Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why I'm Not So Sad About Getting Old

Wade Madsen in the studio, @Gregory Bartning, from "Beauty is Experience:Dancing 50 and Beyond"
The other day I met a friend for coffee and we got to talking about being older women in this culture.

“Sometimes I feel invisible,” she said.

I know exactly what she means. As we talked, I remembered something that struck me last spring, when Wade Madsen appeared in KT Niehoff’s “Before We Flew Like Birds, We Flew Like Clouds.” At one point, fairly late in the performance, Niehoff and Madsen sat down for a chat, and she asked him what it feels like to be an older dancer. I can’t remember his exact reply, but the gist was: awful. Then he said something that has stuck with me: a body in motion stays in motion.
Christian Swenson makes Human Jazz
@Gregory Bartning

Keep moving, keep writing, keep following your heart.

It's not always easy. 

The older I get, the more life experience I garner, the more I feel that I’m ‘old fashioned,’ or out of step with the world around me. I know a hell of a lot more about the world now than I did when I started out as a journalist 35 years ago, but somehow I still feel like I am an impostor. So I just keep plugging away and take huge inspiration from older artists, especially dancers, who imbue their work with all of their own life experience.
Tara Stepenberg, @Gregory Bartning

So I was thrilled to get a copy of Emmaly Wiederholt and Gregory Bartning’s new book “Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond.” It’s a collection of short interviews and photographs of a number of older dancers talking about their career highlights, their limitations and their thoughts on their futures as dancers.

Five Seattle artists are included in this book: Madsen, along with Mark Haim, Shirley Jenkins, Christian Swenson and Tara Stepenberg. The book doesn’t delve deep into the connections between aging and artistry; instead, those insights grow on you as you go through the many stories Wiederholt and Bartning include.
Mark Haim in the studio, photographed by Gregory Bartning

Mark Haim cited a song that I totally relate to, Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” If you’re drawing a blank, find a version online, preferably performed by the inimitable Elaine Stritch. It’s an anthem to growing older and wiser, a musical flip of the bird to a folks who might discount us.

I saw myself in something Shirley Jenkins told Wiederholt.

“I battle the sense that people have put me out to pasture, or that I’m old school, or not what’s ‘in,’” Jenkins said. “That’s something I’m constantly fighting.
Shirley Jenkins, @Gregory Bartning
Oh, me too!

But ultimately, this book is about the triumph of the creative spirit, and the joy these artists derive from dancing. It reminds me the take a deep breath whenever pessimism starts to drown me, that I live the life that passion drives me towards.

Wade Madsen says it better than me:

“Sometimes I’ve woken up and thought to myself, ‘Wade, you’ve created the life you wanted!”

Emmaly Wiederholt launches her book  at Cornish College of the Arts’ Main Gallery this Sunday, September 24th from 5-7 p.m. You can find out more about the book at her website


  1. I just loved your post. I do believe that old age should be appreciated and acknowledged positively. Thank you for sharing such a positive post.

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