Age is just a number, right? If you have any doubts, some statistics from the St. Louis Strutters dance troupe may convince you. The team includes 14 performers who have been together 33 years. They produce 85 shows annually, hold 52 all-day rehearsals each year, make at least five costume changes during each show, and have performed on three continents. They’ve also raised $170,000 for charity—and their youngest member is a sprightly 60 years of age.
Once they’ve wowed audiences with their high-energy tap routines and gorgeous costumes, the Strutters conclude each performance with dancer introductions. And just like with most families, the baby gets to go first. Audiences are always surprised to learn the dancers’ ages, and that surprise turns to astonishment when Pat Bruder, a founding member, announces that she is 85. (When the Strutters first came together in 1985, Bruder was the youngest member at 52.)
“In the beginning, it was just six dance teachers who wanted to get together and do our favorite kinds of dancing, tap and chorus line,” Bruder says. “One of the teachers had a studio, and we started creating routines. Then someone invited us to do a show, then another and another. Before we knew it, we were doing 25 to 30 performances a year, and we just kept building from there.”
Over three decades, the Strutters have been invited to perform in Russia, Australia, Atlantic City and Las Vegas and at countless venues throughout the St. Louis area, including The Muny. They also traveled to Chicago to perform for the judges of America’s Got Talent. In addition to dancing around the globe, several of the Strutters are pageant queens and runners-up. Pat Bruder, Marcene Tockman, Jan Barrett, Marlene Grant and Deborah Gross all have taken top honors in the Ms. Senior Missouri pageant.
It’s glamorous fun, but it’s also hard work, Bruder says When the group holds auditions, aspiring members are not always prepared for the level of expertise necessary to master the group’s intricate routines. “We just make it look easy,” Bruder notes.
Recalling her own introduction to the Strutters, Tockman says, “When I was 50, I was diagnosed with cancer and began teaching dance to take my mind off it. One day, I heard sounds coming from another room; it was the Strutters practicing their tap dancing!” They invited her to audition, and she was one of just four chosen from a group of 40 women who tried out.
While the Strutters have donated a great deal of money to charities over the years, Tockman says the women get back much more than they give. “After one performance at a local senior community, an audience member took my hand and said, ‘Please come back! You are the best thing that has happened to me since I move here,’” she notes. “That made me cry.”
Audiences include fans of all ages. “One of the most satisfying things is when young girls come up to us after a show and say, ‘Wow! I wish I could do that!’” Bruder notes. “They really appreciate what we do.” The dancers rehearse for several hours each week, but they still find time to celebrate one another, especially when there’s a milestone birthday. “We are really good at parties,” Tockman says.