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No slowing this flapper tapper

Eileen Booth, The Flapper Tapper, performs during an event at Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community in 2013. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Eileen Booth, The Flapper Tapper, performs during an event at Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community in 2013. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Eileen Booth has a goal not shared with most people her age.

Booth, a Salem resident who has been tap dancing around the Keizer and Salem area for years, turns 88 late next month. She’s still going strong and looks forward to setting a record soon.

“My goal is, when I’m 90, I want to be in book of Guinness World Records as the oldest active tap dancer,” said the lady who refers to herself as the Flapper Tapper. “I’m proud of (my age) now. Seniors are proud of it now. They enjoy me. Even the young enjoy me. The exercise keeps me young.”

The native of Nova Scotia noted she started dancing in 1929 at the age of 3 on doctor’s orders since she was born with rickets, a lung disease.

“I had so many bottles of cod liver oil,” she said. “I was so full of life and energy, the doctor said, ‘Put her into some kind of dancing’ and there was a good chance I would come out of it.”

Booth’s mom did just that, using her last few dollars each month to send her to ballet school, followed by tap dancing.

That lasted until Booth was 18 and she decided to go on a different trajectory.

“I love going to school,” she said. “I aimed to be a secretary. I told my mom – who was my manager – one day I wanted to go into a career and get out of tap dancing and I wanted to get married. It broke my mom’s heart. She didn’t take it too well.”

Though she did keep singing, Booth didn’t return to tap dancing again until the age of 70. In the years in between, her career included years working for Pepsi in California. Among other things, she was a secretary for people in the marketing department and learned about how to market herself.

Booth, who once won a beauty contest in California in 1964, still utilizes those lessons. In addition to marketing herself as Flapper Tapper, she performs at a variety of shows and put a video of her dancing on Youtube.

After moving to Oregon 14 years ago, Booth joined a tap dancing group at a senior center for a couple of years before deciding to put together her own show. She won a senior idol contest at Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community in 2011 and impersonated Elvis at a Keizer show in 2007.

“I always did every show on my own,” she said. “I used to do Broadway numbers. I have done Western acts and songs. I put the act together.”

Booth, who won a dancing marathon in 2001, has a collection of old records and costumes.

“I thought it would be a cute idea,” said Booth, who has done shows with the Classic Tap Dance Studio in Keizer. “It wouldn’t be as effective without all the feathers and fringe. I have a new outfit, black with all fringes.”

In addition to the dancing, Booth also plays ukelele with a group run by Janet and Ron Romine. Janet and her mom are now both close friends to Booth. The Romines help put Booth’s music on CDs for her performances.

“One of the first times Eileen came to class, she looked at me and said, ‘I don’t have a daughter, so you’re my chosen daughter,’” Romine recalled with a chuckle.

Romine lets Booth perform last with the ukelele group.

“Eileen is the show stealer, so she goes last,” Romine said. “To see her in action, most performers get worried. Eileen does not. That’s when she blossoms. She’s a natural performer. She knows how to work an audience. She absolutely inspires me and is a role model.”

Romine has a story of how much dancing is a part of Booth’s life.

“We went to World Beat two years ago,” she said. “Eileen has a rain bonnet and her high heels on. She’s really tired, but she hears the drums going. Eileen drops her purse and runs to dance with the African drummers. She’s dancing in those heels on the wet grass.”

Booth said dancing keeps her in great shape.

“I love entertaining,” she said. “I don’t feel old. The only time I look or feel old is when I look in the mirror.”

Booth’s next performance will be next week at the Oregon State Fair in Salem. She will be performing at 12:45 p.m. on the main stage in the food court on Monday, Aug. 25. The following day, the ukelele group will be performing from 11 a.m. to noon, with Booth playing at 11:45.

Each time she takes the stage, Booth remembers the thrill she first felt as a young girl.

“I was hooked,” she said. “I’m still hooked.”