As the swing dance community becomes more aware of unconscious bias and works to become more welcoming and inclusive of all forms of diversity, I want to talk about age as a factor. Swing dancing has a long history of welcoming people of different ages and ethnicities and that inclusiveness, while still imperfect, continues to expand.
I’ve been dancing since about 2007 and over the years I feel like I’m becoming increasingly invisible to people I don’t know. First of all, everyone likes dancing with a familiar face and that’s only natural. But like many dancers, I always make a point of dancing with at least a couple of people I don’t know.
So here’s my story of one more type of diversity. I’m five feet on a good day, a grey-haired grandma looking for some fun dances. I’ve danced with leads who’ve treated me like Humpty Dumpty and leads who figure out that Grandma can dance and take me for a test drive around the floor. I’ve danced with follows who are learning to lead and leads who are learning to follow. Many times I’ve stood next to several follows and watched the younger people on each side of me get asked to dance while I’m left there smiling. Yes, I ask people to dance all the time, but the really good dancers often stick with a small group of partners and it can be hard to get a dance.
I understand that folks come out to dance for lots of reasons. People are looking to make friends, see friends, find a romantic interest, or just enjoy a night of dancing. I get that. I have a wonderful partner who dances only occasionally. And yes, I could go to venues with more people my age, but I love the energy at Boulder Swing and the wide range of dancers.
So here’s what I’ve learned. If you can both lead and follow you expand your dance options. I lead beginner Bal and Lindy and follow advanced Bal and intermediate Lindy. I take group lessons and private lessons and dance for the fun and joy of it. I shower regularly and dress appropriately. I say yes to almost all invitations to dance unless I fear for my balance or safety. I know that if I meet folks in a class or a workshop, I’m more likely to social dance with them.
But I feel like there’s a regular group of people I dance with and a whole bunch of folks I never dance with. Yes, I should be more assertive and ask those folks to dance, but I don't want to bother them by asking too often, either.
I think the ageism in our larger society is mirrored in our dance community. Many people have the impression that old age starts at 60. I probably thought the same thing when I was younger. But I’m here to tell you that there’s plenty of fun to be had at 60, 70, 80, and 90. I enjoy lots of the same things as younger folks. People over 65 travel, hike, climb, ski, dance, and yes, even have fulfilling love lives. And many of us have figured out what matters most to us. For me it’s spending time with people I care about, doing what I love, and being grateful for all the good things.
I wish all dancers would think about who they dance with and the conscious and unconscious factors that influence their choices. There are lots of us who would enjoy a dance or two. Let’s just add age to the mix and be aware that younger folks and older folks can bring value to our diverse and inclusive dance community.
by Vicky Youcha