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Changing needs of adult dancers as they age

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

It can be difficult to find a dance class for adults at all in many places. Often, adults of all ages and levels are put into one class. Here at Dragonfly Dance, we know that 'adults' are a diverse range of individuals, and have different needs when it comes to dance class. We address this by having several levels, and age streams. The latter is, I believe, extremely rare.


Watch the video below, or read the text below the video.


Dragonfly Dance age streams


As you probably know, we only offer classes for adults. We have two age streams – regular and mature.


Regular classes are for those aged 18-50, and mature are for those aged 50 and above. That’s not a hard and fast rule though, but a guideline.


Sometimes people think the mature stream is very, very gentle. It’s not, we are still giving people a good workout, building strength and flexibility.


Sometimes people think the mature class is for people around 30, because a lot of places that offer classes for adults really only have dancers in their 20s. That’s not the case here.


Why we have age streams


I want to tell you why we have these streams, because there is potential for people to feel offended or as if we are segregating people of different ages. That’s not the case at all. We love having an intergenerational mix.


But there are differences in what dancers need at different stages of adulthood, which are physical, cognitive, social, and even in the type of music that is special in their memories.


Let me break each of those down further.


Physical changes

  • Joints – with age, cartilage wears down and there is wear and tear that mean some movements, such as jumps or rolling on the floor, may be more painful

  • Balance and dizziness – people experience more dizziness when they turn with age. So lots of turns may not be suitable for a mature class.

  • Cardiovascular fitness and risk of cardiovascular events. Although the latter is probably more in the later mature years.

  • Eyesight and hearing - we lose our ability to hear in some frequencies as we age, and we may have more difficulty seeing. In a mature class, I need to be more focused on the volume of my voice, and even the speed at which I speak.

Cognitive differences


This is where I worry that people may get offended. But I am now aged over 50, and I can tell you from experience that I do not pick things up in a dance class as well as I used to.


A pinboard with three photographs of a dancer, one aged in her teens, the next in her 30s, the last in her 50s
Jo McDonald - teens, 30s, and 50s

For dancers of different ages, the pace of the class may need to change. This is not about physical exertion, but how quickly we might learn a sequence or routine or put complex combinations together. When you are in your 20s, I find you pick things up quicker than in your 60s. It's not the case for everyone, but for an individual, cognitive abilities will change.


You will generally develop a broader knowledge base, which is known as crystal intelligence. But our ability to learn new things will diminish somewhat, I’m sad to say. And that is called fluid intelligence.


It’s not satisfying in a class if you are older and feel as if you are left behind. And it’s not satisfying in a class if you are younger to feel as if things are dragging. So as I said, there are some real differences, although it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is significant, and it is something we take into account here at Dragonfly Dance.


Social differences


I know a lot of people enjoy spending time with people of various ages, and don’t necessarily want to just spend time with people their own age. But what we have discovered is that if we have a class primarily over 50, and someone comes into that class and are in their 20s, they are less likely to stay, and vice versa.


We tend to find that we want people in our class who are a similar age, and not to be the one that is left out. It’s not about we don’t want the ages to mix. It’s about making sure that when you come into a class you feel as if you belong there, and you are not the odd one out. I’ll put another caveat there – we do value individuality and diversity, so I’m not talking about wanting everyone to be the same. I’m talking about how comfortable it is for the individuals in the class.


This is based on not just what we think, but the data we collected over several years, and when we made changes collecting that data again. I do know that you are less likely to get the diversity in age that would be lovely to have, because people tend to want to find people of a similar age. Not necessarily exactly the same age.


As we get older, a 10, 15, or even 20 year age gap doesn’t matter as much. But when you are younger, it does matter. We think younger people do enjoy being around other young people. And a lot of people come to dance for social reasons, and we tend to want to connect with people socially who are similar to us. That doesn’t’ mean there aren’t some beautiful friendships that happen between people of different ages.


Musical memory


Music means so much to us, and we tend to have things we’ve known throughout our lives that bring back memories and we really enjoy. Something that is an old memory for a younger person, would be a newer piece of music for an older person.


I’m not saying that older people don’t like new music, and younger people don’t like old music. But as a general rule, the music I might choose for a jazz class for a mature group is quite different to what I’d have for a younger group. In a mature class I might choose things from 70s and 80s, even 50s and 60s because they are great songs. For a younger group it more likely to be music from the 90s, 2000s, and beyond. I’ll sprinkle a bit of this and that in each of them, but there is a difference in what music will light you up and touch that emotional memory centre that music has such power to influence.


Decisions about the age stream of a class


The final thing I wanted to say was about the naming we give our classes. I’m bringing this up because it was an issue recently.


We had a class that was starting out as a regular class, and a number of people joined it who were in the mature age bracket. Which was fine. But over time the class became primarily people over 50. There were one or two people in their 40s, and the rest were over 50. So we decided to rename it as a mature class. Because what we want is for people to look at the timetable and know that when they come to the class the people will be of ‘this’ age. And that way it is really, not false advertising. It didn’t change what was done in the class. It just relabeled it to better describe what the class was.


There was someone in the class who was younger who was worried that is was going to become slower, so she changed to a non-mature / regular class at a higher level. Then she felt a bit overwhelmed and out of her depth because suddenly she was in a class that was not only a higher level, but progressing at a faster pace.


So if your class is re-labelled, and you worry that it won’t suit you anymore, and that you are being essentially ‘discarded’, that’s not the case at all. It’s very much about us giving the classes names to suit those who are in it.


Wrapping up

That covers what I wanted to cover. I hope I haven’t offended anyone by talking about ages, as I know it can be sensitive. But I wanted to reassure you that what we are striving to do here is to provide the variety of classes in level, style, age stream to enable people to make a choice about what kind of class they want to do.

 

Dragonfly Dance offers dance classes to adults of all ages in ballet, contemporary, jazz, and tap. We pride ourselves on offering you a place to indulge your love of dance, whether you’re a complete beginner, had a long break from dance, or danced all your life.  Our classes have a broad mix of ages, and our philosophy is that you are never too old to dance, it is never too late to start, and you can dance forever!


If you have any questions, give us a call on 08 7073 2069 info@dragonflydance.com.au

 

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