Dancing With Different Bodies

Now, as I approach my 57th birthday, I have come to realize that I have trained as a dancer three distinct times in my life, with three distinctly different bodies.

I was a very late starter, and my initial training was in my 20’s with a reasonably young, reasonably fit body. I was able to take that “untrained/never danced” young-adult body and put it through the rigors of preprofessional ballet training, and come out the other end a professional dancer. I learned how that training, that process, that transformation felt…and having a bit of a crazy memory for details, I remember exactly what that process entailed.

I stopped performing in my 30’s and started taking class again, 9 years later in my 40’s. I now had to re-train. And now I had a completely different instrument with which to work. I was now firmly in middle age. I was now 50 pounds over-weight and completely out of shape as I had done absolutely no exercise at all for 9 years. And so I started training; dancing with this completely alien instrument. And found that I needed to work at a completely different pace, with a completely different focus and in a completely different way. But train I did. And over the course of a few years I was able to get almost everything back. And since it wasn’t all that long ago, I clearly remember exactly what that process entailed.

Now I’m closer to 60 than I am to 50. And now I find that I’m working with yet another completely different body. I still take class regularly, every day when my schedule permits. I’m lean and fit…for my age. I’m carrying no extra weight. I take class regularly. I work as hard as I can…yet my aging body has betrayed me. And no matter how hard I work; no matter how hard I focus; and no matter how often I train; my aging body is declining. I am now training a third body. And older body that no longer has a buoyant soaring jump, a reaching growing towering extension or a dizzying heart stopping turn. An older body who’s balance decreases daily. An older body that will never again dance the way it did when it was young. And so I am now looking for ways to work with this new instrument. I am searching for ways to do more with less. Im trying to be more expressive, more communicative, more artistic, nuanced and interesting with a body that still has a clean and solid technique but with far less technical pyrotechnics at its disposal. I am training a third body in a third way. And I am now learning what this process entails.

Over the past 30-odd years, training in and teaching open classes, I have always been very observant. I’ve watched teachers. I’ve watched dancers. I’ve watched accompanists. I’ve watched administrators and program directors. And I have learned. And through training three distinct times with three distinct bodies, I have learned even more. But there is a group of dance studio “regulars” who had always puzzled me: the self-confident, un-ashamed, weak and frail, very elderly dancer. There were never a lot of them, but they always seemed to be there, in small numbers. These octogenarians (or sometimes even older) would come to class regularly. They would often wear the dance clothes that one would expect on a much younger, fitter, attractive body. They would, with full confidence take their place in some very advanced classes. And they would do…what they could…which was usually “next to nothing”. I would think to myself: “What are they doing? Why are they in this class? Are they crazy? If I ever become one of them, will someone tell me?” And I was worried. My biggest fear was that I would one day turn into a “clueless old man, wasting my time in some dance class in which I had no business being.”

Today, as I often do on Saturday morning, I took class…a beautiful class with a stunning musician at the piano. And standing across the room I saw HER. She was very elderly…clearly well past 80. She was wearing a black leotard, pink tights, short chiffon skirt and slippers. Her hair was in a neat bun. She had on just a little too much makeup. She was very thin, very frail and appeared very weak. And then the class started. The pianist played the introduction to the first exercise and I now saw this very elderly dancer in a completely different way. I will NEVER forget the look of pure joy on her face as she started her first demi plié. She was one with the music. She was one with the studio. She was happy and she was home. And I realized at that moment that I was not looking at my biggest fear. I was looking at what would one day be my fourth body. The body that I would have to train once again to work in yet a new and different way.

Each time I have retrained I have LEARNED. Each time I have retrained I have become a better teacher. So now, without fear and with an open heart, I will one day welcome my fourth body. And my very elderly, frail and weak fourth body will confidently and unapologetically take its place in a studio. I will be one with the music. I will be happy. I will be home. And once again I will train it. And I will LEARN.

13 thoughts on “Dancing With Different Bodies

  1. This is everything! Currently retraining a different body and continue to atopnor give up. Goes to show it really is how you look at it. Thank you!

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  2. I too am working with a new, which translates to an older, more mature body, 60+. I am a competitive Ballroom dancer, my style is Latin which is very rigorous and demanding. In order to meet the physical demands I do a lot of “ concentrated core” exercises, Pilates based, not on the Reformer but w the Squishy Ball & Circle. I even travel w them, always! I think my “ body success” is really based on my consistency of being physical committed. A daily approach with which are NOT killer work outs but challenging are kind. The important thing is to activate these muscles not kill them. Weights yes, but what’s appropriate to my needs. I do easy swimming, also, practically everyday, not more than 30 min. All of this keeps my metabolism boosted, my body limber & strong. I left my ego at the door a long time ago.

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  3. I first started ballet at the age of 3 and was on pointe by the time I was 6. I went to class every Saturday morning for a good 12+ years, then as most teenagers do, found “other” things to occupy my time and ballet was no longer cool. However, all through high school I still was in all the plays, usually in the chorus dancing and singing. Yet, I was never the start I might have been! From then on it was gymnastics, cheer leading and let’s not forget all weekend at the discos in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so I still kept on moving.

    Fast forward to a few marriages, 3 kids and at 4′ 11″ tall I couldn’t afford to gain even 5lbs, as that was a whole larger size; and when you spend most of your life between 90 and 100 lbs dripping wet, 120 and I felt like a beached whale. So, I went back to ballet, but due to some issues about getting to the studio I had to quit.

    Now, it’s been about 100 years since those days when I wore my black leotard and red tutu; and loved recitals because I got to wear makeup!! My kids are grown, I went back to school and became a freelance technical writer and Certified Professional Resume Writer. However, while being self-employed and working from home sure had advantages, after close to 10 years of this and I’ve become complacent, bored and found myself longing to interact with people face-to-face and do something besides sit on my rear and move my fingers across the keyboard.

    Watching all those TV shows with the professional dancers made me want to do something. Ballet? Do I dare even considering going back at the age of 63? Well, as they say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” so I did a search online and found a studio about 5 minutes from my home, owned by the very same individual I found back in 2008!

    After a few emails back and forth I bought ballet slippers and sheepishly attended my first “trial” class, trying to hide in the back, because I was so out of touch (and out of shape!) I could barely keep up in that first class, but I was determined.

    It’s only been a couple of months, but I’ve been going to classes at least 3 x a week and already see a vast improvement, not only technically, but the way I move, hold myself; and particularly in my attitude.

    One thing good about getting older is you realize nothing good comes without hard work and patience – a trait I can’t say is on the top of my “I’ve got” list! So, while I probably never will be 95 lbs again (but at 63, 115lbs isn’t too shabby), I’m getting away from my computer, and meeting women close to my age. Even though I may never fully master chaîné turns or pirouettes, it’s okay for today. Several months ago I didn’t even considered doing more than watching dancers on TV. So, with constant practice, my strong determination (almost obsession) to succeed and all the money I’ve spent on leotards, skirts, tights, etc., who knows what tomorrow may bring? All I know is I love it and that’s what matters the most. The rest is fluff.

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  4. I too went back to dance class after 37 yrs. I’m also 50 pounds overweight, glad that my current dance teacher sent me this article. When I first started back I wanted to be at the same level as I was when I quit. No such luck, but I still enjoy going to class. It is my time to focus on me and recenter myself. I hope to be the 80 yr old one day still enjoying dancing and inspiring others. Thanks for helping me see this with your article.

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