A few years ago, when I decided to go back to the world of performing and creating I found myself stepping back into the world of dance. It felt slightly ironic as I was at least 10 years past the ‘traditional’ age at which dancers retire… And yet there I was. I thought I had better get myself back to classes, to challenge my vocabulary, my habits, strengthen my muscle sand frame again. It was then that I realised a terrible thing, something that we will all feel from time to time, I realised that when in classes of 18-25 year olds I felt OLD. I’m not telling you this because I want your reassurance but because it explains the next step.
I got to thinking that if I felt old attending class in my early 40s then how would this all pan out? Where were the classes that I could attend later on in life? And what about everyone else who wanted to dance but was no long in their 20s ( or 30s even). And so my over 50s class was formed. The Pegasus Theatre kindly offered me space to try and set up the group, Each week myself and a few slightly older people would arrive at the Pegasus and play for an hour. When I say a few I mean 3. Or sometimes 2. I have to say that it took its time building up and at times was soul destroying. Then Age Concern UK came on board and publicised it, numbers picked up a little bit. a local councillor funded us, paying for the space for two terms. Word of mouth did its job and now, well now our class is almost full.
Week after week I am joined by around 16 people aged 50+ and we create sequences together. It doesn’t sound particularly amazing I know. It’s just a dance class. But it IS something different. It’s not a chair based class, it’s not aerobics (both great if that’s what you are looking for). It is creative, social and explorative dance which challenges the brain and promotes flexibility, fitness and safety. I’d like to show you a photo or video of the group but I promised I wouldn’t. The group don’t want to perform, they want to develop, play, conquer. And here’s something else. I’ve spent a lot of my career advocating the use of performing arts with the young as not only training for a career but also for life. Now I’m looking at this amazing group of older people and truly understanding that the qualities the the arts promote and develop in younger people are relevant throughout our lives. That confidence, social awareness, fitness, creativity are not goals you achieve and keep, they fluctuate with life’s ups and downs.
As a teacher this is the highlight of my week. I thought that I was starting something that would be good for them but its a two way road. These women persuaded me to do my MA at Central, have given me parenting advice and in short, become firm friends. They are joyous. They are political activists, editors, teachers, mothers, artists, crafters. Their heaps of life experience is awe inspiring and teaching them has made me question our outlook on ageing even more than before. Next month 28 of us (the group plus their friends) are going to the theatre to see Rambert’s version of Rooster- we did our own attempt a few terms ago, I think we set the bar quite high.
I’ll leave you with this. My daughter has been unwell lately and spent a couple of hours sitting in the studio while I taught these classes. Last time she remarked on the way home;
“Your dance group aren’t what you expect when you think of old ladies, they are really cool, and they really go for it in the dances! I love their style, they look so great!”.
All young people should get the opportunity to experience some inter-generational play, or at least see older people in action. What fabulous role models for my daughter, and for me too. I thank my lucky stars.
The Dance for the Over 50’s group takes place at Pegasus Theatre, Magdalen Road, East Oxford every Wednesday ( term time) 12-1 pm. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in joining us.
If you would like to support me by helping me pay for my MA costs you can find details of my fundraising efforts here: http://www.gofundme.com/3btq1o