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Forever Dance/ Forever Young

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I'm a dancer...Give me the chance to come through- The Music and the Mirror lyrics from A Chorus Line

I think dancers are the most beautiful people on Earth. Look at the way a ballerina carries herself. She is graceful, long, and elegant. A dancer's regal carriage is strong and confident. Isadora Duncan said, The dancer's body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.

For me, dance is a lifelong love. The desire to dance doesn't go away just because you get older. It really is a passion that stays with you forever. Fellow dancer Chris Sherman (in the fifty plus age group) says with laughter, "You work what you have, my heart beats in eight!" She mentions how a lot of older dancers may switch to other frames of movement. There are those who take class because they care about the art form and just make accommodations as needed. As long as you can hang in there, you do. Dancers might transition into something different like Ti Chi because it's a beautiful form of movement and has a familiar feel. Dancers are always searching and reaching to find certainty and intention in each movement.

It really bugs me that the show, So You Think You Can Dance has an age cut- off of thirty. I know I'm a better dancer at thirty-three than I was at twenty because I've been seasoned with life experience. Having children has added fire and meaning to my dancing. When you watch a dancer, your eyes automatically go to the face. I'd much rather watch a seasoned dancer that dances with an ability to visualize as much life in the rear view mirror as can be seen through the front windshield.

Photo: I recently saw my three year old daughter's first dance performance. I hope she continues to dance until she's a hundred and three.
I was recently in contact with one of the Move Free Dancers, Ray Smith. Move Free Dancers are a recreational performing dance troupe of active adult (fifty plus) whose mission is to inspire people of all life stages to keep moving, maintain strong and healthy joints, and do the things they love to do, at any age. They tour to educate adults, through their age defying feats, about the importance of staying physically fit and provide examples of seniors who are living active, fulfilling lives. Good News for Dallas, they will be here this week May 20 through May 23 at the Schiff Nutrition Booth HP Byron Nelson Championship
Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas.

Photos: Ray Smith, Move Free Dancer on the left and ballerina Margot Fonteyn below.
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Sixty-seven year old Ray Smith is an amazing example of someone who has lived a full life. As a fellow dancer and Pilates instructor I am encouraged, fascinated, and in awe of people like Ray who are still dancing at a ripe age. I seriously hope to be a flamenco dancer someday because I think the more seasoned you are, the more passion and life comes through your dancing. As I contemplate these things, I can't help but think of Margot Fonteyn (one of the world's greatest ballerinas) who danced up until she was sixty years old.
I thought you might enjoy the perspectives Ray offered in the following Q & A with me. You might be inspired too.

1. Have you had any Injuries? Foot, knee... how were you treated, recuperate?

Yes, I injured my knee two years ago while rehearsing a contemporary piece "Sexyback" by Justin Timberlake. I hit the floor with my knee. I did physical therapy for a while, but ultimately had injections of hyaluronic acid into the knee. That was a year and a half ago and my knee thinks I'm 30 again. Other than that I've never had an injury.

2. Do you practice Pilates?

I began Pilates in 1981 when it was a private exercise program. There was only one studio and it was run by Suzanne Farrell's mother-in-law, Romana. It was fun to stretch beside dancers like Natalia Markarova, Barysnikov, Farrell and Jacques D'Amboise. In fact, on my first day at the studio, I was waiting for my trainer; Jacques was on the reformer next to me. He asked, in that gruff D'Amboise voice, "What are you doing?" I said, "Waiting." He said, "Put your feet up on the bar and push. Don't wait, do."

3. Why do you dance?

I love rhythm. I'm from Philadelphia and we dance from a young age. I learned to jitterbug when I was about four. When I was 13, I started dancing on a local morning dance party (no professionals), at 14, I graduated to Bandstand, which in 1957 became American Bandstand. I danced on the show from 1956 to December 1959. I also love the challenge of dance, taking a rhythm and translating into movement. And to clarify things, I was never a professional dancer.

4. Who is your dancing icon?

I have many icons: Gene Kelly (I wish I could move like he), Anthony Dowell (such elegance), Farruquito (although his younger brother is equally inspiring), Patrick Corbin and Michael Trusnovec of Paul Taylor, Eliott Feld (mercurial), and, finally, Tony Yazbeck (Tulsa in the last edition of Gypsy).

5. In your opinion, is dancing a sport?

No, I don't think it is a sport, even though there are dance competitions. It's an art!

6. What motivates you to dance?

I need to move, and what better way to move than to move to music. I always feel pleased when I dance. I see so many people around me who are my age who can barely walk, often because they think they can't move at their age. I love challenging myself.

7. What piece are you most looking forward to dancing?

I am currently interested in east-coast swing. In the fall, I will be taking a performance class with the great Natan Bugh. Last year, I got to dance in a piece with Nathan, Ramona Stafford (both national swing champions), and Rosie Lani Fiedleman (of Broadway's In The Heights). I found swing to be different than jitterbug and now I'm taking classes to master the difference.

8. If you could dance anywhere in the world where would you dance?

I love dancing in New York City because there are so many styles you can study and do. But I love jitterbugging in my native Philadelphia.

9. How do you prepare for class?

I take a dance class of one form or another about four times a week. I do nothing special, except making sure I get there on time. All of these classes include stretching at the top of the class.

10. What is your best piece of advice to those who want to "keep moving?"

First, ask your doctor to make sure it is okay to "move." Then do what you like to do the most; like dancing, swimming, and bicycle riding. Then do it! But if you can't do vigorous exercise, walk. Walk at the mall, walk up a flight of stairs, walk an extra block when you can. Being over 50 does not mean your body shuts down. Eat right, take nutritional supplements, hydrate and move; you'll be healthier and happier for it.

11. What other careers have you had?

I was a writer/producer on The Today Show for 40 years. I won an Emmy the last year I was there (2007). For six years I was the company manager for Noche Flamenca, the most successful touring flamenco company in the world. I toured with the company on five continents. I was stage manager for 3 years with the Sachiyo Ito Japanese Dance Theater. I was co-artistic director and founder of Directors' Collective, a theater company here in New York. I co-wrote Dick Clark's American Bandstand with Dick. I worked as assistant stage manager on three fashion shows for Willie Calvert in Bryant Park during Fashion Week. I work with a group of dancers called The Rayzors--all over 50. And way back when... I worked on several films in Hollywood and New York.

Ray Smith is an inspiration to all to keep moving no matter what form of movement you choose.
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Mikhail Baryshnikov said, "People of art should never get married and have children, because it's a selfish experience." I strongly dislike this comment! I know dancing makes me a better wife, mom, and overall person. Leaving my children with my husband so I can go take class doesn't make me feel selfish, it makes me happy and healthy! I wish I could dance more than I do but I relish the time in the studio that I'm given and come home glowing!

Movement is essential to living a joyful and fulfilling life. We must take care of our bodies if we want to continue doing what we love. Sharon Mays (sixty plus age) has been practicing Pilates for almost four years now says, "I'm in better shape now than I've ever been. I have three acres to take care of by myself and I can do it because I know how to hold my body up without hurting my back." Baby boomers are living proof that you can be fit, flexible, and active no matter what your age.

Photo: My mom who loves dance as much as I do.

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