Music doesn’t stop for local tap dancer

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Sara Van Cleve
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Longtime Arvada resident Eileen Figliolino has been dancing for 73 years, and, even with a prosthetic leg, she doesn’t show any of stopping anytime soon.

Figliolino, 76, began singing and dancing when she was 3 years old in her hometown of Alliance, Ohio. Right out of high school she joined the dancing group “The Lucky Girls” and performed consistently for a year.

Figliolino, also a talented singer, then spent seven years as the lead vocalist on the Denny Sullivan Television Show in Syracuse, N.Y. before touring with the Clyde McCoy Orchestra as a vocalist.

“They could use a singer and that’s where I met my husband, Andy,” she said. “We met in Syracuse when he was with Clyde McCoy, so I took a leave of absence for two months. Since Clyde needed a singer, I ended up leaving the station to join them.”

Andy and Eileen married in 1967 and moved to Arvada, where they have made their home ever since.

For a few years Andy and Eileen had their own band called the Happy Medium as they raised their young daughter, Nicole.

As a very young child Nicole had multiple open heart surgeries, making it difficult for her to perform strenuous activities. However, Eileen’s talent helped Nicole exercise and have fun.

In 1971, she began teaching dance lessons in her home - with Nicole and other neighborhood children as her students.

From 1971-75, Figliolino taught out of her home. In 1975, with enrollment booming, she opened her own dance studio and hired other teachers to help her teach ballet, jazz, tap and other dance forms.

“I’ve probably taught about 3,000 students,” Figliolino said. “I just love teaching. I’ll have students send me notes years later, and it’s so special. I truly enjoy doing it.”

Figliolino owned her dance studio until 2006, when she closed it and began teaching solely tap at the Enterprise Grange, 7203 Simms St.

In 1985, though, Figliolino faced a challenge in her dancing career when she was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis in her joints.

“I was giving a student a private lesson before a performance and I was determined to finish the routine,” she said. “I finished the routine on my hands and knees.”

Figliolino has since had several joint replacements and four ankle fusions, where the arthritis hit her worse. Though she has danced nearly her entire life, she said her passion didn’t contribute as much as genetics; her mother, sister and grandmother all had arthritis of some kind.

In 2009, Figliolino went in for her second ankle fusion on her left ankle; after the surgery, doctors told her she had no blood flow in the lower half of her left leg and it would have to be amputated.

Despite the amputation, Figliolino kept dancing.

She faced complications with her initial prosthetic, but Innovative Prosthetic and Orthotic Professionals worked with her to fit her with a vacuum-pressured prosthetic that could help keep her teaching and tapping.

Figliolino said one thing has kept her dancing with the years and through adversity - her love of dance.

“I’ve been blessed to be able to do what I love to do,” she said. “Dance is a gift. I’ve always loved to tap dance and I want to give as much to the kids as I can.”

The main class Figliolino teaches now, though, has some non-traditional students though.

Her tap class, the Time Steppers, is actually comprised of adults, many of whom are mothers of her former students. The Time Steppers competed in a Las Vegas competition last year and took the gold medal.

The Time Steppers practice at 6 p.m. Tuesdays at the Enterprise Grange.

Figliolino also teaches private lessons.

Figliolino also continues to teach vocal lessons and vocal stage production Wednesdays at the Golden Recreation Center, 1470 10th St. For more information on her vocal classes, call 303-384-8100.

“Teaching is wonderful,” she said. “I think I was meant to be a teacher.”

Figliolino has also developed a passion for antique jewelry. She collects and sells antique jewelry and has a permanent booth at Thriftiques Antique Mall, 9860 W. 59th Pl. in Arvada.

One thing remains the most important to her though - family, both hers and the one she has built through dance.

“I’m doing great and enjoying life,” she said. “People are the most important thing. I don’t know what I would do without them.”