The narrow hallway outside a dance studio near the Marine Drive Canada Line station feels stuffy on a hot Tuesday night as women pull off their shirts and don white vests and black sequined tails.
A gently hunched white-haired woman who’s juggling multiple items drops her purse to the floor.
I hand it to her and say, “Gravity is a pain sometimes.”
“All the way down,” she replies.
Moments later, 14 women of the more than 25-year-old dance group Razzmatap rehearse one of the 10 numbers they’ll perform June 27 at the Norman Rothstein Theatre.
Their moves are lyrical, their faces wistful as they dance to “Try to Remember” from the musical comedy The Fantasticks. That song gives way to show tune “Bring on the Men,” and then suddenly the club hit “Party Rock Anthem” drops. All of the dancers fall into chairs except that white-haired woman, Grace Inglis. At age 86, Inglis takes centre stage to perform a solo to the song’s chorus: “Everyday I’m shuffling, shuffling, shuffling.”
The number, about putting your mother into a nursing home, is one of 10 that the award-winning group of dancers, ages 45 to 86, will perform Saturday night.
Jan Kainer began dancing in a class led by her mother in the 1950s when she was four.
More than three decades later, Kainer, an elementary school teacher, followed in her mother’s footsteps by starting a class for her daughter and friends. Parents told her they wanted a class, too, so Kainer started a tap class for adults at the Kerrisdale Community Centre in 1987. Eventually, Kainer convinced her adult dancers to compete, exercising her creativity through choreography and costumes.
The group of 18 women is composed of two original B.C. Lions cheerleaders, a triathlete, an accountant and a microbiologist, dancers from other disciplines and a few previous non dancers. They have won medals at the World Tap Championships in Germany and showcased their talent a tap festivals in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. They won a silver medal at the Dance World Cup in 2008 with a number called Libertango. Their dance number Sister Suffragette swept the awards at the Raise the Barre Master’s Dance Challenge in 2012.
Diane Anthony, an original member of Razzmatap, set in motion the idea for the June 27 show. The 75-year-old asked Kainer last year whether they were going to raise their Suffragette signs, tap dance on suitcases or slip on any of their old costumes that Anthony stores in her basement ever again.
Fourteen women carrying canes while decked in white bowties, black top hats and sequined tails flank a woman clad in white. They kick and tap to “One, singular sensation” while the woman in white taps and twirls a baton around her legs. They stand tall, broad smiles animating their faces, while they form lines, tip their hats, tap their canes and rap out rhythms with pomp and seeming ease. The energy that powers each movement is contagious. You can’t help but smile as you watch them perform with passion and poise.
The woman in white is retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Donna Martinson. She was 52 in 2002, when she joined Razzmatap after her 17-year-old son told her to get a life.
Martinson found the advanced adult tap class at Kerrisdale Community Centre and was told she’d have to secure Kainer’s permission to join.
“I actually remember the day I got in my car because it’s a bit intimidating,” Martinson said. “I remember seeing all these women my own age and there was just such a buzz.”
She handed out canes, pleased to pick up the steps and pay her dues until it was her time to perform.
“I had no idea whether I would be able to do it,” Martinson said. “I remember thinking, specifically, would I just collapse in a ball?”
When she heard the first few notes of “One,” everything fell into place.
Martinson had stopped dancing in 1967 after feminists booed her at a hockey game for twirling a baton alongside cheerleaders. She was a feminist who wanted to be a lawyer, so she packed up her stick.
Martinson wears a white tux in the number because Razzmatap performed at her wedding in 2009. Her fellow dancers gave her the outfit, white tap shoes and all.
She hopes she won’t have to pack up her ensemble anytime soon, pointing to Inglis as her role model.
“Grace is just my hero,” said the 65-year-old. “If I’m still around, if I can still be dancing at 86 years old, I would be a very happy person.
“I feel very lucky to be at my stage in life and to be able to do very good, sophisticated dancing with good choreography,” she continued. “Sometimes I pinch myself and just think I’m going to be performing in the Rothstein Theatre — that’s pretty cool — with 28 of my good friends and family there to watch.”
Inglis started dancing with Razzmatap at age 67.
She had danced with her aunt Grace Macdonald, a dancer, teacher and choreographer, who is included in the Star Walk on Granville Mall for the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame, from the age of five until her teenaged years.
“And then I took a short 45-year break from dancing,” Inglis quipped.
She played badminton and then pondered returning to dance.
“I said to my sister, ‘I’m too old.’ And she said, ‘You’re not getting any younger just sitting around.’”
Kainer was the perfect person for Inglis to retrain with because Kainer had danced with her aunt.
“And Jan is an amazing choreographer and it couldn’t be a better person to go to,” Inglis said.
Dancing not only reignited her passion for performance but also helped save her life.
Seven years ago, Inglis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Her doctor gave her a big hug and said, “I’m so sorry,” again and again.
But when the surgeon Inglis was referred to heard she was a dancer, he agreed to perform surgery because a dancer’s body acts 10 years younger. He removed her pancreas and she’s carried on, despite her newly acquired diabetes and kidney surgery.
“I’m afraid if I stop my body’s going to fall apart,” Inglis said.
Actor Jay Brazeau will emcee the Saturday night event that features special guests, including musical theatre performer Jeff Hyslop.
Audiences needn’t attend out of good will but out of a desire to be dazzled by Razzmatap.
Its members plan to keep shuffling, shuffling.
The show starts at 7 p.m. at 950 West 41st Ave. For more information, see razzmatap.com.