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How does a dancer’s relationship with their art change as they get older? As new interests, increased responsibilities, parenting and care-taking, other career opportunities, injury, and physical changes enter our lives, how do we incorporate these shifts into our identities as dancers? Eight Seattle-area artists, whose ages span from 30 to 64, share their thoughts on dancing, getting older, and what it means to allow our love of dance to shift.  

Ian Howe. Photo by HMMM Productions.

Describe where you’re at currently in your dance career.  

“At one moment, I feel like I am at the beginning, and then something happens and I know that I am at the end. It comes down to funding and grants, and unfortunately, I have to play the game with anyone who is just starting out. And that feels not great. I know my work is powerful and I have a strong confidence when it comes to creating dance. But producing, I also feel like a fledgling.”

Wade Madsen, 64

“I’m currently two years into a break from my dance career to explore other facets of my creativity. I just finished my first YA novel in a series of three called Wild Roses. I’m hoping to get it picked up by a publisher this year. I still paint on a daily basis. I also continue to run La Figlia ART HOUSE in Italy. I’m done with creating performance work just to create it. It was a really hard transition at first. My ego kept telling me that I was a quitter and that I just gave up something I’ve been working on my whole life. I’m finally beginning to feel settled in my choice to take that break. Maybe I’ll create a performance again when I have something to say. Right now, I’m very fulfilled reaching into other art forms.” – Anna Conner, 40  

Photo courtesy of Anna Conner

“My dance career is at a bit of a crossroads. I’m still performing physically rigorous work, but I’m getting to a place where I don’t think I’ll be able to train enough to perform the type of work I’m most interested in doing, at the level I would like to continue doing it. I also teach dance and work at TeenTix, which is an amazing organization focused on youth arts access and engagement. That part of my career is ramping up (which I am happy about because I genuinely love my jobs) but it’s shifting my priorities away from performing. Honestly, I’m more ok with that shift than I thought I would be, and than I would have been if it had happened a few years ago.” – Mariko Nagashima, 30

What are some of the joys and positive aspects of being a dancer at this stage in your career?

“When I turned 40, I was starting a new season at Pacific Northwest Ballet. I remember thinking to myself how grateful I was to still be dancing and hoping that I was a role model for all the new, up-and-coming dancers. I had performed certain roles many times, and I was still performing them. No matter what the role was, I always brought a new approach and focus. Now at 50, I’m even more grateful to be performing. I hope to be a role model to those who want to continue performing after being in a major ballet company. I hope to show you don’t have to be afraid to try something new.” – Ariana Lallone, 50

Ariana Lallone performing with Teatro ZinZanni. Photo by Michael Doucett.

How has your relationship with dance changed in the past decade? What’s been the cause of these shifts?  

“I still love the rehearsal process and performance aspect, but I can’t seem to get myself to class on a consistent basis. Responsibilities of work and having a child (although she is older now), don’t allow for consistent time for taking class and/or being involved in projects.” – Fumi Murakami, 60

“In the past decade I have been attending traditional dance classes less, but practicing yoga more. I am also performing less, but savoring each moment that I do step onstage. I am teaching the same amount, but I’m finding new and deeper ways to engage and inspire students. I am less critical of dance work and more awe-inspired by those who do dance, perform and share the joy of movement with the world. I think time helps us see things with more clarity. I love dance in almost a deeper way now.” – Jess Klein, 39  

What determines whether someone continues to dance throughout their life?

“This is a sweeping generalization, but it seems that if someone is still dancing in their 30s they’re more likely to continue. A lot of burnout happens in the post-college, early 20s years where you’re still figuring out how to balance it all. Also, oftentimes maintaining a performing career in dance becomes less about if you have the drive to be dancing, and more about if you have the financial stability to take class, or to spend time in rehearsal to prepare for a show. Continuing a dance career can sometimes be a privilege considering there’s typically no health insurance, regular schedule, or ability to save for retirement. It’s also a lifestyle choice that not everyone is interested in, or can do past a certain age, or is feasible for everyone past a certain age. That being said, there’s so many avenues to continue a fulfilling career in the field of dance beyond just performance..” – Mariko Nagashima, 30  

Fumi Murakami. Photo by Joseph Lambert.

The hardest thing about being a dancer is:

“Keeping up with the times and realizing when you need to move on from certain aspects of your career and transition into others. For example, in my case, going from a role of being in the spotlight, to creating the spotlight for others. Becoming a mentor to the next generation. Dancers are egotistical to a degree, you wouldn’t be able to survive in this industry if you don’t have some air about you, so being able to swallow that and come to terms with when it’s time to move on.” – Ian Howe, 33  

How has the landscape changed for dancers in their 30s, 40s, and beyond from your perspective?“In my perspective, there seems to be less traditional modern companies in Seattle now; maybe that’s because everything is so much more expensive? There also seems to be more ability to be creative with our careers and to find ways to bring dance to spaces and places that aren’t the traditional ‘dance company’ model. I am so happy I experienced the dance world of the ‘90s in Seattle, but I’m also so excited about how the dance world will continue to shift and grow moving forward.” – Jess Klein, 39  

Jess Klein performing with Hypernova Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Jules Doyle.

How should dancers approach their art when they’re physically not able to move like when they were younger? Beyond virtuosity, are there other areas that we can tap into in order to create a compelling performance?  

“Intent is very powerful. And still, a daily practice (such as taking class) is even more important, as dance is about being embodied and understanding your body. Limitations or not. Creating a place to physically speak from is the power of dance.” – Wade Madsen, 64

“A performer can be sitting completely still and creating a fully compelling experience for the viewer. As long as the subject matter is pure, honest, heavily researched and completely authentic, the viewer will be drawn in. So, in that way, I feel dancers can perform forever. We just have to always be digging deeper into our truth.” – Anna Conner, 40

“I think that performance quality and maturity, self-confidence and ease are qualities that older performers can bring to performance/art.” – Fumi Murakami, 60  

Photo courtesy of Mariko Nagashima.

Is there a stigma about being a certain age in dance?

“I don’t feel that there is as much of a stigma as there used to be. I know many dancers, dance teachers, and choreographers in their 30s and 40s, who also have full-time jobs, and/or children, and who are still very active in the dance world. I am so inspired by that! I think there’s less of a stigma and more of an appreciation that people are still dancing when they’re older, but maybe that’s just because it’s how I feel! – Mariko Nagashima, 30  

“I think it depends on where you are dancing. I remember being in my mid-30s and people started asking me when I was going to ‘retire’ instead of what roles I was looking forward to dancing. Not because I wasn’t capable but for some reason being in a company for a long time lends itself to that question.” – Ariana Lallone, 50

Many people reading this are dancers. When it comes to cultivating a fulfilling relationship with dance throughout the years, what advice do you have?  

“Do not try to be cool, but try to be truthful. Gain inspiration from something or someone, but always be different. Talk about what you’re doing and get feedback … Be nice. Be honest. Answer email.” – Wade Madsen, 64

Wade Madsen. Photo by Gregory Bartning.

“Dancers should always be trying to diversify themselves. Don’t just be a dancer; learn how to become a choreographer, producer, director, visionary. Dancers should be learning how to run a show, how to put together a show, how to run lights, how to run sound. Find new ways to lift yourself up beyond just being a dancer.” – Ian Howe, 33  

“Follow the joy! Figure out what it is about movement that you love, and try to do that. I was lucky to find aerial arts and luckily the fact that I was almost 40 didn’t stop me from trying.” – Karen Garrett De Luna, 47

“Don’t fit into other people’s notion of what dance is and make things happen for yourself. Nancy Cranbourne has a group called ‘Forty Women Over Forty’ in Boulder, CO and I loved the idea so I have now tried to have one piece in Full Tilt be a multi-generational piece that includes dancers over 40. Our piece last year included a dancer age 78 and and a 10-year-old. This year’s show included a piece with half the dancers over age 40.” – Fumi Murakami, 60

Karen Garrett De Luna. Photo by Lisa Elliott.

What else do you have to say that we should know?

“I spent a lot of my prime dancing years afraid. Fear of auditioning, fear of rejection, fear of poverty. I had a lot of fears about being a dancer and choreographer and as a result all but gave up choreography. I would like to encourage young dancers to find mentors and older dancers to mentor. It is helpful to be able to speak about one’s hopes and fears and the landscape of performance, training, art, etc. with someone outside of one’s own peer group. Keep moving for the joy of it! Society may not value dance, but as dancers we should never doubt our worth. It’s hard to do, but we must cultivate inner confidence to keep doing with feels right.” – Karen Garrett De Luna, 47

Special thanks to:

Anna Conner, painter, writer, performer, creator, mom

Karen Garrett De Luna, dancer, Buddhist, aerialist

Ian Howe, Studio owner, former commercial dancer, and 3rd Shift Dance member

Jess Klein, Teacher, Yogi, Leotard-wearer, Hypernova Contemporary Dance Company artist

Ariana Lallone, ballerina, frequent Teatro ZinZanni performer, PNB legend  

Wade Madsen, Independent dance-maker, performer, dance professor

Fumi Murakami, Performer, teacher, artistic director of Full Tilt dance festival

Mariko Nagashima, Dance artist/educator, arts administrator, proud bunhead