When they tap, their heels all come down at once, the silver dance shoes brisk against the floorboards: click. Then the toes: clack. Then the heels again: click. They duck their heads. Their hat brims gleam. Their legs are sheathed in sheer black mesh. A dozen pink parasols lift in unison. "Okay, girls, let's take it again," the teacher calls, and behind him they straighten into lines, point their parasols, and wait for the music to begin. At performances they walk onstage and peopIe burst into applause before they ever start to dance.
We have a wonderful time declares Vilma Lo Grasso, who is, at 63, rather a junior member of the Nevada State Troupers; the director is a great-grandmother, a few of the dancers are in their eighties, and an aspiring dancer must be at least 50 to be invited to join.
"Ninety-nine percent of these people had never had a tap lesson in their lives," says Mary Lou Ricci, 73, who founded the Troupers eight years ago after she moved to Las Vegas from the Midwest, where she had owned a series of dance studios. In Las Vegas, Ricci began taking a seniors' tap class, and she took over the class when the teacher left town. Soon she was training new dancers to teach some classes themselves, and in short order she had scores of women lining up in their leotards and tap shoes, eager to step it out in front of an audience. There are 268 Troupers now, including a handful of men. They've danced for schools, churches, nursing homes, cruise ships and private gatherings at places whose names must still make a Vegas dancer quiver: the Flamingo, the Gold Coast, the Aladdin
"We all bless Mary Lou for starting this," says Lo Grasso, whose husband sometimes marks her departure for a performance with an appreciative wolf whistle. "It's a great feeling."
Real Troupers, from left: Mary Lou Ricci, Betty Loosbrook, Marie Garn, and Shiela Cipro.