Aging Gracefully as a Dancer

A lot of dancers have a less-than-amazing relationship to age. I know I struggled with the idea of getting older, even when I was very young. I had a notion that in order to be someone who would "really make it" as a professional dancer, I had to be able to do X arbitrary benchmark by Y age. When I turned 13 and hadn't mastered 32 fouettés, I was genuinely depressed. Thinking about getting older made me nervous about joints ceasing to work and I'd panic!


A few years ago, though, I was living in Argentina and studying tango. Tango in Buenos Aires is a big deal. Dedicated tango gatherings, called milongas, are held all over the city every night, attended by people of all ages. At my first milonga I saw an older couple, maybe in their 70s, dancing together so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes. They were so in synch it was like they could communicate through immediate telepathy. Their embrace was full of love, both passionate and serene. The woman's trust in her partner's lead was so total she barely opened her eyes, and both dancers were beaming. I can remember thinking it might not be so bad to get old.


I couldn't help remember that couple when I read about this underground dance party for pensioners in Ukraine. Every weekend for the last 20 years, some 200 aging dancers -- many decked out in traditional folk dress -- assemble in a subway station (because the space is free) in Kiev to dance. Some people bring instruments. Others sing. Long-term couples have found each other at these dances and make them a weekly ritual.


The party was visually documentedrecently by photographer Gleb Garanich. Garanich writes, "This generation grew up in the Soviet Union. Many cannot adjust to a completely different lifestyle or reconcile with new realities and values...but they still clearly remember the way all holidays were celebrated during their childhood and youth, when...neighbors from the same street or house would sit down together and then dance to the tune of an accordion through the night."

Dancing can be a participatory form of connecting to a culture's history, and Garanich notes pangs of regret at the indifference of young passers by at the subway dances. One of my favorite things about tango in Buenos Aires is that a younger generation of dancers has developed a totally new style of dancing that involves electronica tango music and a mesmerizingly fluid and daring way of interacting between dance partners that borrows from contact improv. I love that the art form is alive and evolving, receiving vital creative input from new waves of dancers who also learn and preserve the original movement vocabulary. I wonder if the dances danced in the Kiev subway will be remembered and danced by future generations, and hope that's the case.


But I also love that these underground dance parties are so personal -- not about transmitting anything for posterity, but just for the dancers. "It suddenly seems that they look younger, with kingly bearings and glittering eyes. For many of them, these meetings are a rare chance of lively communication and an escape from loneliness after the loss of close friends," says Garanich. I certainly know how revitalizing and meditative I find my dance classes. Actually, I enjoy them more now than when I was younger. Maybe one's relationship to dance and the ability to use it to relate to others is actually one of those things that get better with age? In any case, it doesn't seem so scary to get older when I think of dancing with my aging friends and loved ones.




By Tamara Johnson