Aging and Ageism

As our community has grown in recent years, it has attracted many younger dancers – a demographic shift that has altered the dynamic of our scene. The previous generation of dancers is getting older in an increasingly younger scene, and in addition to facing changes in their own bodies, they often find themselves facing changes in their relationship with the dance. To better understand what it’s like to age and mature in our dance community, Eric sat down with two good friends – Tom Paderna (a previous guest of the show) and Gail Jacobson (not related to Eric) – to chat about their stories and experiences. They shared some of their physical limitations and how those affect their social dancing and competitive experiences. They talked about how the community has changed over the years and how their own roles have changed as a result. They chatted about ageism in both social dancing and competition, and they discussed the Masters division and some proposed changes to that division. And finally they shared some thoughts on how we all can create a community that is more welcoming and inclusive of older dancers. Take a listen and broaden your own understanding of what your fellow dancers are experiencing.

Mastery of Swing
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  1. Thanks so much for drawing attention to this issue. It is definitely a problem, probably even more so for women than men. I say that, not just because men do more of the asking in our age group, they ALSO like to dance with the young girls leaving us out even more.

    You asked for ideas on how to solve the problem. For me, it’s to take control over what I have control over – and that is to get better. Unfortunately, I’ll never be content just dancing with beginning dancers, though I do enjoy them too. So I’m taking private lessons and practicing a lot by myself (finding a practice partner at this age is also impossible). I believe it may take being twice as good as any young girl dancing in my level to get my fair share of dance invitations, but I’m up for the work. So improvement is definitely key, I believe.

    I’m also learning to lead. That way I can ask those women sitting it out dance after dance.

    But here’s what I’d love to see. I just started giving WCS competition a try. I suspect it won’t go anywhere, in large part because of the ageism, not only with judges, but with participants. It’s also really intimidating and discouraging to have to compete against someone 40 years your junior who is faster, stronger, more agile, etc. And many of us dance through chronic pain because of injuries or just normal wear and tear. In that respect, I definitely do feel WCS competition is set up for most of the older crowd to fail, and hate to say it, we may even say it is discriminatory in that respect.

    Masters competition is not a solution. Besides the fact that it is being taken over by former champions now, an advanced dancer may get matched with a beginner which takes a lot of his or her fun away. And without the ability to advance up levels, there isn’t as much motivation to improve.

    So my recommendation would be to organize your competitions like they do in the ballroom world – by age.

    Competition is really, really fun for all ages (just ask my friends who are now senior ballroom world champions (ages 60 and 70), and everyone I’ve talked to thinks competitions provide a very strong motivating force to improve. So maybe if we had more equitable matchups by age, more would get involved, and along with that more improvement and enjoyment amongst those in the older crowd. It’s something to think about anyway.

    Thanks again. Wonderful discussion. I hope my blabber wasn’t too long.

  2. If I may, I’d like to add this for any of the younger crowd who took the time to listen (I applaud them). At Monterey Swingfest there about 6 of my long-time WCS lady friends sitting in the first row. They rarely got asked to dance. It was so sad to see, and I was feeling their pain because it’s one I’m very familiar with. So, young people, when you see those older women – or men – sitting it out, good chance it’s not because they are old and worn out or can’t dance. It’s because they got tired of standing up waiting for someone to ask them to dance, or tired of trying. Please ask them. They’ll let you know if they need a break. It may not be your best dance of the night, but it may be theirs. And that’s worth something, isn’t it?

  3. As much as i’d love to, my 54 year old body is not able to start social dancing at 11pm (if not later) on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s lots of people that are in the same situation as I am but event directors don’t seem to care. If they do, there is not much done about it.

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