I got to thinking about how I write about inspirational aging dancers as I was reading Roberta Teller’s blog post Growing Older is Quite Different from Being Old. It occurred ot me that I never write about the challenges of what most dancers have to give up as they age. I love reading about dancers who are still wowing us in their senior years, but let’s face it. The average dancer is not just as active, flexible, and full of energy at 80 as they were at 20.
Several years ago I had the honor of having dinner with Fayard Nickolas a few years before he died. He was in his eighties and wheelchair bound from a stroke. I never met his brother Harold who had already died by the time I met Fayard. Obviously Fayard was not, like many tap dancers, still tapping on his deathbed. He was, however, full of life and opinions and graceful even sitting down.
If you don’t know who I’m talking about, check out a clip of one of their famous dance numbers on my earlier blog about the famous tap dance duo. I didn’t ask Fayard how he was coping with the disappointment of being a dancer in a wheelchair so I don’t know if he WAS feeling disappointed. He talked about the crazy things they used to do as if he couldn’t believe he was ever that reckless. He seemed to think that dance occupied a certain time of life and this time of life had other things to offer.
I know he passed a lot of his expertise on to his equally reckless protégé Chester Whitmore. (I can say that because Chester is an old friend and everyone who knows him would agree that reckless is a tame enough adjective for him.) There were the performing years, the mentoring years, and now the years of resting on his laurels. When I knew him, he was engaged to a lovely much younger woman whom he later married. He was talkative and highly opinionated. He enjoyed sharing his opinions of the current generation of tap dancers. He said he always closed his eyes when attending Savion Glover performances because Savion made beautiful sounds with his tap shoes but dressed like such a slob that it was insulting to the audience. The Nickolas Brothers, as you can see in the clip, were famous for dancing in tuxedos. When I asked him how they did that without breaking a sweat, he said thanks to the magic of Hollywood, they were able to do it in several takes.
I think it would personally be very hard on me to ever have to stop dancing and I hope to be one of the lucky ones who drop dead on the dance floor, but I might not feel that way if I spent my youth jumping into the air and landing in the splits (and immediately dong it again!) I could very well see myself deciding I’d had enough of that and it was time to move on to the next phase of my life.
Not all dancers age gracefully. Not all aging dancers continue to dance or accept their lot with the ease of mind that Fayard Nicholas exhibited. More on this in future posts. Stay tuned!
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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