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Animated Edition - Summer 2013
Older people dancing
As the importance of working with older people in the arts becomes increasingly prominent independent dance artist Diane Amans offers some reflections about the work

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 Diane Amans.pdf
Image: Diane Amans. Photo: Rachel Cherry
“…older people are not a category apart. We will all grow old one day – if we have that privilege, that is. Let us therefore look at older people not as people separate from ourselves but as our future selves. And let us recognize that older people are all individuals with individual strengths and needs, not a group that are all the same because of their age”. (1)

In the above quote Kofi Annan challenges a society in which older people are seen as somehow separate. I agree and yet I am happy to contribute to conferences, books and professional development events that focus exclusively on older people. Surely this is promoting the development of a branch of dance practice that is seen as somehow separate?

I appreciate the tension line here but, if our work is going to be inclusive and supportive of all participants, community dance artists need to have an understanding of ageing and society so they can ensure their practice does not reinforce some of the stereotypes surrounding older people.

Media coverage of older people frequently uses the language of burden. In Europe’s newspapers there are daily references to economic concerns and these inevitably mention the ‘problem’ of paying for an increasingly ageing population. Fewer younger workers and many more pensioners have resulted in references to a ‘demographic time bomb’ and ‘silver tsunami’.

The arts can challenge a dominant culture in which older people are often presented as different in a society that champions youth. Yes older people are diverse individuals – just like people of any age. And many of them enjoy dancing:

Judy – member of GODS Growing Older (Dis)Gracefully: “We are a group of 25 women, aged 50 to 80 years and over, who love dancing regularly, even better we love showing off the dances we have created together with many different choreographers: contemporary, modern and asian, musical theatre, storylines or abstract.”

George and Molly attend weekly dance sessions at the local working men’s club. George, aged 78, has just had both knees replaced and is delighted he can dance again with his wife. His friends nickname him ‘Fred Astaire’.

Susan and Kath attend Marple Movers, which is a fusion of creative dance and structured improvisation. They invite guest choreographers to help them make dance pieces that challenge stereotypes of older people. “I was 54 when I was first called ‘a dancer’ – I grew about six inches. The feeling I wanted to express was being acknowledged.” (2)

These dancers are enjoying their right “freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts”. (3) It may be that “the availability of practising that right may need adjustment at different stages of life”.(4)

 In this sense, making adjustments because someone is older is just part of inclusive practice. Community dance practitioners work hard to achieve the right ‘fit’ between the activities they offer and the needs and wishes of participant dancers. Older dancers are only different in the sense that children or teenagers are different. Some community dance artists may need a specialised course or other form of continuing professional development to help them understand how to make appropriate adjustments. After all – they know what it feels like to be a child or a young adult but most practitioners do not know what it feels like to be 75 or 85 years of age.

As we see performances by more diverse dancers, there are shifting expectations about older dance artists. Fergus Early, an inspiring performer and choreographer, argues the case for valuing and celebrating the contribution of older dancers.
“...there are probably more opportunities for the mature dancer now than there used to be: choreographers and audiences are a little more aware of the value of ‘difference’ on stage than once they were...as our age demographic tilts the balance of the population towards older age, society is slowly waking up to the fact that older people, in all spheres, not only have needs and rights, but also vast and important gifts to bestow. The ‘baby boom’ generation, born in the ten years that followed World War Two and now in their 50s and 60s, are far from content to retire into oblivion for some considerable time yet, and we can expect dancers, like everybody else, to claim a much increased career span. This offers the prospect of dance emerging from what can be seen as an infantilised youth into a rich and varied maturity where it can fulfil its potential across the full spectrum of human experience.” (5)

contact diane.amans@gmail.com / +44 (0)161 478 9411 /  +44 (0)785 0041223

Age and dancing – older people and community dance practice edited by Diane Amans, published by Palgrave Macmillan visit www.palgrave.com

(1) Kofi Annan (2002) UN World Assembly on Aging Madrid http://bit.ly/11lO4Ng
(2) Amans, D. (ed) (2008) An Introduction to Community Dance Practice
(3) Article 27 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(4) Organ, K. (2013) After You are Two
(5) Early, F. in Amans. D. (ed) (2012) Age and Dancing.

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Animated: Summer 2013