Because of my interest in drawing the figure, I’m very aware of the different ways in which people move and how so many forces over time can affect our bearing and gait. On a recent summer afternoon in the Berkshires, I spent time studying individuals who were waiting to attend a matinee at Jacob’s Pillow, now known as the International Center for the Dance. What an unusual confluence of bodies and how different this audience was from that at most theater or concert venues. In the graceful ways of ambling through a crowd, in an almost haughty alertness of focus and bearing as if prepared to rush in from the wings, it was clear that dance had always been front and center in so many lives here. A few who were not yet elderly, used canes or walking sticks. Patrician demeanors implied the pride of years of studied control in a physically difficult art form. Faces were beautifully lined with anticipation and held a kind of rapture at what they were about to not only view but participate in through the extension of memory and imagination. Little girls practiced pliès in the patio to show they had a right to be in this place of storied performers; women some years removed from their days as prima ballerinas wore stage makeup and had a prance in their step.
It made me think of the short span in which dancers can pursue their art, and how hard it can be on the body, aging it long before its time. Many go on to be choreographers or teachers, but like professional athletes, they often suffer physical impairments while still relatively young. Yet movement, any movement, is increasingly necessary as any of us age. Without it our muscles quickly become weak, and we become susceptible to falls and ultimately unable to do the things we love. I often resent the time it takes to do the amount of exercise necessary to keep mobile, yet I know that it’s the only way for me to continue to pursue a creative life. Though a dancer’s active years may be short and intense, many other art forms adapt well to a slower pace and profit from the added perspective of years of practice and observation..