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Stepping Out

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Foot tapping keeps clogger Carol Brady trim, taut and terrific. 

By Gretchen M. Sanders, Photo by Dale Pohlmeier.

Carol Brady, second from right

It takes some fancy footwork to keep up with Carol Brady. The 81-year-old retired teacher moves her body more than most people half her age.

Thursday nights, she’s busy tapping across a dance floor with the Clickety Cloggers, a dance club that performs traditional Appalachian-style clogging with a modern air. With erect upper bodies and dangling arms, the Clickety Cloggers practice rock-stepping in unison at Dance by Carly studio in South Austin, the double taps on their shoes clicking a lively beat.

“Clogging is very aerobic,” says Brady, a club member for 22 years. “Some dances really get your heart beating and leave you breathless.”

The percussive step seuences work leg muscles and build endurance. Dances choreographed to Irish tunes, Lyle Lovett and Waylon Jennings can last as long as four minutes.

Brady says the high-spirited folkdance may have originally grown out of fabric workers tapping their feet to the beat of their machines. Then the English, Scottish, Irish and Dutch-Germans brought clogging to the U.S. via the Cumberland Gap in the 18th century. From the Appalachian Mountains, an Americanized style of the dance quickly spread throughout the country.

Brady loves clogging because of the people she meets and the opportunities she gets to showcase her moves at festivals, nursing homes and prisons. During her years teaching GED classes at the Kyle Correctional Center, the Clickety Cloggers would perform for the inmates.

“It was the most rewarding thing I ever did,” she says. Here’s how this live wire keeps on hot stepping.

The a.m.: 

“I wake up without an alarm at 6:30 a.m., and hit the floor for 20 minutes of yoga. I have a back problem, so if I don’t stretch, I pay the price. Then I have coffee, feed the dog and read for an hour. Right now, I’m reading The Zealot by Reza Aslan and The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark. I’m too tired to read at night.”

The workout:

“I clog once a week for 90 minutes with the Clickety Cloggers, attend an hour-long yoga class twice a week at Cafe Dance, and do machines and free weights at the Town Lake YMCA on the other days. I also walk my dog twice daily and regularly meet a friend for a 4-mile walk around Lady Bird Lake. Every year, I go to Big Bend with a much younger group of folks for ve days of hiking. I hiked the nearly 13-mile-long South Rim trail last year for my 80th birthday!”

The diet: 

“I’m no vegetarian, but I don’t eat much meat. I don’t eat much, period. I have to be careful because I’m short. I will not let my weight go above what it is now. I’ve weighed 120 pounds for 15 years. If I feel my clothes getting tight, then I will exercise more and back off the food. I don’t keep sweets around because I will eat them. Instead, I eat mostly fruit, vegetables and salads at home and sweets only when I go out. Every once in a while, I enjoy a margarita. I also cook, my specialty being barbeque meatballs that everyone loves. I mix cranberry sauce, sauerkraut, brown sugar, breadcrumbs and eggs with ground round but no barbeque sauce. The meatballs cook for an hour, deliciously smelling up the whole house. They’re the kind of thing you eat in moderation.”

The gear:

“Clogging shoes have double taps on the toe and heel. That’s how you get that distinct clogging sound. I buy Stevens Stompers shoes online, and in 22 years, I’ve only needed two pairs. They cost about $80 and hold up well. I buy mine a little large to allow for an insert that gives me extra cushioning from all that stepping. The shoes and taps come separately, so a club member attaches my taps for me. We clog in loose black pants and a club shirt that serves as our uniform. For practice, you want to wear clothing that allows for free movement: yoga pants, tights, shorts and skirts. Jeans are too restrictive. That’s really it for equipment. At Christmas, dancers will sometimes add bells and tambourines.”

The motivation:

“Both of my parents died before age 60, my father from a heart attack, my mother from breast cancer. I don’t care how long I live; I just want to be healthy while I’m alive. I’ve never said that I’m too old for anything, especially exercise. As I’ve aged, I’ve kept on doing the same activities I’ve always done. It pays off. The proof is clear: I don’t take any medications and I’ve never had major surgery. I don’t know anyone my age who can do the things I do. The average age of my Big Bend hiking group is 40. They say you lose it if you don’t use it. It’s true. I see people who can’t bend over to pick things up. I’m extremely exible because I work at it. It helps that I truly enjoy exercising, and I feel better when I do it.”

The mindset:

“Just keep doing what you’ve always done, like the little engine that could. As long as you do that, you can do it. You can say, ‘It’s hard,’ but you don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ When you are determined, you can do anything.”

The p.m.:

“Right now, I’m watching Victoria on PBS. I’ll have a glass of wine in the evening and enjoy a few episodes of that. I also make a to-do list for the next day, otherwise I’ll forget what I’m supposed to do. It’s usually 11 p.m. before I get in bed.”

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