PALM HARBOR — "Everybody has to have a passion," said Jean Miccio of Clearwater. "You should do whatever you enjoy in life."
The click-clicking of square-heeled shoes does it for her. Every Tuesday morning, Miccio, 77, goes to the Palm Harbor Community Activity Center to do what she loves best: dance.
She shares that passion with the leggy teacher of the tap dancing class, Judy Koch, a former dancer with New York's famed Radio City Music Hall Rockettes more than 50 years ago.
Koch, who moved to Palm Harbor five years ago, started this class in 2006 after a visit to New York. While there, she danced for fun with a small group of seniors and felt rejuvenated.
"For two hours I had a smile on my face," she said. "I realized how much I missed dancing."
The Palm Harbor dance class grew from the seed of that renewed joy.
Eight or so women from north Pinellas County show up each Tuesday to exercise their minds and bodies, learn something new and just have fun. Koch provides all of that for the women, who range in age from 55 to 80.
Koch, 71, moves with such fluidity that the casual observer is fooled into believing the dance steps are a piece of cake. Not so. The complex steps take a lot of work to perfect. Koch does all her own choreography and has taught the women eight routines to date.
Their signature piece, she said, is a dance to Frank Sinatra's New York, New York. The women have other favorites as well, including Buddy Holly's That'll Be the Day and Sweet Georgia Brown, a familiar tune perhaps best recalled as the theme song for the Harlem Globetrotters.
"They're doing amazingly well," Koch said, "but I have to keep the challenges going."
Her students run the gamut in experience and expertise. Some have never danced, some danced as children, and one is a teacher of tap herself, conducting an evening class once a week.
Koch's career dates to early childhood. From age 3, when the former Judith Goodman began dance classes, she performed publicly with her older brother, Len Goodman. Koch said she and her brother appeared on some television shows in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They also danced in local nightclubs throughout their teenage years.
In her youth, Koch had been impressed with the renowned Radio City chorus line and auditioned to join them in 1956. "I wanted to be a part of that line," she said, "and I valued the discipline of learning to dance as one."
She still has pictures of her days with the Rockettes. One shows her in costume in the rooftop garden of Radio City Music Hall where the dancers went to relax between shows.
Her enthusiasm and hard work impress her students. Cookie Manning of Palm Harbor and Judith Curtis of Clearwater Beach, both in their 60s, are new members of the class, although both began tap dancing a few years ago. The two women said they are motivated by watching Koch in action.
"I love it," Manning said. "It's fun, it's good exercise and it challenges my brain."
Curtis, who practices regularly at home, said, "I plan to continue for fun and to keep in shape."
Some students discovered that their health improved — an additional benefit from dancing.
At the end of a recent session, the women donned top hats for the closing number, Singin' in the Rain. Koch went around tipping their hats at a rakish angle.
"Attitude," Koch told them with a grin. "Remember to have attitude."
Elaine Markowitz is a freelance writer in Palm Harbor. She can be reached at email@example.com.