Dreams of dancing filled my childhood as pictures of ballerinas cluttered my walls. In a large family there was no time for indulgences such as lessons. But when a school friend and her grandmother took me to see Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev dance Giselle in 1964, I was entranced. Standing my stocky ground, I finally convinced my mother to send me to dance. Of course, beginning lessons at twelve was too late. I realise now that even had I begun earlier, my knock-kneed stumpy legs may have prevented my emergence as a ballerina. After a year’s lessons and one glorious outing in a concert, dressed in a blue tutu with peacock feathers, teetering in the back row of the Valse from Coppelia, my career ended.
I kept dancing though. In the late sixties and early seventies, I was a party queen – always first to start when the music got going and last to drop. Later on, I had a family; I had a career – my legs suited academia. I indulged in the vicarious pleasure of watching my daughter’s delight with dance. I still danced when ever music was played. A juke box was the centre piece of my sixtieth birthday party. But my main experience of dance was through watching others.
Soon after turning sixty, I went to a lecture at an Ideas Festival and was entranced as I had been fifty years earlier. An established dancer was speaking, describing his classes specifically choreographed for mature-aged women. You didn’t have to be experienced – just enthusiastic. My heart leapt with excitement. So here I am, every Saturday, feeling the joy of being totally immersed in my body and the music, my worries and concerns drifting out the window, replaced by light. These few hours sometimes feel like I’m suspended in an eternity that stretches my body, sharpens my mind and sooths my soul.
It’s hard work. I’m dripping sweat. There are no tutus – it’s contemporary dance – but perhaps a peacock feather may creep in eventually. Music ranges from jazz to edgy modern sounds, through orchestral to rock riffs. We’re even channelling Tina Turner’s hot version of Proud Mary. And did I mention that the group of twenty or so women are aged between 50 and75? Well I guess Tina’s still dancing at 73.
I look around: women of all shapes and sizes, with a range of backgrounds. Some have danced before, but many haven’t. We’ve heard about neuroscientific evidence that creativity and movement support healthy ageing and prevent dementia. Our teacher encourages us to explore our abilities and our imaginations. They choreograph in a way that not only respects an older body, but expresses, through dance, the experience we all bring to the classes of lives fully lived. Joy from such weekend pleasures seep into our weeks.