Hip Hop, Elder Style

Elders dancing — nothing unusual about that… unless they’re in a senior hip-hop team performing for the New Jersey Nets’ basketball fans! In Gotta Dance, 12 women and one man, age 60 to 83, make it through auditions and train like crazy to memorize and execute hip-hop moves from coaches the age of their granddaughters. (In fact, some of them are their granddaughters.)

They work, they learn, they laugh, and then they dance with their hearts, bodies, souls, and soles — their ages worn proudly as the numbers on their jerseys. View the trailer here.

Of course, since this blog is about sex and aging, I had to ask the NetSational Seniors how their hip-hop habit affects their sex lives. They were a bit coy, willing to tell me just this much:

Audrey, age 60, who used to lie about her age: “It releases tension.”

Claire, age 63, who competes in ballroom dancing with a 27-year-old dance partner: “Dancing is a physical, sensual experience. Dancing does something for my ego. I love when I leave the dance floor and young guys say, ‘you still got it girl.’”

Deanna, age 65: “The problem is right now there is no time for sex. Want to know why? Cause all we do is dance. We practice, then perform, then practice some more to get our routines to where they need to be.”

A dancer who goes by “Anonymous”: “I think dancing hip hop makes me feel freer with my body and makes me feel sexier. I think that transfers to my relationship with my partner. When you are freer with your body it is therefore easier to express your sexuality.”

When I pressed for more details, the dancers declined through their publicist. Probably they were too busy dancing to check out this blog and they suspected I had a perverse — even perverted — interest in their sex lives. No, I just know how dancing does enhance sexuality, like “Anonymous” said, and Robert and I certainly discovered.

You may not be in the shape or mood to dance hip hop, but I hope I can convince those of you who don’t know the joy of dancing to jump up and try it. Whatever dance style appeals to you, give it a try.

My contemporary line dancers range in age from 9 to 80+, and everyone has a great time. We all have our physical issues (most of us of a certain age wear ankle braces or knee braces, some have had hip or knee replacements, heart attacks, strokes, and all those maladies that befall our age group eventually). I dance with a permanently damaged ankle, and right now I’m babying my back, which is threatening to spasm over the number of body rolls I did teaching my classes Sunday and Monday.

So sometimes we modify the moves when we need to, or take a break (grrrr), and then we come back to class and share the exhilaration of moving joyfully in our bodies.

Open Letter to My Line Dancers

Dear Line Dancers,

Thank you for sharing Friday’s class with me. I wanted it to be special as we neared the one-year anniversary of Robert’s death, so I announced that we would devote the whole evening to the contemporary line dances that Robert choreographed for us.

Instead of reteaching the familiar ones that we dance frequently, I brought back some older dances: Night Traveler from early 2001 — the first line dance we choreographed together, before we became a couple. Oh, how I already fantasized sharing more than dance steps with this vibrant, dancing man who brought grace, skill, and enticing hip rolls to our class.

I also taught the lovely Baby Grand, I imagined Robert teaching this slow, graceful, jazz-style dance to the class in 2005, before we knew how few years he had left. As I looked around, I saw other dancers wiping their eyes and I knew we were all dancing with Robert.

When we closed with Music to My Heart, his most popular choreography among our dancers, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Several dancers hugged me, others looked about to fall apart themselves. In the room were people who had never experienced dancing with Robert because they had joined the class after Robert had left it, but they, too, seemed moved and grateful to know him better through his choreography.

After class, I started bawling in the locker room, and cried all the way home. Then later that evening, I realized something: The one-year anniversary of Robert’s death is also the 8-year anniversary of our first kiss. Now that is a day to celebrate, not mourn! I felt that the intensity of the line dance class had helped me purge the grief and invite the light of the love we started sharing with that first kiss on August 2, 2001.

You can see videos of some of Robert’s dances from my line dance page. Many, however, were before the days of ubiquitous digital videocameras and YouTube. I’ll update this post if we record some of these older dances — we do have a plan in the works.

This excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem, “In Blackwater Woods,” resonates with me today:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal:
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Cloris Leachman, take a bow

When I first heard that 82-year-old Cloris Leachman would be a celebrity contestant on Dancing With the Stars, I was elated.

Then I saw her dance the first two weeks.

I became, in turn, embarrassed and then angry. Was she chosen for the show because she, in fact, could not dance? Were we supposed to — yet again! — laugh at an old person trying to do something that she was too old, too stiff, too brittle to do well? Was she chosen as a caricature?

Then in weeks 3 and 4, something seemed to change. Cloris seemed to make a decision to be the train rather than the track. She took charge, playing to the hilt her sensuality, flaunting her overflowing cleavage, putting her leg up on the judges’ table for the world to ogle and for Bruno to kiss. She got a standing ovation for her tango, not because it could compete with a young, svelte, limber, hormone-driven couple’s tango, but because she conveyed self-confidence, sex appeal, and being totally at home in her 82-year-old body. She didn’t just talk back to the judges (probably saltier than we were permitted to hear), but she didn’t care what they said. She was doing her best, and her best meant entertaining the public on her terms, not theirs.

I have a true respect for the grace, aesthetics and atheticism of dance, none of which Cloris displays, but I give her the “I’m in this sensual body, I love it, and if you don’t get me, you can go bleep yourself” award for attitude!

Were you troubled by her appearance on the show at first, when it looked like we were supposed to laugh at her, rather than with her? What do you think now?

Express Your Sexuality Vertically – Dance!

    Dancing is a magnificent celebration of eroticism. I recommend it whether you’re in a relationship or flying solo. Dancing is all about celebrating our bodies, expressing ourselves nonverbally, letting our souls soar through our moving bodies. Dancing is sexy– as George Bernard Shaw said, dance is “a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.”

Dancing is also an erotic form of communication with a partner, with many partners, or with ourselves — letting the lift of an arm, the swing of a leg, or the roll of a hip communicate a much more complex and subtle language than words.
Robert and I met in the line dance class I teach, and we’ve been dancing together ever since. When Robert and I dance, whether we’re line dancing separately, across the room from each other, or in a close embrace in a romantic dance, we’re aware of our own and each other’s body moving expressively, sending each other messages. We entice, seduce, sometimes just entertain each other with our vertical body language. We’re lucky enough to dance together regularly–we teach a line dance class together, and practice together for fun.

If you’re single, whether or not you’re looking for a sexual partner, the need to be touched is basic to humans. Dance is a safe, even dignified way to get your touching without pursuing intimacy. You’ll hold a stranger (or a series of strangers) safely at a distance in “dance position” and learn moves together. You won’t need to admit out loud how enjoyable it is to settle into the arms of a temporary partner and respond with your body.

During dry spells between relationships in my past, I would joke with a male friend that dancing was my whole sex life. Indeed, it felt like that: being held in a man’s arms, agreeing tacitly to follow wherever and whatever he led (so different from the rest of the way I run my life!), making eye contact–sometimes sensually, sometimes playfully, sometimes just acknowledging the cool dance moves–then saying “thank you” after three minutes and moving on to someone else. Thank goodness for dance!

With the popularity of television shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, you may think you have to be skilled, disciplined, and committed to perfection to succeed. Not so! Dance is about self-expression and freeing the natural dancer in all of us. It’s not about judges or weekly eliminations. And you don’t have to be gorgeous or a star hoofer to attract partners – just be friendly and enjoy yourself and your partners.

If you’ve thought that you’re too old to learn to dance, you’re wrong. In my line dance class, for example, dancers in their seventies enjoy rolling their hips and strutting their stuff alongside dancers in their twenties, and it’s the same in every social dance class I attend. There’s a special kinship, I think, among older dancers – we love and acknowledge the vibrant physicality of it, we feel graceful and handsome, and we enjoy each other with warmth and joy.

If dancing isn’t a part of your life, I highly recommend it. It adds a dimension of self-expression, body appreciation, and sensuality to the way we live our lives. And it’s so much fun! Just about every community offers dance lessons: ballroom, swing, Latin, nightclub, country-western, and more. To find places to dance, search “dance” (or the specific type of dance you want) plus your city or county on the Internet, look at the calendar listings in your newspaper, and find local dance studios, rec centers, and health clubs in your Yellow Pages.