Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Greybeard Dancers

Last spring, to get myself in the mood for the Midwest Ale, I started to re-read Tony Barrand's book on Morris Dance, Six Fools and a Dancer. I've spoken of that book before in this forum. But this turned out to be a really bad idea because I came to this paragraph in the chapter on crises in the life of a Morris team:

After ten years of dancing, the people who started when they were in their twenties are now in their thirties...The Morris is a young man's or young woman's dance. An older, experienced dancer can add a lot to the aura of grace which must pervade the dancing but will increasingly be able to add little of the power or strength which is the heart of the aesthetic. Either the team must age slowly so that the dancing gradually becomes and is seen as something middle-aged people do, or the core of the team must be identified with younger bodies.

So yeah, by the time you are in your thirties for crying out loud you are too old to dance with power or strength (and the difference between the two is what?), but maybe (pat-pat on the head) you can add to the "aura of grace". Honey, I couldn't add an aura of grace to anything if my life depended on it. So that book went right back to the bookshelf and I think this picture -- of me at the Ale -- is my own personal f-you to Tony's comment. I am, after all, nearly twice the age at which Tony determined I can no longer achieve the heart of the aesthetic.

This reminded me of something I read in elementary school (that turns out to be an urban myth, but you'll get my point). What I read was that scientists had made a careful study of the bumblebee and determined through a long series of aerodynamic calculations that for a bumble bee the ratio of weight and height to wingspan was such that the bumblebee is unable to fly. The bumblebee, not knowing this, goes ahead and flies anyway.

But in truth there is something about the way skilled young men and women dance that is supremely rare in older dancers. Soon after Russ joined our team back when he was in college (after dancing on a touring team when he was in high school), Jim watched him do his splitters one night and said to me "When you watch Russ dance you wonder why anybody over the age of 25 even bothers to dance Morris." It wasn't Russ's height or his form or even his "power or strength" per se that yielded this remark, but a sort of fluidity and bounciness that you definitely lose as you age. At the Morris Intensive last week I saw other young dancers who moved like this. It was a joy to watch. A great pleasure. But it really got me thinking hard about what that implies for my own approach to dancing, specifically about my own physical limitations. Should I really still be doing this? (I ask myself this question at the beginning of each season -- and I answer it the first time each season I find myself in a full and magic set and I conclude that yes, I have one more year. Barely.)

A couple of days into the week at Pinewoods I was talking about the young-old dancer issue with a young man who was one of the Pinewoods crew members who came to the Morris class when he could. He was talking about the difficulties on some of the older Boston teams, with members who've been on the team for decades. I made some self-deprecating remark about my own dancing, identifying myself with the older dancers, and he sort of jumped back a little and said, "Not you! We wish we can dance like you when we're 50!" On the face of it this made no sense, but then he went on to explain, saying something like "It's not about how high you can jump, it's about how much you throw yourself into the dance. We have men on our team who seem to have given up." I later realized that this guy had seen me dance in a mostly-Braggarts set during our tour in Plymouth, so he really had seen me dance in a context outside of the class.

I don't think this guy meant his comment to be of such surpassing significance, but to me it was. It gave me a way of looking at the young man - old man dance issue that is different than the way Tony looks at it, in his book. For me the fun and the joy and yes even the aesthetic and artistry of the dance is about the energy and passion and total immersion of the dancers. There is certainly a correlation between this and youth, but far far from an absolute one. This perspective gives me a way of analyzing my own dancing, and of working with what I can do rather than kicking myself over what I can't. Kicking myself over what I can't comes perilously close to giving up, and that's the most greybeard way of dancing of all.

I doubt Nathaniel will ever have occasion to read what I wrote here, but I offer him a huge thank-you for his tossed-off comment that night.
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