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Tapping into his first love Wellesley College custodian teaches free dance class for staff and faculty

By Pat Healy

     Dancing days are here again for Wellesley College staff and faculty.
     That's because custodian Serge Genesse decided four years ago to repay his community for its kindness by offering free tap-dancing lessons to employees. 
     "The college has been good to me all throughout these years, and it's something I felt I had to give back," said Genesse, who has been employed by Wellesley College for almost 20 years. 
     In the Alumnae Hall ballroom, his eight beginning students tap and click in synchronicity to the strains of "Stepping Out with my Baby" on the record player. The cold room is filled with the excitement of people learning something new, and with the loud, percussive sound of 18 dancing feet.
     Genesse dances in front of the ballroom's wall-sized mirror as his students dance behind him. At song's end he is pleased, so he speeds up the song for the next go-round.
     The students adjust accordingly and smile as they meet the challenge.
     "It really takes a lot of coordination," says Mary Mabee, assistant lead custodian at Wellesley College.
     Mabee, who is in her first year of tap-dancing class, says she doesn't usually participate in extracurricular activities like tap dancing. 
     "It's a lot of exercise," she says, "but it's really rewarding."
     Wellesley College postman Charles Bauman, the only male student in the class, is in his first year of tap dancing as well. He agrees that the exercise is ideal, and says that for him, it has filled a void in his life.
     "I used to bowl every Tuesday night and I decided that when I won a championship I'd retire," he said. "And then I won, so I had to keep my promise but I still wanted to do something athletic. I'd see Serge on my mail run all the time, and he'd always mention the tap-dancing class."
     Genesse has been a dancer his whole life, beginning when he used to help out a ballroom dance instructor in Maine as a child.
     "They used to pay me for helping put the records away and little chores like that, but then I'd just go and spend the money on more dance classes," he says.
     He studied dance for years, and fell in love with tap dancing as soon as he learned his first moves. He then taught tap in Biddeford-Saco, Maine, and when he moved to Massachusetts in 1980 he taught classes in Framingham. By day he was a custodian, and at night he was teaching tap six nights a week until he stretched a ligament in his leg in 1989. Until he gets an operation, Genesse says he can only dance one or two nights a week, but he just couldn't stand to not do it at all.
     "It was something that was in my blood and I enjoyed it so much that I had to pursue it again," he says.
     And it's not just the dancing itself that people like. Genesse says the social aspect is one of his favorite parts about the class.
     "It's a nice social thing for myself and for everyone else," he says.
     Betsy Games, who retired from Wellesley College two years ago, still takes Genesse's class because she loved the social aspect of it so much. She was in Genesse's inaugural class in 1998.
     Genesse gets great pleasure from watching his students' progress.
     "I have people in September who don't know their right from their left and at the end of a semester I can call out any step and they can do it," he said.
     And the students are pleased with the results too. 
     "A friend and I took a class a few years ago and we paid a lot of money but got nothing out of it," says HR Information Systems specialist Mary Hackett. "When we heard the college was offering this for free, we just jumped on it, and Serge has been much more helpful than the class we paid for."
     The students may not be leaving the campus for New York or Hollywood, but their skills do find an appreciative audience.
     Sue Beatty, a library associate at Wellesley who has taken lessons with Serge since he began teaching tap at Wellesley, says she performed a routine for her daughters on Thanksgiving and they were very impressed.
     "It was the first time I ever performed this for anyone outside of class," Beatty said, excitedly.
From The Wellesley Townsman
December 26, 2002