Anyone Can Dance: Elders teach the audience about gumption and joy

I received an Arts and Change Grant in 2015 from Philadelphia’s Leeway Foundation, to do a collaborative project between my elder dancers (average age 83) and the Philadelphia Dance Academy (average age, 14). Our final project was a performance piece within the Dance Academy’s spring concert, but the point of our year together was for  people of different generations to become a team. After we listened to music and worked on choreography together, and planned the costumes, the group sat in a circle and talked about their lives, their experiences, their frustrations, and their thoughts and fears about performance.
My choreography (to The Marvelettes, “Please, Mr. Postman’) started with the women seated in chairs and the kids dancing around them. But halfway through, they switched places, and the women stood and moved together. Although they all used canes or walkers offstage, they performed without them.
During rehearsals, the women in my group could not sit on the floor and change their shoes, and I was pleased to see the generous help the kids gave them, leaving the performance chairs in place for their older colleagues and getting them water. The elders didn’t hassle the kids with demands about their homework, their grades and what they wanted to be when they grew up.
After the performance, we got a standing ovation and cheers, and I realized that the limited movement I had designed–keeping things as simple as possible–allowed the audience (mostly parents and friends in young middle age)  to imagine what their capacity might be at 80 or 85 on a stage, under the lights, getting wild applause.
Last week, 3 of my dancers (average age now 86) and I (71) performed for Leeway’s 25th anniversary cabaret. This time the dancers stayed seated throughout the piece. They were fabulous. And, they got paid for the first time in their dance careers! Although none of them cared about this, it meant a great deal to me to be able to honor these women and show the value society places on their art.
Submitted by: Judith Sachs
Organization: Anyone Can Dance