The Wright Tappers

 In Local Art Scene, Music/Entertainment, OBX Community
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kay, folks, here’s your Outer Banks trivia question for this issue: What’s feathered, sequined, glittery, over fifty, and thrives on toe-tapping rhythm? Why, it’s the Wright Tappers, of course! They are a talented group of over fifty something, tap dancing divas. The eldest of whom recently turned ninety. (Yes, that’s 90!) These “Doyens of the Dance” proudly perform all over our area. They bring smiles to nursing home residents, assisted living units, various events and groups or parades. They can also be seen at the Outer Banks Senior Games, and the Silver Arts competition where they are currently the defending North Carolina State Champions (large dance groups category). Photo gallery at bottom of page

wright tappers
The Wright Tappers at the American March in 2000, where they received a gold medal for performing a medley of patriotic songs.

About The Wright Tappers

According to co-founder, Jane Smallwood (the 90 year old), the Wright Tappers originated as a group in 1989, with the intent to exercise and enjoy the benefits of tap dancing. Their skills grew, their scope expanded, and the ladies have tapped the boards now for thirty years. These dancers certainly embody Justin Timberlake’s lyrics, “Sunshine in my pocket, good song in my feet.” You just can’t help but smile around tap dancing. It’s a happy place, to be, to do, or to experience. This ensemble is united unanimously in their love of tap dancing and their joy in performing. And it shows.

wright tappers

Left: The Wright Tappers at The Outer Banks Senior Games before 1998. Right: ‘The Blue Sisters’ winning gold for Dare County in 2012 performing Sweet Home Chicago.

A life-long dancer, Jane Smallwood, as a young woman, danced as a professional who even had a roll in a Hollywood movie. The movie was “Road to Bali” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Miss Jane has been Co-Director for the troupe since its inception and now shares those duties with cohort Gene Webster. The scrapbooks of articles and clippings citing the accolades of this remarkable troupe are numerous. As are the closets full of dazzling, twinkling, colorful costumes and accessories for each member. The troupe makes tap dancing look easy. But, make no mistake, there’s no magic wand wielded by the directors to create and implement a new number for the crew’s next performance. Once the choreography is imagined, a new dance only comes into existence through hard work, sweat, and practice, practice, practice. These dedicated tappers diligently rehearse twice a week, as well as perform in as many opportunities as they can. When asked the same question, individually, “Why do you do this?” surprisingly, the Wright Tapper ladies each gave me the same answers: the camaraderie, the friendships, and the exercise. One dancer elaborated, “It keeps me young, and learning new routines keeps me sharp.”

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Gold medal winners in the 2007 state finals.

Invited by a friend, Rae Eley began with the Wright Tappers around 1993. Concerned she had no tap dance experience, she expressed her dismay for her lack of skills. She was immediately told to “get to the back of the line,” where she began her hoofer apprenticeship. She enjoyed it, stayed, and found a new passion. Miss Rae reflected, “It’s such wonderful exercise. We have our exercise before we start to dance. But when they told me I would eventually get my foot on top of the ballet bar, I thought they were crazy. I’m ‘almost’ five foot one.” Time proved it true, and now she can stretch her legs and feet onto that bar. Miss Rae knowingly smiles, “So that’s what exercising will do for you.”

Next I asked her if she did this just for the exercise. Without losing a beat, she replied, “No, I do it because I love to dance.” Motivation as pure and simple as a shuffle step!

“Well, then, what emotional benefit do you get from all this effort?” I asked.

”Joy,” was her enthusiastic reply. “When you go to some of these nursing homes and perform for these people, it’s heartfelt to see the joy they receive from our dancing.”

Miss Rae then told a tale on herself. When their troupe performed at the opening of the North Carolina Aquarium, she had packed her three costumes and shoes for their routines. But when it was time to change, she realized she only had two left tap shoes in her bag. Plucky as she is, she said, “I love performing, and the show goes on, even in two left shoes.” She strutted her way through all three routines like that.

Carmela Finelli joined the group in 2008, having moved to the Outer Banks ten years earlier. Her intent was to expand her circle of friends. She found a good fit with the Wright Tappers. Rehearsals developed good acquaintances which grew into dear friends, as time passed. The chaos and pressure of performance strengthened the solidarity of those friendships. Then, Miss Carmela did what many before her had done…she got in touch with her inner ham. Yes, she found that crazy, latent performer that many of us sequester beneath our mask of social acceptability. She says of this, “What we do is an outlet to perform, to show off. It allows you to put yourself out there. We have costumes and a stage.” Her recommendation is just let yourself go and have fun with it!

I’m sure you see a pattern developing here with the Wright Tappers: happiness, optimism, joy, fun, love, and many lives enriched through the performance of dance. Like the ripples in the puddles where Gene Kelly tap dances in the downpour of his famous scene from “Singing In The Rain,” the effects are felt by all the people touched; dancers and audiences. What I’ve learned from these terrific ladies of the Wright Tappers is that you try to do your best every time you’re on stage, but sometimes you have to dance in two left shoes. After all, The show must go on! ♦

To book the fantastic Wright Tappers for your event, contact Jane Smallwood at 252.261.2552. 

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