Dance – are my ‘best years’ over?

A couple of years ago, my Bharatanatyam teacher became frustrated with some of the younger students in my class. He felt that they weren’t pushing themselves to their full potential. He looked at me (since I was the oldest in the class) and said – “Tell them! This is the best years of their life!”

I stayed quiet, because I didn’t agree. At the time I was 39 (almost 42 now) and these have been my best years so far. That insecure, teenage version of me was a distant memory. And good riddance to my pauper student years. Not to mention the work hard-play hard existence in my late 20’s, where I did a lot but achieved zero. The thirties were amazing – where I finally discovered self-confidence, the rewards of being my own boss, the love for a child, and dancing professionally. Now in my 40’s, I’ve opened a dance studio and life is full in the best way possible.

I wish I had told my younger classmates at the time that any age could be their best year. In the context of dance, where being youthful is often celebrated and desired, there are still so many wonderful stages ahead, and here’s why:

    • Motivation. There’s no parents dragging you to dance class, so if you’re continuing to dance as an adult, it’s cos you’ve chosen to be there. Being responsible for your own actions (and paying from your own pocket) means you’re probably more motivated to get the most out of your lessons.
    • Less competition, more gratitude. The flip side of aging is that you generally get better at accepting yourself, with all your limitations. Instead of comparing yourself to the dancer who can jump higher, you’re just grateful to still be dancing!
    • Less injury. What??! How’s that possible with stiffer joints and less flexibility? Here’s the thing though – you get better body awareness. So you know what feels right, the difference between ‘good’ pain and ‘bad’ pain. You can’t take your youth for granted or that your body will ‘bounce right back’ after injury. So you take the time to recover properly, to stretch and warm up, and do more to prevent an injury in the first place.
    • A deeper understanding of self-expression (abhinaya). Ok, so you can’t reach the technical heights you used to. But dance is more than being technically brilliant. Life experience gives you an enormous reservoir of memories, thoughts and emotions to draw upon when on stage. You get better at expressing your emotions and keeping your audience engaged in the story you’re performing.
    • In the words of ballerina Alessandra Ferri after she retired at age 44: “I didn’t miss being on stage, or the applause. I missed feeling alive.” Alessandra came back from retirement at age 50, and danced the role of Juliet at age 53.

How wonderful it would be, if we let our “best years” be this very moment we are in.

Jaya Karan
16 April 2019