When Stephanie Walsh began dancing in her 20s, viral videos didn’t exist.
Now in her 70s, the hip-hop grandma has garnered worldwide attention with her fierce dance moves and incredible energy.
“I’m living my best life right now,” said Walsh. “I’m going to keep dancing as long as I can.”
Millions of people have viewed, liked, and shared her Instagram posts and stories. Walsh, better known as “Ms. Stephanie” online, has been featured on social media accounts like “Upworthy” and “ESPNW,” with some videos drawing more than 11 million people to watch. Her fellow dancers and instructors told Growing Bolder it’s not just her age that draws fans.
Her profile proclaims she is “inspiring the world to dance like no one is watching.” But they are watching, with a fanbase that is rapidly expanding everyday. Ms. Stephanie is now even certified as an instructor as well, helping others to find a happy place in the dance studio.
“Dance isn’t just your body, it’s what you’re feeling inside about the dance and it’s what comes out here in your face,” Walsh said. “That’s what I want to put through my movement, is how much fun it is, how much joy it gives you.”
Dancing is in her blood
From a young age, Walsh loved to dance but her family didn’t have the money for classes. So she waited until she was nearly 30 to return to her childhood passion.
“I really wanted my daughter to dance,” Walsh told Growing Bolder. “I put her in ballet but she hated it. So I took her out and decided that I would take classes instead. It just kind of progressed from there.”
Walsh believes her lifelong passion for dance is what motivates her today.
“Everybody has to have a passion in their life,” she said. “It’s like that saying, ‘A life without passion is a life half lived.’ I believe that.”
Dancing is therapeutic
Walsh dances for fun and fitness, but also for therapy.
“Dance has helped me get through a lot of things in my life,” said Walsh. “I always had that to turn to when I needed a lift.”
Walsh endured and persevered through countless hardships. Her mother died in a car accident when she was only 5 years old. Her only daughter was tragically killed when she was just 22 years old. She raised a son who struggled and survived with kidney disease. Walsh’s first husband passed away from health complications after 25 years of marriage. She also struggled through several physical challenges including three hip replacements, a back surgery, and osteoarthritis in both of her knees. Walsh has more than enough reasons to keep her down. But they don’t. She turns to her faith, her friends and of course, dance, to shine as an inspiration to those around her.
“We all have challenges in life,” said Walsh. “The first person I turn to is my Maker. He’s helped me through so many things along with good support from family and friends. When those things happen, you never get over them, but you manage to move on and keep going.”
Walsh’s friend, Keyontae (“Keke”) Williams, told Growing Bolder that she is too humble to speak about some of the things she’s experienced in life.
“The loss she has suffered has built her to be how and who she is today,” said Williams. “Ms. Stephanie is a rock. She is a solid foundation and a role model.”
Dancing goes viral
Dajah Rene started a fitness club where Walsh dances in Sanford, Florida. She is also responsible for creating the Instagram account for “Ms. Stephanie.”
“I saw a light in Ms. Stephanie that just cannot be dimmed,” said Rene. “It cannot be hidden. It’s a gift that should be shared around the world.”
Walsh said she didn’t know her videos had gone viral until Willilams shared the news. “When Keke said, ‘Honey, you went viral,’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ but it’s really not the reason I dance.”
Walsh believes the videos gained popularity because she is 74.
“It’s because I’m a senior,” said Walsh. “You don’t usually see someone my age doing hip hop and moving like that.”
Dancing is inspirational
At 40 years her junior, Gilbert said Walsh inspires him every day. “I love that Ms. Stephanie is so humble. She’s thankful that her videos are getting millions of views, but she still shows up and puts on a show because that’s what she wants to do. She’s a beautiful soul who taught me that it doesn’t matter about your age or your size. As long as you feel good, that’s all that matters.”
Gilbert continued, “I am truly thankful that Ms. Stephanie is teaching me at the age of 32 to live my life full and stop being so scared.”
“You don’t have to do something big,” said Walsh. “I’ve watched the Growing Bolder TV show and I’ve seen the impressive things that some people do. That’s great, but every one of us can do something on a smaller level, too. Go help somebody or do that thing you’re interested in. We can all do something. It doesn’t have to be big.”
Maybe for some that simply means to dance like no one is watching.