- The Aging Body in Dance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective eds. by Nanako Nakajima and Gabriele Brandstetter, and: Dancing Age(ing): Rethinking Age(ing) in and through Improvisation Practice and Performance by Susanne Martin
Dance, according to recent neuroscience research, is "the number one exercise for slowing down the aging process" because, in addition to its obvious physical benefits, it is "the most effective exercise for the brain" (Brown 2017). This is not exactly breaking news to those who practice dance, yet this article and others like it (Frontiers 2017) are just further examples of Western culture's lack of understanding about the bodymind concept. Further compounding the issue is that the field of Western concert dance with its related techniques (ballet, modern, contemporary, and now hip hop) is one of the least hospitable to aging bodies. We remain a youth-oriented culture drawn to spectacular displays of particular kinds of virtuosity, even as on the whole we are living longer and might benefit from a greater diversity of bodily perspectives and role models.
For a professional dancer, the aging process is one of the most profound in a career, alongside injury. Coming to terms with change in relation to a fixed ideal has yielded some remarkable stage works, from Remy Charlip/Lucas Hoving's Growing Up in Public (1984) and Keith Hennessey/Sara Shelton Mann's related Sara the Smuggler (2015), to Miguel Gutierrez's Age and Beauty series (2014–15) and David Gordon's Live Archiveography (2016–17). Virtuosos such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Wendy Whelan have explored new possibilities since retiring their former dance selves, and performers such as Simone Forti, Gus Solomons Jr., and Eiko Otake are just a few who have sustained their dance careers into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. The host of books on dancer self-care, including Daniel Nagrin's seminal How to Dance Forever: Surviving Against the Odds (1988) indicates that, indeed, there is a desire to continue dancing throughout a lifetime, further evidenced in the intergenerational Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and the [End Page 184] former Nederlands Dans Theater 3 comprised of artists over 40. It is thus well past due that the field of Western dance embraces the knowledge and wisdom found in its living traditions.
Two recent books make important contributions to age as it pertains to dance, albeit via different forms and approaches. The Aging Body in Dance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Nanako Nakajima and Gabriele Brandstetter, is an edited volume of short essays written by scholars and artist-scholars from the US, Europe, and Japan. Dancing Age(ing): Rethinking Age(ing) in and through Improvisation Practice and Performance by Susanne Martin is a single-authored practice-based monograph. However, both texts notably agree that dancers themselves need to become more aware of their changing bodies and update their expectations and approaches to their craft. Equally, as each text also stresses in various ways, audiences might begin to expand their viewing and sensorial expectations and experiences beyond the kinesthetics of youthful virtuosity.
The texts similarly recognize postmodern dance pioneers such as Anna Halprin, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, and Simone Forti, and the techniques and choreographic structures they forged—often based in improvisation—as touchstones. The ongoing careers of these artists collectively gesture to a larger topic of inquiry within dance studies that moves beyond any one artist biography. Many of these artists are still performing (see Danspace Project 2017), a testament to the multiple ways each has contended with the condition of ongoing bodily change in ways that redefine the profession.
The Aging Body in Dance developed from two symposia held in Berlin, Germany (2012), and Tokyo, Japan (2014). The series of essays address the themes of biological aging and cross-cultural aesthetics of aging, as outlined in the "Introduction" by Nakajima, a lecturer, scholar...