Leslie Earnest and YMCA bring dance to adults with ‘Flint River Tappers’

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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Leslie Earnest comes from a background in tap dance, and she’s using that experience to bring dance to Bainbridge. 

Earnest leads an adult tap dancing class at The YMCA. Her class, and the group of ladies involved, has adopted the name: “The Flint River Tappers.”

“A lot of us did [dance] when we were little girls,” said Elise Mang, a Flint River Tappers member. “Suddenly, it comes back. [Leslie] talked about it, and a few of us did it before Christmas, and she said, ‘I’ll just start a regular class.’” 

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Earnest came to Bainbridge from Tallahassee, where she spent time as a dance instructor. She said one of the things that stuck out to her was a lack of dance opportunities for adults.

“I was really, really sad because there was no place for not only adults but just even for somebody with my teaching background,” Earnest said. “I was more of the teacher that taught less technique and more of, ‘let’s just keep moving. Let’s have a great time, you know, everyone can do this.’ Coming to the Y, I really did want to start something like that.”

More than 20 women meet on Wednesday afternoons to practice tap dance routines. Earnest records an instructional video of that week’s dances for her class members to watch at home, then they get together at the Y to practice and perform.

83-year-old Nina Parello joined the class and said it has been helpful not only for staying active but also for combatting symptoms of dementia. Research shows that recalling dance movements stimulates “several areas of the brain,” increasing neuron activity and opening new pathways for “thoughts and ideas,” according to BathesdaHealth.org

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago designed a Latin Ballroom dance for older and elderly adults. Participants in the study reported improvements in memory, attention, and focus.

“[Dementia] has been a part of my family,” Earnest said. “So that’s something that’s really on my heart: to provide a safe place for these ladies to come and do something like this without competition, or pressure, or even body image concerns.”

Earnest said the goal for the Flint River Tappers is to have a full routine down so that they can do performances. The current class is closed to new members due to the routine already being partially developed, but Earnest said she hopes to open the sessions back up for another season of classes. 

“The class is actually closed because we’re moving so fast,” Earnest said. “But we’re hopefully opening to provide more classes to more people of interest.”