The Tap Cats of the Sunshine Coast by Christine Sykes

Article | Issue: Jul 2022

CHRISTINE SYKES grew up in the same street as the Whitlam family in Sydney’s Cabramatta which she recounted in her  bestselling memoir Gough and Me. Her novel, The Tap Cats of the Sunshine Coast follows a Queensland based tap dancing group who face unexpected challenges when they enter the Seniors Superstar competition.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Tap Cats, a Queensland based tap dancing group face unexpected challenges when they enter the Seniors Superstar competition.

Through the observant eyes of Carol’s journalist niece Melissa, we meet Carol, Sofia and Bonnie whose lives have been intertwined since primary school. Their hopes, dreams, ageing, heartaches and heart mends have been woven together in a close web for decades. Bonds which are in danger of unravelling when long held secrets are revealed. Secrets that rock the foundations of their friendship and the destiny of the Tap Cats.

Set in the stunning landscape of the Sunshine Coast, the women taptheir way through the competition, as well as trials and tribulations, allthe way to New York and a Greek Island.

EXTRACT

Chapter One

At the last tap-dance lesson for the year, Sofia did the triple-time step: heel, toe, shuffle, heel. Not bad for a 57-year-old, she thought, and smiled at her friend Carol, who had insisted Sofia take the place next to her in the front row, even though Sofia would have preferred to be down the back.

Sofia wiped the sweat from her forehead and ran her hands down her black three-quarter-length stretch pants. Even with the fans at full blast it was sultry. She flapped the hem of her white cotton blouse to create a cooling breeze. The other nineteen women in the class, including Carol, wore flower-patterned tops over a variety of coloured shorts. They reminded Sofia of a tropical garden.

Carol had talked her into joining Tap Cats – calling themselves Tap Dolls at the time – when Sofia first moved to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane. Sofia was surprised how quickly tap dancing came back to her. As she moved with the rhythm of the music, she lost herself in the dance. Four years later and dancing was second nature.

‘Your steps are perfect, Sofia,’ called their teacher, Valerie.

‘Everyone, watch Sofia’s feet.’

The rest of the class stopped to watch Sofia’s steps and she missed a beat. Sofia couldn’t see how it was possible for anyone, let alone herself, to be perfect.

‘I’ve put steps together for a new routine for the Senior Superstar competition.’ Valerie played ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ on the portable PA system.

Sofia enjoyed watching Valerie perform the first set of the dance and seeing how she had choreographed their steps to match the music and use the space.

‘The important thing is to make a crisp tap, not a muffled sound. Listen while I repeat the first set.’

Valerie did a shuffle, a hop step and a slide several times, then added a triple time step while Sofia concentrated on the rhythm.

‘This routine is faster than we usually do,’ said Maude, who at seventy-five was one of the founding members of the group. ‘I’ll have trouble picking it up.’

‘You already know the steps – I’ve just changed the order and pattern,’ said Valerie. ‘Relax and, if you can’t see me, follow Sofia.’

While they were packing up after class, Carol talked about her ideas for costumes for the new routine. She wanted an outfit to dazzle the crowd, with gold lamé and red sequins. Sofia said she preferred a simpler style, based on black pants and white top.

‘We make a great team,’ said Carol, looking at her fondly. ‘You know you’re my bestest friend on the Sunshine Coast.’ Carol had met Sofia in 1960 when they were six years old and sometimes spoke to her as if they were still that age, which Sofia found endearing and it took her back to that time.

It was Sofia’s first day at school in Australia, having recently migrated to Brisbane from the Greek island of Kefalonia with her family. She couldn’t speak English and she felt huge when she squeezed into the wooden desk beside the small, vanilla-smelling blonde girl called Carol. Sofia was mortified when she needed to go to the toilet but didn’t know how to ask for directions. She sat fidgeting until Carol helped her tell the teacher and find the amenities block.

They became firm friends and Carol took the lead six months later when they made friends with Bonnie.

Both Carol and Bonnie were born in Queensland. Carol said she had an ancestor who was a convict. Bonnie said her red hair and fiery temper were inherited from her Scottish side and proceeded to do a highland fling.

‘My mum has enrolled me in tap-dance classes,’ Carol told Sofia and Bonnie not long afterwards. ‘We should all go, it’ll be fun.’

‘Bonza idea,’ said Bonnie, who used words starting with a B whenever possible.

Sofia hung her head and kicked her shoe on the fence. ‘My mother will not let me go. She says I should only do Greek dancing.’

‘Hogwash,’ said Carol. It was her favourite word at the time. ‘I’ll get my mum to talk to yours. She’ll find a way.’

Sofia’s initial delight at being included was replaced by embarrassment when her father hammered taps onto an old pair of shoes, rather than buying new tap shoes. Carol said they made the best sound and Bonnie told everyone they were shipped in from Greece. Some of the girls even asked Sofia how to order them.

When the class finished, Sofia removed her Mary Jane tap shoes, put on her sandals and walked with Carol and the others down the street for their usual coffee at the Boatshed Cafe, where she listened to the plans for everyone’s Christmas and New Year and exchanged greeting cards.

It was Sofia’s turn to drive Carol home. After parking her Volvo on the recycled brick driveway, she took a moment to admire the new paintwork on Carol’s house. The front part of the house was the original cottage, which blended with the extension at the back.

‘I’ll miss tap dance over the Christmas break,’ she said.

‘I won’t, it’s too hot and humid,’ said Carol.

‘I feel like a rung-out dishcloth and I don’t know how you stay looking so cool and elegant. Thank goodness we finally got around to installing air-conditioning.’

Carol climbed out of the car, paused to pick flowers from her gardenia hedge, which she gave to Sofia. ‘Sorry I can’t come tonight, grandparent duties. Have fun.’

Author: Christine Sykes

Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Ventura Press

ISBN: 9780645432817

RRP: $32.99

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