Designing Modern Dance Classes for the Mature Mover: Physiological and Psychological Considerations
Dancers are continuing to dance longer due to changes in technique and increased awareness of the body and safe movement practices. Even after performing careers have ended, it is healthy both physically and emotionally for dancers to continue to take technique class, particularly if they are teaching dance classes. It can be a challenge, however, finding a class that is appropriate and fulfilling for the skilled, mature dancer. This article discusses changes commonly seen with the aging process and how modern dance classes can be designed to meet the changing needs of a lifelong mover. Specific activities that can slow or ease the degenerative process are included, as well as suggestions for class structure and content. These ideas are derived from exercise science research, and the approach is augmented with somatic sensibility that is then applied to dance technique.
A dance technique class at the American College Dance Association (ACDA) conference is filled with young adults hoping to learn a new technical skill, experience a different style, or perhaps prepare their bodies for performance. Expanding your field of vision, you might notice that a few more mature bodies are integrated in the youthful mass. Some additional older dancers (many of them teachers) are doing modified movements on the periphery, and most are taking notes on the sides. This phenomenon is not restricted to ACDA conferences—it is the norm for most dance classes unless they are specifically designated as being for “adults” or for “faculty.” Unfortunately, these kinds of classes tend to be few and far between, and the adult classes offered might not be designed for the highly skilled artist coping with an aging instrument. Classes for this population need to be challenging and satisfying while also being sensitive to changing abilities and needs.
With changes in technique and increased awareness of the body and safe movement practices, dancers are continuing to dance longer. Even after performing careers have ended, it is healthy both physically and emotionally for dancers to continue to take technique classes, particularly if they are teaching dance classes. The aging body does undergo changes, many of which have been documented in movement science research that cannot and should not be ignored. These changes reflect a complicated interplay between the inevitable and the avoidable (Haywood and Getchell 2009Haywood, K. M., and N. Getchell. 2009. Lifespan motor development. Fifth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.). The aging process differs for each individual in terms of onset, rate of change, and systems affected. These parameters are strongly influenced by the ability and opportunity to continue training. For our purposes, the term mature is used in reference to the 30-plus age demographic. The suggested class design is perhaps most relevant for dance artists in this age range whose interests have moved beyond performing full time, including teachers, higher education faculty, and choreographers.
This article presents pedagogical approaches to creating and leading modern dance technique classes specifically for these mature artists. We consider first the changes that are typically seen with the aging process—what is unavoidable and what is not (Haywood and Getchell 2009Haywood, K. M., and N. Getchell. 2009. Lifespan motor development. Fifth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.). Then we explore what an older, skilled mover might need and want from dance class as this often is not the same as for the younger, developing dance artist or the performing artist working within his or her physical prime. Suggestions are given for designing technique classes that address both the physical changes and the changing interests of the lifelong mover, providing specific kinds of activities that can slow or ease the degenerative process as well as ideas about class structure and content. In particular, using exploratory and improvisational activities and inviting the modification of material gives dancers the ability to move around within any existing physical limitations and makes for a more collaborative learning and teaching environment. These ideas are derived from exercise science research, and the approach is augmented with somatic sensibility that is then applied to dance technique.
Brodie, Julie, "Designing Modern Dance Classes for the Mature Mover: Physiological and Psychological Considerations" (2016). Journal of Dance Education 16(2): 48-57. Faculty Publications. Paper 12.
Journal of Dance Education