Does age matter?

Does age matter?

As Shobana Jeysingh discussed at HOST, we are obsessed with youth – not only in dance but in society more generally. We associate youth with beauty, with fresh ideas, with innocence and technological prowess. In contrast, older age is often associated with a lack – of flexibility, energy and memory.

There are a myriad of opportunities and pathways for young people to access dance. There are classes and workshops for toddlers through to teens, youth performance groups, and dance is just about hanging on to its presence in schools, higher education and national examinations. For those wishing to progress in dance and consider it as a career, there is a National Youth Dance Festival, a Company, and a national network of Centres for Advanced Training.

This isn’t envy, or even a complaint. I am delighted that more young people can pursue their dance passions in more different ways than was possible a generation ago. Watching BBC Young Dancer was inspirating. Doing away with the different categories of dance threw the spotlight onto the dancers’ ability to communicate through dance and with their audience. They are all destined for stellar careers and the future of dance is bright.

However, a myopic emphasis on youth in dance does matter. At a meta-level it suggests dance is something we grow out of and stop doing once we get a proper job. It is sneaky too. Older dancers may feel they need to apologise for having lived a life, for having life skills and experience that exceed their technical dance skills. In rehearsing ‘It’s My Time’, Luca Braccia talked about how he didn’t see us as having poor memories or being less capable than other dancers, but that these beliefs are self-limiting. Doubting ourselves hinders our performance.

If dance was only about physical technique, then age may be a limiting factor. As bodies age they lose strength and agility, but while dance communicates through the body it is about so much more than the mechanics of the body.  It is about intention, linear and non-linear narrative, use of space, dynamics, timing, movement design and conveying meaning.

Equally, older dancers are about more than their age.  They are in the class, rehearsal or performance because they want to be there.  Along with this goes an enthusiasm and a curiosity, a fascination with professional dance artists and eagerness to learn from them. They may chat and express their opinions uninvited, but their life experience may include responsibilities for family and careers. Such experience can be useful in building groups, managing projects and extending opportunities for local communities to engage with dance.

Age brings new freedoms. These include the freedom of having the time to dance, to devote to rehearsals and to generate work and creative opportunities for artists. Age brings different kinds of courage and bravery. We have less need to be egotistical. We have more capacity to be kind and generous in working collaboratively.

Age matters, but what really matters is to better understand and value the qualities that older dancers can contribute to the wider dance world.

Jeanette Siddall

You can see some of the amazing films from HOST: