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Happy feet

Thanks to Kay Anderson’s (far right) generosity, the students learn the art of tap dancing at no extra cost.

by Christine A. Holliday

It’s the sound of tap dancing that neighbors of Ella P. Stewart School are hearing on Friday afternoons. That’s when the girls, in all their clickety-clackety joy, get to learn simple tap steps from volunteer teacher Kay Anderson, a native Toledoan whose upbeat personality makes her the perfect instructor for a class with such energy.

Anderson is a volunteer tutor with the Kids Unlimited program, a local group that provides afterschool and summer activities for kids in underserved neighborhoods. Students at Ella F. Stewart School receive opportunities for academic help, character development and self-discipline, all without having to leave their own schools. Tapping the future

There are nearly 50 girls at Stewart, aged pre-kindergarten through 6th grade. Anderson searched local thrift stores and children’s resale shops, as well as online sites like eBay, to find 100 pairs of tap shoes. The future dancers find a pair that fit and lace up, ready to learn simple steps and a manageable routine for an end-of-the-year presentation. They are there to have fun, and dancing to music they like guarantees lots of smiles.

Anderson might be from Toledo, but she’s had plenty of fun outside her home town.  After graduating from Ohio University with a theater degree, she moved to New York City, took her knowledge of tap, jazz, and ballet with her, and waited on tables while she worked toward her big break. 

She had success as a waitress, but jumped at the opportunity to audition for the television soap opera One Life to Live. She earned a small part (only five lines), and made a friend in the casting director, who helped her to find acting jobs. Her short appearance was enough to earn her a Screen Actors Guild card, which enabled her to get small jobs in movies, seven of them filmed in New York.

One of those films was The World According to Garp, which starred Robin Williams. Anderson has very fond memories of working with the late actor. “You hear people say this, and it is so true. Robin Williams was the sweetest, kindest man I ever met. I cried a lot when I heard he’d died. I really felt I’d lost a friend,” she recalled. 

Kindred spirits

Anderson moved to Texas to pursue other acting opportunities. At the same time, she picked up her almost-forgotten love of figure skating, and she competed on an adult level, skating against competitors aged mid-20s to 70s. “The audiences for our competitions would clap if we could get up after a fall. I loved it and gave some serious thought to joining a roller derby team, but I realized my hip replacements might interfere with my ability to handle all that falling and crashing,” she said, laughing. 

When she returned to Toledo 20 years ago, Anderson found a kindred dance spirit in the Manhattan Dance Company. She liked the exercise and the camaraderie, and was delighted when she got to return to New York with the group to appear in the 75th annual Macy’s Day parade. “We were there just weeks after 9/11. The city wasn’t in a celebratory mood, so we were especially glad to be part of something upbeat. People along the side of the streets kept saying to us, ‘We are so glad you came. Thank you for coming,’” she said.

Friends in Toledo encouraged Anderson to get involved with Kids Unlimited. “They kept telling me, ‘You are so full of energy that the kids will really respond to you. They need you.’ So l tried to think of something the kids could do onsite without any cost . . . I decided on tap dancing, and started looking everywhere for used tap shoes. Their feet grow so fast, so I wanted to have shoes of all sizes so any girl would be able to dance,” she said. 

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