Coming Out of Retirement…


out-of-retirementOn New Year’s Eve this year, a group of retired Alvin Ailey American Theatre dancers performed Ailey’s signature piece—“Revelations.” For those of you that haven’t seen it, watch it on YouTube. It’s a dance piece that soars.

But for this performance, the artistic director asked their retired dancers, ranging in age from 43 to 75 years old, to perform. One of the dancers (With Willing Spirit, a Reprise for Ailey Dancers, New York Times, 12/24/2013), Ms. Fisher-Harrell said, “This dance is in my DNA, even if I wanted to forget it, I couldn’t.”

But they were nervous. How would their aging bodies perform? One of the retired dancers noted: “When you’re younger, you have everything—you have flexibility, you have no fear. But you don’t savor every step, every movement of every fingertip, and every beat of the music. I feel like I am tasting food for the first time.”

Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, who left the company 15 years ago, said something that made me want to dance. She visualized the performance in a new way—“not just as a showcase for technique, but as an expression of all the things that life has put into you.”

Wow! I love that thought.

As an adult who is marching (slowly) towards older age, I know what she means. In my work as a psychologist, I often sense all of the things that my life has put into me—the experiences of 40 years of a committed relationship, raising a family, helping my 91 year old mother, sharing my father’s last days with him, and all that I have learned from my patients.

I know what Ms. Fisher-Harrell means when she realizes that she can savor every moment. She is less worried about what others will think, whether it will be a great performance, or her best performance. She is no longer concerned with how her dance career will turn out. She isn’t worried about how to balance her career with her family responsibilities. She isn’t in her head, thinking about what she has to do tomorrow, or what she will make for dinner.

She can relax and just be.

When I was 48 years old, I returned to practicing Aikido, a Japanese martial art. I practiced in my early 20’s and loved the lyrical movement of the form. But then we had children, and I didn’t have time to practice and be the Dad I wanted to be. But when my daughters were teens, I saw that I could practice once again.

The first few months were miserable! Every muscle in my body ached. I seriously thought about buying stock in Ibuprofen! I just kept thinking—“After a time I will get back to where I was when I was 25.” In my mind I could imagine flying over the mat, but my body just didn’t want to cooperate! I never did “get back” to where I was physically. But over 15 years, I developed in other ways that I couldn’t imagine.

Sure, getting older has it’s dark side—looking in the mirror, waking up in the morning with a new health problem, or having less get up and go.

But then there is that other side of growing older.

Sometimes, on a day where the sun is shining and so are we—we can experience all that life has put into us. And we can express it in our words and our actions.

And, we can relax, and just be.

What about you? How do you express all that life is in you?


  1. Anonymous

    I like this way of thinking. Somedays I feel like life just takes things out of me. Better to view all of it, the good and bad, as adding to who we are.

  2. Anonymous

    Very inspiring. I used to go dancing every weekend with my sister as a teenager. It brought us closer together and made us and our parents joyful. I recently had the opportunity to audition for a production in Seattle. I never would have gone *looking* for this opportunity, but after it kind of “fell in my lap,” I thought, what the heck, and applied. I thought there was no chance they’d ever call me.

    I was wrong. Not only did they call for an audition, they selected me and my sister out of 500 participants to perform! It was a nervewracking experience, but feeling that joy dance brings again has invigorated me! I can’t wait for rehersals to start!