SUN CITY CENTER
Sequins, panty hose, costumes made in New York. Tap shoes clicking and clacking on a hardwood stage. This isn't Broadway, and it's not your daughter's recital. It's the Time Steppers, a tap dancing group where the average age is 74.
This year marks the Sun City Center group's 25th anniversary. And to celebrate, well, they're dancing.
"Do it again," Gerry Malden, the group's director and choreographer, shouted during a recent rehearsal in Sun City Center's community hall.
Standing just under 5 feet tall, Malden might look sweet and unimposing, but she sounds like a drill sergeant.
Perfection is at stake.
"These girls like to talk, especially while I'm talking," Malden said under her breath as she tried to quiet down the chattering women between songs.
A former professional dancer and dance studio owner, Malden, 83, became director of the Time Steppers when she moved to Sun City Center in 1999. Fellow residents recruited her for the job before her boxes were unpacked.
"The ladies found out from my Realtor that I was a dance instructor, and I never had a chance," Malden said.
Dressed in matching pink shirts and black shorts, the 11 ladies line up again, this time to practice a kick line resembling the one made famous by the Rockettes. Their panty-hose-clad legs look smooth and spry and could be mistaken for the New York City girls' gams. But the Time Steppers' kicks stop at their waist instead of at their eyes.
"Your last kick looks like you don't even care," Malden shouted at them, not impressed. "Again!"
They do this for two hours, twice a week, year-round.
"We fool around, but Gerry takes it very seriously," said Jody Masterson, 64. Originally a ballet dancer, Malden taught Masterson how to tap when she joined the group three years ago.
"She's an excellent choreographer," Masterson said.
In the end, it's all about fun.
"We all love to dance, so it makes for great camaraderie," Kathy Hatfield said between deep breaths and sips of water.
A dancer on and off again for most of her life, Hatfield, 64, takes a starring role in the group's dance to You're A Grand Old Flag, with a baton twirling routine.
"It's the first time I've twirled a baton since 1964," she said.
She only dropped it a few times.
For the group's oldest dancer, Ann Lee McKenzie, 83, rehearsals are old hat.
From the 1930s to 1950s, McKenzie performed on Broadway with the likes of Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger. She later became a high school dance choreographer for more than 20 years.
The exercise keeps her young, she said. "And my good genes."
Dancing is so important to Pam Treadwell, 72, that she never missed a class, even as she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A five-time cancer survivor, Treadwell said exercise and dance are what helped her pull through.
"I'm a firm believer that when I got cancer, exercise helped me beat it," she said.
The ladies perform six or seven times a year, always in costume, with sequins nearly every time.
"We like to play dress-up," Masterson said.
After almost two hours of practice, the women shuffled off the stage, their shoes still tapping.
"My legs are tired," McKenzie said as she headed out to her bicycle to pedal herself home.
The other women, packing to go home, bid her farewell.
"See you Monday."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.