San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gringos bring tap dancing to Costa Rica

From the print edition

The dancers glow in the evening light as they raise a graceful ruckus with their tap shoes. It’s a nontraditional extracurricular activity for members of a small municipality outside of Grecia, and in fact, it only arrived recently with two gringos who are pretty nontraditional themselves. 

Bill and Doreen Potter visited Costa Rica in 1992 for what was supposed to be a short scuba diving vacation. They never went back to Colorado. “We just fit into Costa Rica,” Bill says.

After living in various places around the country, they settled in Cajón, northeast of Grecia, in the Central Valley. Now, the couple teaches country line dancing and tap dancing once a week at the community center. 

Out of their own pockets, they bought dozens of pairs of shoes to outfit their pupils. Doreen also finds the music and choreographs all the dances. “The music and dances have to be lively or they get bored,” Doreen says, but clearly she is up for the challenge. It is a great pleasure, she says, to watch them grow and absorb the new things.

Back on stage, the kids repeat their dance routines again and again, preparing for a performance the next day at school. A handful sport bright-blue, team shirts announcing them as the Cajón Tappers. 

Joselin Rodríguez wipes at a stain on her daughter’s team shirt. She brings her kids to dance class every Wednesday, even though they have to trek home is in the dark. It’s worth it. “The kids love dancing,” she said. “They stay active physically, and it keeps them occupied and out of trouble.”

Throughout the practice, kids come and go. School lets out at 5:30 p.m., and a half-hour into the practice a few more students rush in. They’re still in their school uniforms, and they’ve also donned tap shoes to join the practice. When it’s over, the kids form a line while Doreen hands out cookies and a few items from her garden. Today it’s a bag of limes, which the kids will bring back to their parents. “If they didn’t have this … [they’d be] working in the family’s coffee plots,” Doreen said. 

To reward the Cajón Tappers’ hard work, Bill and Doreen fundraise to take the kids on trips to a bowling alley or roller skating rink in San José, as well as a Christmas party. To get the money to hire a bus and pay entrance fees, the Potters and other foreigners in the neighborhood hold an annual garage sale.

“The community loves it, they’re always asking when the next sale is,” Doreen said. There is no fee for the kids or moms to attend the classes.

After class, Monica Bolaños, 10, munches on cookies with her sister and cousin, who also dance. Bolaños is captain of the Cajón Tappers. Her clean movements and sharp memory for the routines stand out, and other dancers follow her lead.

“I like dancing and never want to stop,” Bolaños said. “My friends dance bachata but not country and tap. I’m trying to get them to come to practices.”

After packing up the makeshift dance studio and humoring a few moms who also want to learn some moves, Bill starts home in his car. When he encounters a few of his pupils on the side of road, he stops to give them a lift. Dropping them off at their home, he sticks his head out the window and quizzes them on the time of tomorrow’s performance.

“Ten o’clock,” one girl says.

“Noooo! Twelve! Twelve o’clock,” Bill hollers.

The girl giggles and nods. As Bill drives away, the girls’ brother shouts, “At ten, right?”

The family bursts out laughing, teasing Bill. He shakes his head and heads home.

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