven’t stopped dancing. On Tuesday, May 15, the ladies filed into the Sterling Annex again to tap, swing and slide across the dance floor.
Sterling resident Barbara Shenton has been taking classes with Chambers for 17 years.
Like the majority of the students involved, Shenton tapped when she was a little girl.
"I’ve always loved to dance," she said. "I still do. I’m just not kicking as high as I once did, but I’m still kicking."
Nine-year Gotta Dance Troupe veteran Mary Boyle said the best part about the class is the friends she has made along the way.
"I like the dance, too, but I’ve made such good friends through the class," Boyle said.
A group of women from the class take vacations together, go to the beach in the summer and go shopping on the weekends.
"I love to dance and I love the people," Shenton said. "We’re a good support system. If anybody gets sick, if anybody has a problem, we’re here for them."
Over the course of the year, the women perform a number of shows at local community centers, churches and nursing homes.
"We’ll dance for anyone who would like us to dance," Searle said. "It’s a good show."