While the average retirement age for professional dancers is mid 30s, members of the dance troupe St. Louis Strutters & Co. are just getting their second wind in their 50s, 60s and 70s. In fact, to become a part of this august group, dancers must be at least 50 years old and of a high caliber—a caliber that has earned the Strutters comparisons with the Rockettes. “We may not kick as high as the Rockettes, but we try to be as perfect as they are,” says longtime dancer and Strutters president Marcene Tockman.
Founded in 1985 by former Vaudevillian and professional dancer Pat Bruder, the troupe has always attracted accomplished dancers, most of whom have performed professionally or who have taught dance at some point in their lives. When the group first started, it consisted of five retired dancers with solo and chorus line experience who got together weekly for a tap workout. Today, the troupe is comprised of 13 seniors who travel to more than 100 performances each year. In addition to a weekly all-day rehearsal at the Merle Scheff dance studio in Creve Coeur, the Strutters average two to three hour-long performances a week, complete with five or six costume changes.
Audiences consist primarily of senior adults, many of whom live in retirement and nursing homes, although the Strutters also perform at large functions and venues, including state fairs, The Muny, the Ms. Senior America Pageant, Variety Club Telethon, Harrah’s and the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. They represented the United States as senior goodwill ambassadors to the Russian Summer Festival in 1993, and again in Australia in 1997. The seniors even strutted their stuff for the judges of America’s Got Talent, making it through two rounds of competition in St. Louis and Chicago.
To date, the Strutters’ performances have raised almost $100,000, which the group donates to a wide variety of not-for-profit organizations, including Our Little Haven, Ronald McDonald House, Camp Happy Days, Alzheimer’s Association and St. Louis area food pantries, to name but a few of the recipients over the last 25 years. They’ve also used proceeds from their performances to help victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
It’s hard work, but very much a labor of love for this “sisterhood of the traveling tap shoes,” as they jokingly refer to themselves. “It’s like a full-time job, but this is also our passion and a dream come true,” Tockman says. “We get this wonderful opportunity to be on stage and share our God-given talents with whoever will watch. It means so much to us to be able to make others smile. We feel that way wherever we perform, whether it’s the Muny or a nursing home, and we can’t wait to do it all over again. It’s an amazing feeling. You give so much of your person when you dance, but you get back far more.”
Wherever they go and whomever they perform for, the St. Louis Strutters never fail to surprise their audiences, especially when they reveal their ages after fast tapping and high kicking, trademarks of their energetic performances.
For information about upcoming performances, visit their Web site at www.stlstrutters.com