I recently ran into a former dance acquaintance at a family friend’s holiday party. She and I had always been cordial, but we weren’t especially close, so we’d lost touch after she stopped salsa dancing a couple of years ago.
After a few minutes of random small talk, she asked the question I knew was coming: “So … are you still dancing?” I replied, “Absolutely. I’m still dancing, performing, and I even teach a class once a week.” After a bit of hesitation, she remarked, “Wow. I guess that’s why you’re in such great shape…but I thought you would have outgrown all of that by now.” I gave her my brightest smile, replied, “I guess not,” and then moved on to another topic of conversation.
As an avid Salsa and Casino dancer in her late forties, I’m no stranger to these kinds of conversations about my active involvement in dancing. While 40 may be considered “the new 30” in many aspects of life, it seems as if 40 is “the new 80” in the youth-obsessed world of linear Salsa dancing. I’ve been dancing for nearly a decade, and I can honestly say that I’m a much better and more confident dancer than I was 10 years ago. I definitely haven’t “outgrown” Salsa dancing, but there’s no doubt that dancing over the age of 40 presents certain challenges as well as benefits.
Over 40 on the Floor
When I go out Salsa dancing in my local community, I don’t have much difficulty finding a dance partner. I’ve been around for a while so I know a lot of people and I’m not shy about asking men for a dance. I don’t feel the need to dance all night long to every song, (like I did in my younger years), so I don’t mind sitting out a dance if I’m not feeling the music. I still feel welcome on the dance floor, and even when I travel outside of my local dance community I still have a great time.
However, some of my “over 40” female friends tell me that they are finding the dance floor to be a lonely place for dancers in our age group. It’s not that these ladies don’t ever get asked to dance, but the invitations seem to be coming fewer and further in between. It is not uncommon to see male dancers pass up older, more experienced “Salseras” in favor of younger female dancers who can barely manage a basic step. But –as one male dancer told me – “sometimes you care about having a great dance; other times you just want to hold onto a tight, young, body.”
So what’s an “older” lady to do? Don’t sweat it. Just be proactive and assertive about getting your dances. If you really want to dance, and no one has asked you, just go up and ask someone to dance with you. It’s really not a big deal, as nearly everyone you ask will say yes.
If you are an older female dancer, try this technique the next time you go out social dancing: 1) scan the room for the best male dancers; 2) go ask one of them to dance; and 3) then bring your best dance energy to the dance floor. If you employ this technique correctly, I find that no matter your age you will have no problems attracting dance partners throughout the rest of the night.
I should point out that I’ve also seen some older male dancers struggle to find willing female partners to join them for a social dance. Personally, I love dancing with older men and appreciate the flavor, rhythm, and charm that many of them express on the dance floor.
However, I’ve found that some older male dancers have allowed themselves to become complacent and stale on the dance floor. These are the Leads who competently learned a certain set of moves/patterns several years ago and have decided that these are all of the moves they ever need to know for the rest of their lives. They shy away from learning anything new, and instead choose to recycle the same moves over and over again. This is quite boring, (from the female dancer’s perspective,) and is more aging than any chronological passing of time. It’s OK to be an “old” dancer, but it’s not OK to be a stale one. If you want to stay young on the dance floor, it’s crucial to learn new moves, and to experiment with different ways to express the music.
Over 40 in the Studio
If you are a brand new dance student over the age of 40, the Salsa dance studio can be an exciting, but sometimes intimidating place. I was in my late 30’s when I first began Salsa dancing and a lot of my fellow students were younger than me. Though I may have felt slightly out of place when I walked into my first dance class, that uneasy feeling quickly faded away as soon as we started dancing. I always felt warmly embraced by my fellow students and I never lacked for practice partners to help me improve my dance skills.
I currently teach an introductory level Casino dancing class, and I am blessed to have three students who are in their mid-70s. While it sometimes takes them longer to learn things than some of the younger students, these “Senior citizens” are undaunted in their enthusiasm for learning the dance. The younger students enjoy having them in the class, and we are all inspired by their great attitude and energy. My older students rarely miss a class, and seem excited and happy to be there every week.
If you are a dance teacher over the age of 40, the dance studio is generally a great place to be. Most students accord a great deal of respect to older, well trained, and experienced dance teachers. However, I find that the primary challenge for “older” teachers is to convey experience without being viewed as old-fashioned or out of touch. I have seen some young students flock to younger teachers who may possess little training or experience, but who do have a particular “look” or dance “lifestyle” which may appeal to a younger, more social media-driven generation of dancers.
Over 40 on the Performance Stage
This is probably the most controversial aspect of my current dance life. For the past seven years I have been a member of an all ladies’ Cuban dance performance team, made up entirely of women over the age of 40. For whatever reason, the chronological ages of our team members have been a surprisingly big deal to some people in the community.
When we first began performing there were people who questioned why women of our age would want to “display ourselves” on a public stage. I even had a male friend say to me, “No offense — but y’all are kind of up in age to be performing.” Despite these kinds of ageist comments, we continued to dance and to keep ourselves in the public eye. We trained and worked really hard to improve our dance skills because we knew we wouldn’t get the performance “pass” often given to the hot, young, and sexy dance teams.
While this was a challenging experience at times, it was definitely worthwhile. Today, our team is still loving what we do and we’ve gained the respect of many people in the dance community. Performing is one of the best ways of communicating and sharing with others, so the older you are, the more stories you have to tell!
Some Final Thoughts on Dancing Over 40
- If you’re over 40 and find yourself feeling out of place in the Salsa community, sign up for classes in another social dance style. For some reason, the linear Salsa community is a lot more youth obsessed and competitive than many other social dance communities. I find myself attending more Cuban/Casino events than Salsa events these days as the Casino community is a bit more relaxed and welcoming to dancers of all ages.
- If you’re over 40, be sure to adopt the motto of “Live to dance another day.” In other words, don’t feel as if you have to dance every song and stay all night long until the DJ shuts it down. Dance when you feel like it, for as long as you feel like doing it. If you feel like dancing all night—that’s fine; but, if you feel like dancing five times and calling it a wrap – that’s fine too. It’s better to dance at your best level for fewer dances than to wear yourself out in an effort to keep up with the younger crowd. There’s just no need for this.
- If you’re over 40 and want to stay young on the dance floor, stay physically fit to maintain your stamina and agility. And – keep learning new things to expand your dance portfolio. Age is no excuse for complacency.
- Finally – if you’re over 40 and you’re still dancing, YOU ARE WINNING. Personally, dancing is something that I intend to do until I’ve been lowered into the ground in a box, and even then, I definitely will explore my dancing options in the afterlife. Dancing is one of the purest expressions of joy, and joy has no age limit. So be smart, enjoy yourself, and never let anyone tell you that you are too old to dance!