Reflections on Aging

This page has a variety of resources related to the theme of aging. Read what interests you.

  • Multidimensional Comparison of Countries’ Adaptation to Societal Aging” is an interesting article that compares how different, select countries perform according to an Aging Society Index. The index used for comparison addresses social productivity, well-being, equity, cohesion, and security. The article is published in PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • The Myths of Aging Quiz is intended to get you to reflect on your own ideas about aging. The selections and video included in this “article” offer thoughts about ways to re-define and extend boundaries related to the concept of aging.
  • Age is Strange” offers a personal reflection on different ways to consider the concepts of age and aging. (Read below)
  • What Experience Teaches: Artist Anna Halprin” is a profile of a pioneer of modern dance who remained active in dance as she aged, and also choreographed for older dancers. (Read below)

Age is Strange

by Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

One of the ways we track where we are in our own travels through the life course is by noting where our close ones are in travels through the life course. The occasion of celebrating the birthday of a dear, close other whatever species they happen to be a member of offers one a moment of pause, an opportunity to reflect upon how it is that our precious lives are so tangled up together.

I just slid into the oven a sheet of coconut macaroons flecked with bittersweet chocolate. Macaroons—the down-to-earth flaked coconut haystack kind, not the fancy French bonbon kind (though both are equally delicious!)—are my mother’s favorite cookie. I gave her a big mason jar full of them (a total of 12) as one of her Christmas presents. Purportedly, she allows herself to eat one a day, so by my calculations, if she began consuming them on December 25th she ran out of her macaroon supply around January 5th (give or take a day or two on either side of January 5th, in case she ate more than one macaroon on a particular day or, perhaps, skipped a day). So, time for me to replenish her supply!

The day I write this is my mother’s 70th birthday. The macaroons are one of the gifts I am giving her.

During our texting conversation this morning, when I wished her a happy birthday, she asked, “Am I really 70?!?! How did that happen?”

My response: “Age is strange.”

Age (and aging) is strange.

Where does “70” reside? (Or “7” or “17”?)

Certainly, after having lived on this planet, with its gravity and other peculiar forces, for several decades, one’s body shows and feels the impact. But what does “70” look like. Where does “70,” or any age, reside?

The accumulation of birthdays is probably the least informative and interesting definition of one’s “age.”

What would happen if, instead, we defined aging as the process of becoming more complex through a life deeply lived? Where would our age reside within such a definition? Rather than our chronological ages, perhaps we’d talk about our lived experiences (especially the messy ones), and what we’ve learned about ourselves and others through ongoing thinking and reflecting (alone and together), and by being willing over and over to try to have delicate, brave conversations.

What if, in addition to noting our own and others’ chronological ages, we marked our travels through the life course by celebrating how long it is that we’ve been flying together though space and time?

What if we toasted to the shared mystery of embodying a particular age, all ages and no age, all at once?

Perhaps the best question we could ask, upon the occasion of a birthday, would be: How long has it been that we’ve been loving each other?

What Experience Teaches – Artist: Anna Halprin

Dance legend Anna Halprin, now 85 years old,[1] has spent over 50 years challenging the conventions of modern dance. A visionary in the field, she continues to teach, choreograph, and perform. In January 2006, she brought a group of dancers to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco to perform some of her work, including two well-known pieces—“Parades and Changes“ and “Intensive Care.” SPARK follows Halprin as she prepares for the performances and talks about her lifetime as artist, teacher, health advocate and innovator.

Halprin teaches dance to people of all ages, helping them to build awareness of their bodies. She explores how the mind informs the body, and how the body can inform the mind. Through one’s own creative process, Halprin believes that each of us will find a path of personal discovery through movement.

When it first premiered in New York City in 1965, “Parades and Changes” provoked significant scandal because the dancers in the piece fully disrobe and redress, 3 different times. Halprin says the piece is about “the process of undressing, finding your place in space.” Halprin created “Parades and Changes” like she creates most of her dances, using a special set of instructions called a score, much like a musical score that provides instruction for the dancers on what to do, but leaving them to decide how they do it. To help the dancers realize their roles, she asks them questions that are central to their path of movement discovery – What am I doing? Do I know the score? How am I doing it? Am I bringing in my imagination, my awareness? Why am I doing this? What does it mean? What do I want the audience to take away?

Forty years after its premier, “Parades and Changes” is still an audience favorite and Halprin continues to refine it, keeping it elastic and keeping audiences connected. This ongoing dynamism is one expression of Halprin’s commitment to continually challenging ideas about what dance should be.

In 1992, while drawing a self-portrait, Halprin imagined a malignant tumor. So aware of her body, she had discovered her own cancer. She continued to dance and draw, using the creative process to manage her health Through a series of self-portraits, and surfacing emotional material, her cancer went into remission.

Following on the heels of this struggle, in 2000, Halprin debuted “Intensive Care” a piece exploring the themes of pain, love, healing, and death. “It is not an easy performance to watch” she notes. Halprin originated the dance while her husband was in intensive care for a month. Panicked and frightened, she would come into the studio and dance, addressing her feelings about death. These studies in the studio grew into “Intensive Care.”

Audience members find “Intensive Care” cathartic and over time, the piece has become connected to different ideas. For Halprin, this dance is now connected to the war in Iraq, the suffering in the world, and other news items she has read. “Intensive Care” is not easy to watch and not what you expect at a dance performance. Halprin says that today, the dance is “dedicated to the suffering and fear and the disasters in the world.”

Halprin also continues to challenge traditional notions about who can dance. In 2005, she began working with seniors in Marin County, California to create a dance together. She found an island in a lagoon at the Civic Center in San Rafael that would be the site of the dance and she asked the community for donations, receiving 69 rocking chairs for the dancers to use. She and the seniors then developed a score and created their dance. “I never saw such soulful dancing in my life” Halprin says.

Born in Winnetka, Illinois, Halprin discovered dance as a child, and as a teenager she studied with Josephine Schwarz, a former dancer with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Halprin became a protegee of Margaret H’Doubler, the pioneering dance educator who experimented with range of motion as a means of finding the authentic dance for each student.

Following World War II, the 25-year-old Halprin moved to San Francisco with her husband, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. There she extended H’Doubler’s approach to movement discovery into improvisation. Halprin contributed to this a process of attending to to nature and embracing everyday movements. The dancers who came to her workshops in the early 1960s included some of the innovators of post-modern dance, such as Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Sally Gross, and Meredith Monk.

Halprin has received many awards and honors over the years, including fellowships for choreography from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Dance Guild Award, the Balasaraswati Award from the American Dance Festival, the prestigious Dance Magazine Award, the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award, and an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Halprin has also been documented in the Bay Area’s Legacy Oral History Project at the San Francisco’s Performing Arts Library & Museum (PALM).

In 1978 Anna Halprin co-founded the Tamalpa Institute in Marin County, California, an institute that offers training in the Halprin Process, a movement-based healing arts practice that can be used for art therapy, education, health care, and artistic practice. In 2006 Halprin was awarded the Arts and Healing Network Award for her lifelong contributions to the fields of dance and healing.

[1] Note that this article was written a while ago.  Anna Halprin was born on July 13, 1920.