The Older Dancer

I still take class. In fact I try to get in four or five classes a week, when possible. And I’m always interested in watching the other older dancers that I see in “higher level” open classes. A few days ago I took an open class with Lisa Lockwood at Steps on Broadway. Miss Lockwood teaches a beautifully constructed, very intelligent, intermediate ballet class that I have been taking regularly for the past few years and she attracts a wide range of students. I very much admire her work as a teacher; I have learned so much from her, both in how she teaches technique and how she relates to her students. As I took my place at the barre, I noticed a woman across the room. Like myself, she was well past 50; and like myself, carrying a few extra pounds. Yet something about her caught my eye. I noticed it the moment she placed her hand on the barre. There was an incredible reverence in the centuries-old tradition of starting class by gently grasping the barre with the left hand. I could feel her connection to the past; to all the beautiful dancers that came before her. And then the music started. I saw the music inhabit her body. I saw an exquisitely nuanced port de bras that takes a lifetime to achieve. I saw a majestic grand plié in second position- supple, musical, perfectly timed and powerful in its intention. As the class progressed, through the barre and into the centre, I saw this “older dancer” work. She was listening to the teacher intently, studying herself in the mirror, making tiny adjustments. She had exquisite feet and legs, full command of her technique, innate musicality, presence and style. The high extensions, dizzying turns and soaring, buoyant jumps of a younger dancer were no longer there. But what was there was a DANCER. A dancer that has spent a lifetime improving, polishing, and honing her instrument; a dancer both regal and humble. A dancer poetic in her simplicity. Her name, Jonette Swider.

I also recently attended a performance of Noor. A 45 minute solo, written and directed/choreographed by Sasha Spielvogel. The work,was created in collaboration with and danced by Felicia Norton. Dance is a physical art form. And traditionally, A youthful, athletic, fit Artist is necessary to fully convey the choreographer’s intentions. Now clearly there have always been older dancers who have been able to captivate an audience. But watching the radiant Felicia Norton command the stage completely on her own for 45 minutes shed some new light for me on the older dancer. I have been lucky enough to partner Felicia Norton. I have no idea how old she is (nor is it any of my business) but we can say that she is (like myself) past the age of when most professional dancers would retire. But what I saw this afternoon was a brilliant artist at the height of her powers. Her exquisite port de bras, her attention to detail, her style, her carefully nuanced use of epaulment, her dramatic intention, her line, her connection to the sound score, her interpretative skills and her crystalline storytelling could only be achieved through a LIFETIME of work. Like myself, I know that she still takes class regularly. Although I rarely perform, I notice that even at 55 years old, I’m still finding things to work on. And although there are clearly many things that I can no longer do as well as when I was younger (and many things that I can no longer do it all) I have noticed, as I watch myself in the mirror, certain things are still getting better. A younger dancer may have many gifts to share with her audience and will certainly have a rich artistic vision. But the kind of performance that Ms. Norton delivered today; the deep, multi-layered, many-faceted, richly touching, riveting experience that I had in that theater that afternoon takes decades of careful study and work.

I wanted to share these two experiences with you. These two examples of older dancers. Dancers who no longer have some of the gifts and abilities associated with youth. Dancers who have replaced these gifts and abilities with something deep, personal and beautiful. So let’s take a moment to celebrate the older dancer and the older dancer’s unique gifts to the studio and stage.

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