Kathy Rucker, 2018 State Fair Master
Though born in Indiana, Kathy Rucker traveled around the world, following her father during his naval duty in the submarine service. When she was sixteen her family returned to Indianapolis. Throughout those young years there was one constant—Kathy was always dancing. She recalls, “I was either dancing with the cabinet, dancing with the refrigerator handle, dancing in my room— dancing all over the house.” Years later she would study square dancing and round dancing but clogging “caught her eye” when she saw a group performing at a local festival. So, she began taking clogging classes on the southside of Indianapolis and soon discovered that she was “pretty good at it.” “Why would you want to start clogging when you are forty?” some asked her, but Kathy recognized that it was fun way to exercise, and to meet people. Eventually, several fellow students suggested to her that instead of driving all the way to the southside to take lessons, they could clog with Kathy at her eastside home. What began as a small group, soon outgrew her garage.
Before long, she started teaching classes for older adults. First one, then a second, but as quickly as she added a new session, it filled. Finally, she was up to teaching twenty-one classes each week. As she jokes, “It keeps the body in shape… it keeps the body tired.” To fuel her teaching, Kathy traveled around the country taking clogging and dance workshops and classes, in addition to learning how to dance better, these experiences also taught her how to be a better teacher. She explains, “You can be a great dancer and a lousy teacher, and you can be an average dancer and a great teacher. I was going for the great teacher, I didn’t care if I was a superb dancer, I just wanted to teach someone how to do what I love to do.”
In 1995, Kathy volunteered to manage a small dance stage at the Indiana State Fair. That first year, the crowds wanting to see clogging were so big that it blocked the roadway and the fair shuttles could not pass. To accommodate the popularity of the dance stage, the fair moved it several times to larger and better locations. Today, the dance stage is located in Celebration Park and has grown to as big as it can get at the fair. Throughout the run of the fair, the stage features a variety of dance groups, and serves as a great promotional tool for dancing groups around the region. Two of Kathy’s groups, The Circle City Cloggers and Still Kickin, are regular acts at the fair; performing several times each week. While the Circle City Cloggers consist of dancers from their teens on up, Still Kickin is for older adults, 55 and older.
The idea of an older adults group emerged when several of the members of the Circle City group felt the routines were getting too hard on them. Kathy too was getting older but recognized the elders desire to continue clogging. While some are alumni of the Circle City group, others are older women and men who didn’t start dancing until they were in their sixties or seventies.
Kathy also teaches line dancing in the Indianapolis area. One of her groups, the Heritage Place Ladies of the Dance is a group of older African American women who love to dance. They dance to classic Motown as well as more contemporary popular music. Kathy started the class nearly twenty-five years ago, and several of the original dancers are still with the group. Odessa Higginson, the “elder of the club” is 92-year-old, explains “I love dancing, and I intend to keep dancing as long as I can keep moving.”
For several years, Kathy taught twenty-one dance classes each week, but as she got older she slowly pared them down to the ten groups that she teaches today. At 73, she explains that dancing is more than a hobby or a job for her. It literally saved her life. She explains, “I’ve had cancer twice, and the doctors told me that if I hadn’t been so physically fit I wouldn’t have made it. I credit dancing with saving my life…I will probably continue to clog until I can’t lift my foot anymore!” Kathy and the Indiana State Fair have fostered a wonderful network of dancing clubs throughout the greater Indianapolis area. Kathy teaches the class and organizes the groups, and the fair helps promote the benefits of dance through its dance stage. Nevertheless, Kathy Rucky has made an incredible contribution to the cultural vitality and the health and wellness of all the communities in which she works.