As we look toward Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary tour performance on November 3 at Wharton Center, Twyla Tharp’s continued success and passion as a choreographer and dancer 50 years into her career, now at the age of 73, is a true inspiration at any age. Rebecca Ammon, a local adult ballet student, started taking ballet lessons at the age of 65. Here is what she had to say about her journey into dance:
Advanced age is not the end of self-discovery and self-connection, or the end of fun, learning, and joy. In need of exercise and still wistful about my ballet lessons 48 years ago, I saw Senior Ballet classes listed in Connect, the City of East Lansing activities guide, and enrolled in September, at age 65.
The most profound reward of relearning ballet has been the reconnection with a long lost part of myself. By dancing ballet, I’ve been reminded of who I am. Though I never was a “ballerina” per se, ballet was an important part of my childhood identity. Retrieving this familiar, trusted, and joyful part of myself has strengthened my mind and spirit as well as my body. I credit Twyla Tharp for my recognition of this dynamic. During her recent interview with Tavis Smiley, she said, “…work is what we do. It’s how we know who we are…”. Dance is the work of this renowned and revered dancer and choreographer, so perhaps she would also say that dance is how we know who we are.
During the first class, I felt muscle burn and some foot and calf cramping and struggled to even approximate the steps and positions. After class, there came muscle soreness, stiffness, occasional cramping, joint irritation, and overwhelming fatigue. Sleep, acetaminophen, and gentle stretching readied me for the next class!
From the start, I never thought of complaining – most of the eight or so women in my classes are in their 70’s and 80’s! (Read “Regenerate-Scottish Ballet’s dance troupe for the over 60’s” and “Silver Swans”.) We all work hard during the class, doing our best with general cheerfulness and friendliness. From one or another of my classmates, I can see a perfect fifth step, beautiful lines, or airily graceful hands. The teachers assure me that my turnout can improve a lot with time.
Sometimes I become discouraged by discomfort or my inabilities and expectations. Our teachers encourage us, however, and stress that we must attempt and celebrate incremental improvements. Marcia Olds and Jan Fluke patiently teach and lead us through exercises and short routines. They correct our form and positions, showing us how to move in order to prevent injury. They also emphasize that we must stop doing anything that hurts or causes cramps and must never strain ourselves.
With each lesson, the after-hurt has diminished. In fact, my health and condition have greatly improved. My balance is much more sure, my daily back pain has ceased, the occasional numbness in my right arm and leg from a collapsed disc has essentially gone. My posture is straighter, my foot problems fewer, and I feel more strength, energy, and confidence.
It’s never too late to take ballet lessons! Age alone poses no limit on when you can begin or resume dancing. Wherever you live, if there’s a ballet or dance studio nearby and you’re considering taking lessons, chances are you’ll find possibilities for yourself. Do not hesitate to pursue your interest in ballet or healthful living through dance! If ballet is your next adventure, perhaps I’ll see you in class!
Rebecca’s Senior Ballet class is taught by Studio de Danse at the East Lansing Hannah Community Center. Rebecca’s dance teachers are Marcia Olds (517) 333-4430 and Jan Fluke (517) 483-3166, for more information.
Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour performance takes place Tuesday, November 3 at Wharton Center. Tickets are available at http://www.whartoncenter.com/events/detail/twyla-tharp-dance or by calling the Wharton Center Ticket Office at 1.800.WHARTON. $15 Student Tickets are available.