“The ideal body of a dancer is not old”

When art meets science


Who: Aagje Swinnen, scholar in aging studies

Dance: Act Your Age on 12-14 December, Maastricht

Target group: students of UCM and Arts and Sciences

Older people dancing, what does that bring to mind? Shuffling old-age pensioners in an old people’s home? An eighty-year-old in a wheelchair tapping her foot to André Rieu’s violin tunes? Or a professional dancer, smoothly gliding across the stage? Most likely not the latter. But that is exactly what the three-day Act Your Age festival is about: changing the preconceptions of older people and aging bodies by offering older dancers a stage. 

“The ideal body for dancing is a perfect body. Young and taut. Older people don’t come under this category,” says Aagje Swinnen, researcher at Maastricht University and one of the speakers during Act Your Age festival. “Putting an older dancer on stage goes against the accepted standards. It undermines an aesthetic code.” Father Stefano and son Giulio (also a choreographer) dance together in the performance called Parkin’Son. Dad is 64, his son 33 years old.  It is a personal story about their relationship and how this is influenced by Stefano’s Parkinson. During What age are you acting? a young Italian choreographer shares the stage with a 65-year-old.
Speaking of standards: the television series Benidorm Bastards is a perfect example of how to poke fun at the prevalent image of older people. A guy in his seventies who swears and talks about sex, another proudly showing off his motorised Zimmer frame. For Swinnen this humoristic series is a rewarding subject for her research into the representation of aging. Swinnen analyses television, literature and films.
She reckons that the festival will be of additional value to her students, among others from University College Maastricht. “Age is an identity category the meaning of which is often underexposed. From a young age, we learn to act our age. But we need to ask ourselves: what does it mean to act your age? I would therefore have chosen the title un-act your age or  ‘resist acting your age’.”
The festival takes place at various locations in Maastricht, from the Theatre on the Vrijthof to Bernaards dance centre. In addition to dance, there is also a lot of attention for films, workshops, exhibitions and lectures (mostly in English). Swinnen will speak about our fear of growing old, while at the same time being fascinated with centenarians. Her British colleague Ros Jennings will give the lecture Rock on about aging and female pop musicians. Attention will be paid to British, American and Latina women performers, such as Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Madonna and Grace Jones. 

There is a reduced rate and a special programme for students. See www.actyourage.eu

Author: Wendy Degens

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