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20 Jan 2007

Grumpy old man?

** Proceed with caution. Person over 30 gives mature comment **

Well. my journey through dance is certainly a multi-faceted one. It is certainly, a journey that takes on board "folk arts" (e.g. street dance, salsa), "high arts" (e.g. contemporary, ballet), everything in between and multiculturalism.

Unfortunately, for all the pleasure and health that dance brings, being a primarily physical activity it suffers from appalling age discrimination. It is also notable that, despite the current vogue for dance and the attempts by arts organisations to entice men to dance, they are a distinctly rare breed on the dance floor. This is particularly evident in concert dance, e.g.; jazz, ballet.

Because of recent demands I have had to stop my usual contemporary and jazz dance training and find another type of dance to keep my fitness up until I return. At the grand old age of 38 (I shall dance with a Zimmer frame soon) I decided, still being youthful, to try Bollywood dancing. I hoped to learn something of Eastern movement and, consequently Eastern culture.

However, I was not prepared for a class of (largely) pre-pubescent girls, snaking around in some kind of "spaced out" kindergarten. I may have swallowed my pride and returned again, if this was all I had to bare. However, the teacher looked little more than fourteen. OK she must have been sixteen, for legal reasons, such are British working regulations.

Bollywood dancing turned out to be a physically challenging and mentally stimulating class, bridging the divide between Western dance forms and traditional Asian dance. However, it seems to be reserved for those of gentler years and fairer gender!

My little story, does have a serious side. It is a great pity that, even though currently in vogue, dance is usually construed as an activity for young girls and 20 somethings. For all the pleasure and health benefits dance has given me, to start in my mid-thirties was a distinct disadvantage. The downside of this is lusty, female dance teachers who can't resist a heterosexual man who dances, despite having hubby in tow. A glass ceiling when it comes to advancing your art-form to regular performance. And the opportunity to grow backwards into kindergarten to educate yourself in the art of dance and in culture.

The truth is, I am lucky to live in a large city where there are dance classes who allow all ages to take part. There are even the occasional opportunities for walk on parts with dance companies that, ahem! Occur occasionally.

However, dance is a better option than swimming. Swimming is evern more cruel, putting young men out to graze before they reach their physical prime. Yes, 25 is the retirement age for male competition swimmers, and much the same for women. Little did I know, when I joined a swimming club at 30 I was five years to late for competition!

The truth is I am fitter and stronger in my thirties than I was in my twenties, but I didn't expect my coach to listen!

OK, so it's evident to most that we live in a youth dominated culture, in the workplace, on the high street, in the values of the market place as well as in physical activities. However, for all the energy and enthusiasm that youth brings to dance and other activities, experience is never a disability and self knowledge and self discipline are the keys to achieving and sustaining all success.

It seems that, in dance and sport, those who start later or continue past the "usual"retirement ages do not only require greater discipline to maintain their fitness, they also require a greater mental strength and creativity, to take the inevitable knocks caused by age discrimination and to find ways to journey past the blocks that stand in their way.

This should be food for thought for those who block the paths of the determined and the able. It should also question the reasoning of a society that insists on the retirement of its competitors/performers as young as 25!

For God's sake some maturity please, in the attitudes of those that teach and those that organise these thrilling, health-giving and important activities!


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