story by Rose Kahele
photo by Ann Cecil
“Rule Number One: Nobody is allowed to die,” says Barbie Paris, tongue planted firmly in cheek. Paris, seventy-nine years old and still glittering (literally and figuratively) after a morning performance, is describing some of the requirements for joining The Steptaculars, a Waikiki-based dance troupe of high-stepping seniors. Which leads us to Rule Number Two: Only dancers sixty years and older may apply.
The Steptaculars was founded eighteen years ago, when officials at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center called the Waikiki Community Center looking for live entertainment—any entertainment. Members of the center’s senior dance class showed up with their tap shoes and performed a couple of numbers. They were a huge hit.
Since then, both the dance routines and costumes have become increasingly complex and elaborate. Today, there are twelve active Steptaculars, who have a busy schedule of between eighty and 100 performances a year. Their main venues are care homes throughout O‘ahu, where they perform twelve different seasonal and holiday programs. They also have a monthly show at Ala Moana Center’s Centerstage.
In addition to all that performing, The Steptaculars rehearse for two to three hours, once a week. Which leads us back to Rule Number One: In the troupe’s nearly two-decade history, only two members have passed away—and one of the deceased had been diagnosed with terminal cancer before he joined the group. In addition, no member—active nor retired—has yet been admitted into a care home.
“When you dance, people are so appreciative, and there are a lot of happy feelings going back and forth,” says Paris, who has been The Steptaculars’ coordinator since 1993. “Dancing keeps us in pretty good shape, but it’s something more. When you perform you get this wonderful infusion of happiness, and nothing hurts.”