Saturday, July 09, 2011


I just returned from a week at folk dance camp. The surprise pleasure of the week was how intergenerational it was.

Americans may work, but rarely play in mixed-age groups. The folk world is a welcome change in that regard. Most of the best Scottish and all of the best English dancers I know are over age 40. (By "best", I'm judging not only for grace and skill but also enthusiasm and enjoyment.) Physical vigor is useful, but knowledge and spirit are more important, so people can continue to develop as dancers for decades. If your knees or ankles go completely, you can take up an instrument or sit on the sidelines and gossip. I like knowing I can continue in this community until I'm old, and that friendships with other dancers formed may well last the rest of our lives.

Our culture holds up young women, maybe 15 to 25, as the most beautiful. But the teenagers I saw at camp looked undeveloped compared to people their parents' and grandparents' age. The girls, still with children's streamlined torsos, looked unformed in their formal dresses shaped for older bodies.

I was there as a kind of understudy to the session's main organizer, a doyenne of the folk world who's in her fifties. With her upswept gray hair, sheer stole, peacock-blue gown, and orthopedic sneakers, I thought she was the most elegant woman at the ball.

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