Moxie Ladies dancer Jackie Cannon taps through a spin during a practice led by Ann Robertson at the Shuswap Dance Centre. Lachlan Labere/Salmon Arm Observer

Moxie Ladies tap into fitness and fun

Seniors keep minds sharp and bodies active through dance

By Barb Brouwer, Observer contributor

At 89, Jackie Cannon is tapping into her joy.

And she is not alone.

Cannon is a member of the Moxie Ladies, a tap-dancing group led by longtime dance instructor Ann Robertson.

Describing herself as a “real ham,” Cannon credits the weekly tap sessions with good health and good spirits.

“I love it, it’s joyful. We dance to a lot of ’40s big-band music and it’s really good exercise; you use the whole core of your body,” she says, noting her doctor is fully supportive. “It’s excellent because we gradually learn a routine, then you have to remember the steps, so you can see where the mental part comes in.”

A Salmon Arm resident since 1951, Cannon began tap-dancing at the age of eight when her mother drove her 30 miles to the next Saskatchewan town for lessons.

A musical soul, she began piano lessons at age four and singing when she was 11.

“Classical singing has always been my passion and I have sung at a million concerts, weddings and funerals,” she says. “I sang and danced in a lot of amateur shows in Saskatchewan and just had a wonderful time.”

Always encouraged by her parents, at age 11 Cannon studied tap-dancing in Winnipeg, followed by singing and dancing in Vaudeville shows in the city’s Beacon Theatre.

But the tap-dance shoes were hung up for 40 years as Cannon’s passion turned to singing and raising a family here.

“Some of the mothers in Salmon Arm found out I was a tap dancer and I gave lessons to young girls,” says the mother of four, who heard about Ann Robertson at the Fifth Avenue Seniors Activity Centre.

“The rest is history,” she laughs. “Everyone is supportive, lovely and a lot of fun, including Ann, who is a wonderful person and a great teacher. We have become another family.”

Lithe, graceful and enthusiastic, the 75-year-old Robertson started dancing in England when she was four years old.

She travelled to Canada in 1952, earning her dance teacher certificate in Ontario. She studied jazz and Martha Graham Dance and Choreography at the University of Calgary when she was 40 and came to Salmon Arm in 1992.

“I started teaching when I was 14 and really developed my own style,” she says. “I would rather encourage and was keen on being careful with dancers.”

Robertson gave lessons on ballroom and western dance, both on her own and at Okanagan College, for some 20 years. She also taught foxtrot, jive and Latin at the seniors’ activity centre.

But Robertson has always preferred tap dancing – “I’ve loved it all my life and it’s something you can do until you are 100.”

A volunteer teacher to the Moxie Ladies, Robertson choreographs her own low-impact routines, especially for seniors.

“Everyone seems to have a knee, hip or foot problem so I must keep this in mind when I am teaching,” she says. “They are so enthusiastic and they keep me on my toes.”

Cannon, who turns 90 in April, has no plans on quitting.

“I’m going to dance for the rest of this season whether I’m 90 or not,” says the happy fireball, who played flute in the community band for 18 years and continues to sing in the choir at First United Church. “I just have to keep on making opportunities for myself.”

The cost of the classes is a modest $10 a month to cover the rent, have an end-of-season lunch and offer financial support to a dance student with any leftover funds.

Anyone who is interested in getting their tap on, may call Carolyn Wonacott at the Shuswap Dance Center, at 250-833-5418.

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