Connections and Crossroads:  Dancing After 40

 

By Toni Leago Valle

November 3, 2011

 

When I performed with Jane Weiner and the Pink Aware Dancers for six seasons, there was a video about Jane and her sister to show the history of how they started Pink Ribbons.  The video began with, “Jane is a dancer.”  I miss the days of Joe backstage, without fail, replacing the last word: “Jane is an archeologist.  Jane is a hot-dog vendor.  Jane is an underwater aerialist. Jane is a quadriplegic performing artist.”  However hilarious this always was, it is the perfect metaphor – that dancers are so much more than the person on the stage.

Since turning 40 a few years back, I’ve been watching dancers, talking to dancers too, but mostly watching them.  The dancers I’ve been attracted to onstage are the ones who also attract me offstage.  The ones whose lives are much more interesting when the curtain closes.  People who not only take the diverse pathway, but also live it at full throttle, glide the obstacles, and affect the world they live in with such powerful grace and dignity, that others cluster to them, not knowing what they seek but knowing they have found it. 


Putting existentialism aside, I am at a crossroads in my career as a dancer and choreographer.  After leaving company life in 2005 to take care of my infant son Dante, last year I decided to rejoin Karen Stokes Dance as a full season company member.  This was my first time in six years that I would be dancing 5 days a week, between 3-5 hours a day.  I was excited to be a part of the concert The Secondary Colors, but I wondered if, at 42, my body could handle it.  Almost before the thought took hold, I rejected that idea and earnestly went into training.

In May, Becky Valls asked me to be in the third installment of the Memoirs series.  At 42, could I rehearse and train two shows back to back?  Could I actually look like a sister next to performers in their prime:  Kristi Farr, Joani Trevino, Mallory Horn, Nicole McNeil and Natasha Manley?  The answer is yes.  At 42, I have found that I am not as physically strong as I once was, that my mind is slower and I cannot always keep up in ballet class, and I have to rehearse outside of rehearsals in order to get the material in my body, but it can be done. 


And while I’ve been eating, sleeping, training, and living dance since May, something else has been percolating in the wings.  That I not only live to dance; I live for the connections I make with other dancers.  Over the past two years, I have served as confidante to four pregnancies before they were public, (like I’m the best person to keep a secret - haha), the private life of a friend where hope and life can be different and better, and the backstage person to lean on.  Knowing the person behind the develope, I feel full, needed, connected, and important that others wish to connect with me. 


By nature, the dance world is full of families and also by nature, as a dancer moves from one company to the next, family ties are broken to make room for new ones.  I look back and miss my families:  Suchu Dance, Hope Center, Psophonia Dance Company, Dancepatheatre, Travesty Dance Group.  Some friendships have endured past the working relationship, but others I am lucky to see at performance. 


SO, as I go into tech week next week for Becky Valls’ Memoirs of the Sistahood Chapter Three: Ave Maria, for me, the Memoirs family is a symbol of both the “Beaullieu sistas” onstage and my dance family offstage. I’ve worked and played with all these women, including Becky, for years, and it shows in the ease of performing together.  I have a particularly stirring duet with Becky that touches my own familial roots and I’m honored to perform it.

Then I will once again be faced with the old dilemma: how to maintain my dance family once the show is over.  So, heads up - I am beginning a journey over the next year to connect with dancers and get their stories.  I’m just plain bored with my own stories.  Because, as you will see in Memoirs, it’s not the story that’s exciting; it’s the telling.


Memoirs of the Sistahood Chapter Three: Ave Maria opens November 17-19, 2011 at 8pm, at Diverseworks.  For more information, visit www.memoirsofthesistahood.com

 

 

responses to article:

Hi Toni,
 
I read your article and just wanted to let you know how touching it was. As I get older, I often ask the same question of myself...how long will this body endure the physical prowess that dance requires? However, over and over, something inside me speaks piercingly to me...age has nothing to do with whether or not I can continue to use my body as a means for expression. It does influence how I do it, yes, as you said. But I feel this is just part of the journey as I am forced to change and evolve in all other aspects of my life the longer I am here on Earth. It's wonderful that you continue to find new meaning in dance. Who knew when we first started out that "being connected" in dance would take on so many different meanings?
 
Have a great upcoming performance and thanks for sharing your insights.
 
Best,
Tiffany R. Nirider, M.F.A.
Adjunct Dance Instructor

LSC-Kingwood/LSC-Montgomery


Nice article, Toni. I totally miss being part of a dance family/company.
Sara Draper

enjoyed reading this....
Sandra Organ Solis

Toni,
I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing Memoirs next weekend.
Alexandre Soares

Toni!

Your article made me cry! Thanks for sending it my way! I miss you! You're so amazing! I wish we could have gotten to know each other better while I was in Houston. I am in NYC now, don't know if you knew that. I'm studying to get my Ph.D. in computational biology. Haven't been dancing much, but I hope to find time/a performing group somehow. Anyways, just thought I'd say boo.
Hearts,
Rachel Hodos

loved the article. Can't wait to see you on the 17th!
Laura Lopez


Thanks for this email Toni. It made me really happy...for a lot of reasons :-)
Hugs,
Lindsey McGill

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