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Shuffle ball step! West Hawaii Dance Theatre gets kupuna tapping their toes

April 14, 2017 - 2:05am

It’s been said that dancing is the poetry of the foot, and no genre of dance expresses this better than tap dancing. From Gene Kelly to Fred Astaire, from Shirley Temple to Ann Margret, just try watching a tap number without smiling.

Or better yet, sign up for an adult tap class with instructor Juanita Finkenberg at West Hawaii Dance Theatre and Academy in Kailua-Kona.

On Fridays, at 8:45 a.m., adult students of all shapes and sizes lace up their tap shoes and get ready to learn some time steps and flaps. Finkenberg wasn’t sure who would sign up for her adult tap classes at first, but one of her students had the idea to make the class a big hit. One of her students, “Al,” had a lifelong dream of learning to tap dance and decided to recruit some of his friends to fill the class.

“I assumed we would have three to four kupuna students after communicating with Al a few times on the phone and settling on a time to meet,” said Finkenberg. “We started the first class with five students and have continued to add ever since. The men outnumber the women. That is not the norm in any dance class for sure. We started with tennis shoes or street shoes and now almost everyone has real tap shoes.”

Finkenberg focuses extra attention on warmups and stretching, as well as balance and posture. Her group is very active outside of dance class and have a strong drive to learn.

“Perhaps the most surprising thing I have learned from this class is that the dedication to learning is stronger than exhibited in the younger students,” said Finkenberg. “These kupuna work harder, practice more and are more focused on accuracy and perfection than the younger students. Plus, they really have fun doing it. They bring great joy and excitement to every class.”

Finkenberg notices how the younger students at the studio show respect for elder dancers and believe they can learn a lot from their elders.

“I do believe they could learn much from the kupuna,” she said. “Dedication, accuracy, persistence, joy for opportunity, working towards a new goal, adapting when necessary, but never giving up and humility are all evident with this kupuna group and would be an asset to the younger dancers. The kupuna would love to “share the floor” with the younger tap dancers who would bring excitement, skill, fresh energy and advanced talent.”

Finkenberg hopes to offer a studio performance to bring the younger and older dancers together on the stage.

“I tell the kupuna, ‘I’m taking you on the road,’ and I truly mean that,” she said. “We are working on two tap dance numbers that will hopefully be performed at some point. The younger tap dancers are working on three numbers right now so we would have a nice short tap program once those numbers are completed. Of course, I need to get costumes, too. That is part of the fun.”

While tap dancing may look easy when performed by professionals, it takes time and devotion to build skill and talent, said Finkenberg.

“The joy comes when one is able to make progress,” she said. “Challenging the mind and the body at the same time and doing so with great music and supportive friends is the best way to manage a new challenge. The kupuna class members have surprised me in how quickly they are making progress. They are picking up the movement faster than the young students. They are focused on the moment and the skill. This class coming together is one of those serendipitous events in life. Everything lined up to make it all happen and it is bringing joy to many. How great is that?”

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