BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT; PHOTOGRAPH BY GREGORY BARTNING
Uh oh. I feel a soapbox coming on!
Bear with me. Yes, this is going to be about the Dancing Over 50 Project and, yes, I am going to get a little impassioned and over the top.
Tomorrow I am attending the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 2016 summit after being named one of the organization’s 100 people who inspire. I am getting this recognition because of my work on Stance on Dance and the Dancing Over 50 Project, and because a friend and longtime supporter nominated me.
I am thrilled to share ideas and provocations with the kinds of people who are going to be at the summit because I have a big message.
Here it is:
EVERY BODY IS CAPABLE OF EXPRESSION, AND THEREFORE CAPABLE OF DANCE. NOBODY HAS A PREMIUM ON THE DANCE EXPERIENCE. THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS TO BE A DANCER AS THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO HAVE EXISTED. THAT EXPRESSION, IN WHATEVER FORM IT TAKES ACCORDING TO EACH PERSON, CAN IGNITE EMPATHY AND POSITIVE CHANGE.
The Dancing Over 50 Project is not about aging. It is not really even about dance. It is about valuing expression at any and every point in a person’s life.
If we can move past this rhetoric that dance is about “making it,” about having a “good” body, about being choreographed on by someone famous, about being aligned with a well-known institution, about being lithe, young and able-bodied… you get the picture… if we can move past this rhetoric, we might get at empowering people to feel comfortable and uninhibited in their bodies and perhaps even get to the point of art: to be honest about our experience being messy humans.
For the record, I am 30 years old. I am trim and slim. I dance professionally. I have studied classical ballet since I was five years old and am quite adept. I have further studied several modalities of movement. I love the intricacies of technique. I believe in rigorous dance expression, at least for myself.
In other words, I’m not sitting on this soapbox because I need to validate my age, body or ability. I’m sitting on this soapbox because I refuse to be part of a dance world that hierarchically defines success according to capitalistic values (i.e. what sells). Our bodies are more than that.
And because I’m not going to wait around for someone else to validate that truth (as that would be the regressive model), I did it for myself and for you. Over the past four and a half years, I have interviewed hundreds of dancing folks for Stance on Dance on the value of their expression and, more to the point of this soapbox, I am just finishing a book wherein I interviewed over 50 dancers over age 50. Next spring will see the release of Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond, a compilation of interviews with dancers ranging in age from 50 to 95 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. I asked the dancers in these interviews about their motivation, their sense of success, their perceived legacy, and their advice to the next generation. If you haven’t yet read a few of them, I recommend it! Most of them are available online. And my very talented collaborator and photographer Gregory Bartning has captured each of the dancers in movement, visually depicting their expressive capabilities.
I’m asking you to financially help make this book possible by pre-purchasing a copy through our Kickstarter and sharing it with your friends. I’m asking this not because I want a “successful” book, but because I want you to read the truths of these dancers who have been pursuing their expression throughout their lives, and then go and pursue your own expression at every point in your life.
The Dancing Over 50 Project and Stance on Dance are not about me. They are about you. Be a dancer/mover/artist, every day, in all the manifestations and permutations life takes. Be honest with where you are and where your body is. Trust in that expression. Don’t let anyone (least of all the media) tell you what that expression should look like. Give this gift to yourself.
Soapbox over. For now.
Interviewing Gregg Bielemeier for the Dancing Over 50 Project