Learning to dance over 50

Posted on August 29, 2010

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Dancing can be so much fun.  I personally love listening to music and I love to exercise.  Dancing lets me do both at the same time.  I feel so much younger now that I have started dancing.  I used to have sore knees from running when I was younger.  But the pain has gone away since I started dancing.  I think that is because dancing works all the muscles of the legs.  You have to turn as well as go back or forward.  Dancing improves your balance and flexibility.  There is nothing more enjoyable than gonig to a dance venue where there are 150 people of all ages and capabilities to dance with.  The variation and creativity of that many people keeps dancing from ever becoming boring.

 And it doesn’t have to be done at a bar.  There are many dance  venues where you can learn to dance without having to go drinking.  Most large citys have several ballroom locations.  The other place you can often take dance classes is at the local community college.

Learning to dance can be difficult at all ages.  But I have found a successful way to overcome the common challenges so anyone can become a dancer.  I am learning my fifth dance now and I have discovered a five step pattern that seems relatively universal;

  1. What did I get myself into phase. You are excited (and maybe scared) to start a new dance and at the same time you feel like a completely uncoordinated blob.  You probably see some people in your class that seem so relaxed and at ease (and they are good).  It feels like this was a really bad idea.  A lot of people never get past this stage.  But everyone starts there if they are honest.
  2. Let’s get my feet sorted out phase.  This is the phase where you just try to figure out the basic rhythm to the dance and what exactly do you do with your feet.  You often finish class with a feeling of being overwhelmed.  It feels like there is too much to remember.  However, this phase is the easiest to practice by yourself.  I have unloaded the dishwasher while doing Lindyhop steps.  I have vacumed the floor with salsa steps.  I like to think of this phase affectionately as the Mrs. Doubtfire phase.  This phase requires pure determination to get thru.  Some people don’t want to practice or can take a long time in this phase.
  3. The Technical phase.   This phase is the beginning of feeling like things are not hopeless afterall.  In this phase, you start to gather a list of patterns that you can complete successfully.   It is somewhat a math game.  You are constantly asking yourself, “I know five patterns and soon I will know eight”.  But the scary question is, “but can I actually complete a dance outside of this class”.  I almost quit dancnig twice in this phase.  Both times I was saved by finding a practice partner who was in the same struggle and needed someone to help them get thru this phase.
  4. I made it thru a song phase!  In this phase, you actually go out dancing socially.  I have always been most successful in this phase by going out dancing with people from my class.  Most of the people in the class know the same moves and so you do not have to worry about someone trying to lead a move you can not follow or trying to lead someone who might not know one of your patterns.  My joke here is that dancing becomes easy after you have danced a million steps.  This phase is all about muscle memory and becoming relaxed.
  5. The music takes over phase!  Somewhere after dancing for awhile you realize you are no longer counting out the rhythm in your head, but the music is telling you what to do.  If you are a leader, you lead a move and the follower responds and whatever the follower does you can pick it up while staying in rhythm.  As a follow you realize you just followed something you never had been taught.  And you find yourself adding styling to the music at places where it feels right, not because it is a pattern.  Congratulations, you now have made it to where dancing is not an effort.  The music and your partner are all that matter.  A three minute song seems to last much longer as you lose track of time.  The two of you build a special flow that is unique to that moment.  This is when you feel like you are creating a new dance with every song and feel completely alive.

There are a couple extra challenges that can happen because you are over 50.  Again these seem to be universal in nature.  Many of the women who are over 50 that I dance with complain that the younger men do not ask them to dance.  What I tell them is that they need to ask the men to dance unlike some of the younger women.  If I go with some of my older dance friends, I will be sure to dance with them early.  Once other dancers see how good of a dancer you are, then people will be happy to ask you to dance.  As a male dancer, I have to overcome the “dirty old man” dancer if I ask someone who is young to dance.  This usually means that I have to make sure I get thru the dance with the first young woman.  Soon the younger women realize I am only there to dance and that dancing with an experieced older dancer is much better than having to be yanked around the floor by a young man trying to show off his manliness.

The bottom line is that dancing can be a lot of fun and being over 50 is a great time to learn.  Sure, there are some challenges to overcome.  But by 50 we have learned to overcome many challenges.  I tried to highlight the challenges I have faced as I have tried to become a dancer and now become a better dancer.  I have no aspiration to dance in competition or to “dance with the stars”.  I just want to have fun, have a chance to be creative, and get some exercise.  After 50 we should feel we are old enough to deserve the fun we get!  And by 50 we should care less about what other people think!

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