Lifelong Dance Practice: Project 45+


With the support from Nordic Culture Point Mobility Programme Network Funding and partners from Estonia and Norway a very nice and cherished for a long time idea of Latvian choreographer Olga Žitluhina became possible. The idea is to bring together dancers and choreographers of the age from 45 years from different countries and do something new and creative with all power of experience and will of project participants. The thought found its realization within a project “Lifelong Dance Practice: Project 45+”. Project’s 1st meeting took place in Latvia, Riga, June 5-9, 2016.

At the age of 88, legendary dance artist, Anna Halprin writes: “I am aging. My body is not the same as a twenty-year-old’s, and it doesn’t have the prescribed quality of being in social places. But I think an aged body has its own configurations of beauty.”

The main idea of the project: networking among dancers / choreographers from 45 years of age (age limit) in Nordic and Baltic countries to discover new ideas and opportunities and identify ways how to continue developing the artistic qualities and artistic existence of dancer / choreographer after age 45. This includes continuing education, sharing experiences to discuss a range of problems and to identifying resources that are topical for the dancers / choreographers who are becoming seniors. What are the possibilities of the contributions of seniors in the art of dance and dance aesthetics, at a time when life expectancy is increasing and youth cult is being popularized all around, and which has historically been one of the dance aesthetics dominant attributes, also.

Participants of the 1st meeting : Solveig Leinan-Hermo (Stellaris Dance Company, Norway) – project partner; Tiina Ollesk, Rene Nommik, Irina Pahn (Fine 5 Dance Theatre, Estonia) – project partners; Olga Žitluhina (Latvian Academy of Culture, Dance company “ARA”, Latvia), Ramona Galkina (Latvian Academy of Culture) – project partners; Aira Naginaviciute – Adomaitiene (Airos Dance Company, Lithuania) – participant; Branko Poto?an (Viktar Zavod, Slovenia) – participant, teacher; Francesco Skavetta (Wee Dance Company, Norway/Sweden/Italy) – participant, teacher; Julie Brodie (USA) – participant; Benno Voorham, Sybrig Dokter (LAVA Dance Produktion, Sweden) – participants, teachers; Vilnis Birins (Ansis Rutentals Movement Theatre, Latvia) – participant, Arnis Silins (Latvian Yoga School, Latvia) – participant.

14 participants (dance professionals, artists, choreographers) and teachers from 7 countries. First meeting was to create a network, to understand what all have in common and what’s different. How to extend the life of dancer? Thinking about the specifics of the Nordic Baltic region, about our dance artists.

There was a lot of thinking and discussing but also very practical activities, masterclasses and dancing together. One of the aims is to make an artistic project and this will be one of the main tasks in upcoming meetings.

2nd meeting will take place in Parnu, Estonia, September 8 – 12. 3rd meeting will be held in Hammerfest, Norway, November 8 – 15.


During the 1st meeting dance critic Inta Balode spent some time with participants of the project and made some notes about the idea of project and her own impressions.Here are some quotes from those:

June 6, 2016, after class led by Branko Poto?an

Impressed by the speed in which each movement acquires individuality on each participant.

Despite being able to be funny and playful dignity is always there.

Pleasure to be.

A very special tenderness – touches, hugs, looks.

First day is in a way celebration situation. What if every day for longer time all together?

A lot of irony, though not very bitter.

June 8, 2016, after class led by Benno Voorham

Thinking about playing. About how seeing people playing warms heart. Playing that is not designed by game specialists but then one which happen because a person or two, or a group find themselves tuned into the same rhythm, mood, use of tool, visual impulse, whatever that turns “ordinary life” into “play”.

This is what I think when I watch Improvisation. The situation slightly run by game master but only to the extent that provokes and causes ground for play.

So the interesting improvisation for me is where homo ludens really enjoys himself or herself, where person fully gets out of “ordinary” life.

When playing everybody become puppies and kittens, age is cancelled, no matter how old you are, you are anyway childish. But some species are known for lifelong playfulness. Mostly cats because of facebook. So this is why there are so many cats on facebook? Humans are willing to play as well but it is not decent anymore? Especially after 45.

So you have to know you are misbehaving. Your mom’s might feel ashamed if you would do this in public. Everybody would feel strange about older people playing. And because of that post and share your improper to age on facebook. Next to cats. This is what people can bring to communities in all the Baltic Nordic region – large size cat emotions; legalization of improper behavior and methodology how to turn “ordinary lives” into the play.


Besides short impressions Inta shared with participants her text written as a column for culture supplement of the daily paper “Diena”. It caused discussions and criticism from of the participants because. So after hearing that and talking to some people from the group Inta decided to have a dialogue with her own text that in a way demonstrates prejudices, stereotypes, broader steretypes about aging dancer’s body meeting the reality of many people over 45 being active in the field. Also no matter how global the world has been become, regional and historical specifics still matter a lot. What seems absurd and outdated in Holland or Norway might be still living reality in Estonia or Latvia.

There are no adults in dance* / There are adults in dance**

I am exaggerating slightly but there are no adults in dance. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that adults play crucial role in dance. There are many dance events; also the choice is quite vast – from large ballet productions till contemporary dance solos. Offer depends on location – what is rare in Riga is not rare in Stockholm and other way around. Despite that dancers are still not taken seriously. Dancers are always looked at with admiration and very often it follows by: “No way she is 56 already!!!”

People dance till at least age of 100 years; they dance in fields, showers, on tables, in Oval Office and on stage. Yes, people dance and dance, and dance. Can dancing be lifelong profession? Yes, absolutely. New York based Latvian dancer Vija V?tra comes to Latvia with her program each summer. She is 93 years old. Dance is not a job it is life. All loved professions are life. You became old because you stopped dancing. Sure, you did! There is plenty of beautiful phrases about power of dance and reducing of dementia risks. And they have scientific proof. However, dancers continue receiving the same questions: what will you do once you stop dancing? You are dancing but what is your job? What is your profession? Those questions have reasons: most people stop dancing at certain age and health conditions and nobody can blame them for that choice. Many dancers have several jobs because it is hard to make living just with dance. Many dancers have several professions but also dance is one of the most popular hobbies so it is not always clear person speaks about job or hobby. To make it easier some become “dancers and choreographers”, “dance artists” and “performers”. Labeling and hierarchy is always an issue no matter how blurred the borders are. Sometimes dancers are invited (by marketing, festival directors etc.) to choose different identities which works well in contemporary situation. Sometimes it is artist’s choice to inscribe themselves within certain tradition or question certain tradition. Others disappeared from stage and become teachers, choreographers and rehearsal directors hoping that their dance will be danced by others. One of the best ways to develop and continue learning is to share knowledge and experience. One of the interesting challenges is to be able to work with other human in a sensitive, individual way – to make them dance you and them at the same time. This is not escape. That’s growth. And it takes a lot of time so no time to be on stage. Can children dance adults? Depends on what we see as an adult. If depicting then no problem – both can become the other side. If speaking about adult content – I prefer not to see children doing belly dancing and other kinds of seductive stuff.

Why actors, painters and composers are not being asked who they will be once they stop being who they are now? This is tricky. I believe they get questions about physical and mental abilities to keep doing what they did. May be pianist can’t do so fast moves anymore, may be painter loses eyesight. But that will not take away their profession, there will be changes and new state will enter in their arts. All life they are professionals who are taken seriously, they continue talking about important things in their arts. Yes, they do if they wish. With time and maturity new dimensions enter. Absolutely! And other topics fade. Adults are talking to us, talking about serious things, about issues of their generation. Sometimes they talk about very funny things. In dance adults talk rarely. Really? Everywhere the same? Every dance style and genre the same?

Only young people are seen as professional dancers – around 30 it is time to think about leaving, later you can come out and walk in some king or queen’s role, but nobody will pay much attention to you. In ballet it is quite true. Interesting that in Sweden they changed pension law now – military personnel can still retire at 42, but dancers cannot anymore. So there is encouragement for adults to stay. It does regard mostly ballet but even in amateur dancing young ones are real dancers, but elder ones are observed with the same touched and sentimental eyes as children. What are those eyes? They are full of love, liking, feeling and not judging so much. Is there a contradiction with seeing professional arts? Are we seeing professional stuff only when we are not touched? Why it is so difficult to listen to dance of any age and any body? It is not difficult. It is different at every age. Of course, the stronger is the reference frame about what dance is the harder it is to accept unusual. Though social media do a good job – we see so much strange dancing there that now everything is acceptable.

In case somebody has an ambition to be a professional dancer after age of 50 then you are mad ballerina or very rare and special case. If you still wear the same costume you did 40 years ago and pretend dancing exactly the same it is humiliating. But many people are fully aware of what happens to them with time and don’t pretend and they stay always beautiful. A while ago I saw Sara Shelton Mann performing, she is over 70; it was so beautiful. It was special case because it was so good. And in any case bodies will be seen as “withered“. I read “withering body” it in a review about performance Brodsky/Baryshnikov by Alvis Hermanis, and I got angry – as if skin elasticity had much to do with movement quality! A chance to escape compassion about not being able to leave is in case you stop calling yourself a dancer and “become” an actor. Baryshnikov and Hermanis stressed that what they do is not dance but movement. Tell it to somebody else! I saw dance. And dance is not dance but movement now. Yes, yes! What’s wrong with dance? Why old actor is to be taken seriously but dancer is not? Old dancers are taken seriously if they don’t stress they are somebody very different and unusual. If people just do what they do, do it well and convincing and don’t feel weird about themselves audience will get used very fast. Nobody was worried about Pina Bausch being too old to still dance “Café Muller”. Problem starts when dancers have problems with being on stage. No matter at what age.

Sometimes it seems that a word “dance” belongs to one body type – stretched and smooth executing physically demanding moves. For some people it is true. But even they dance when they are alone, dance in parties and don’t care about their protruding bellies and floppy ears. So stage is a place where you cannot be imperfect? Is it because dance is not art but only entertainment? What this has to do with the topic? Am I saying that entertainment is something seen as beautiful by majority and arts something opposite? Or even more likely it is sports? Ballet seems the sportiest kind of dance for me lately; at the same time it holds so strongly to elitist high arts status that it makes me confused. Most likely the attempts of the dance reformers of the beginning of 20th century have not given results yet. Of course, in some locations there is little impact, reformers in Latvia were speaking up very shortly and not in every convincing manner, and then Soviet era came, we were there were postmodernism were born on the other side of “iron curtain”. Dance is still not equal to other arts. Equality is always an illusion. If you feel you lack something do something to get it instead of complaining. Ideas about “real dance” are dominated by court dance ideas where the main thing is to rise over everything human and natural. Once again it depends – also some very physical practices are seen as “real dance”, but, of course, if state supports ballet, it is more visible, it is market leader and forms ideas about hierarchy of dance forms. Princesses don’t poo. I like this saying, it contains so much. Could you please dance without sweating? This is true story from a dance project in arts gallery I was involved in. Paintings don’t sweat.

Wanting and being able to dance 100 years is normal. Our famous ballet dancers M?ris Liepa wrote and autobiography “I want to dance 100 years”. He died at 53. Sports offers so many possibilities to enjoy tricks, competition spirit and poetic exhaustion. Especially with the amazing camera work we are seeing lately. In arts I wish for more than a split. Though if it is a piece about history and variations of split I would go for it. I don’t want to see how everybody has something to dance about disappear leave because of money, dance status or other reasons. This is personal; it really seems that conditions in Latvian contemporary dance remove many interesting dance personalities from the scene. Though, of course, I don’t know the reasons. But I understand that a dancer cannot dance for 100 years on cement floor. And once again I am watching the same promising youth ideas without a hope for continuation. Hope never dies but exaggerations are sometimes useful. It is not a pity at all that Baryshnikov is not 20 years old anymore. Not for me, if all withered people move like him I go for autumn!

*column written by Inta Balode for culture supplement of daily paper “Diena”

**After seeing 45+ project