Just this week, I read something. It was about a topic that comes and goes from my consciousness these days. It was a beautifully written blog about aging as women and losing our voice in feminism. I decided that even though I can’t say it as well as this woman, I want to say something. I’ll share the link. It’s well worth looking at, because she says it so beautifully.
As a women under 50, I don’t feel the full effect of this yet, but I see and feel it coming, and I want to pay homage to some of the women that I admire so greatly. The women that I want to emulate…in and out of dance and in life….all over 50. They are true mountains. I can’t imagine ever being as strong or as beautiful as them, and not because they haven’t aged, but because they are still relevant even with the aging that society often perceives as negative.
I think we can all agree that youth is highly valued in our society; in the media, in music, in dance…really in anything. Let’s be honest….our bodies don’t always work the same way as we age, and what we could do in our youth might not be as easy as we pass our middle ages. But also as women, we look in the mirror with disdain at the sunspots and lines on our faces that were created from a life well lived. I hide my greying hair with the boxes of hair color I purchase at Walgreen’s, yet I’d like to think I have more to offer than shiny brown hair or a youthful face. So here’s the tiniest look at some of the women I have known, and most definitely look up to. Women that I hope one day I can join the ranks of. All of them over 50 and still vibrant and as relevant as ever.
I have to first mention, Brigitta Winkler. A tiny woman of power. I wrote about her once before, and I’ll say it again. Brigitta runs without fear. That will forever be how I view her. She dances on her own terms. She lives life beautifully. You can go back and read about her in my blog, so you already know how I admire her. I wouldn’t say she’s any more or less relevant now than 20 years ago. I do know that tango wouldn’t be what it is in the United States and Europe without her. I do know that she is relevant to women like me right now. She advocates for women to dance on their own terms. We must lead and follow, and we must build a sisterhood in tango. She has participated in and created tango retreats just for women like this one at http://www.tangodonna.com. These are the places where sisters grow and mature. Tango can be a wonderful place to mature, IF we let ourselves go there, because it gives us the chance to continually learn, because it’s difficult, it’s subjective, it’s intuitive, and it’s personal. We can look at a young dancer and get excited and think…oh I wish I were like her, or we can look to ourselves and say I want to be MY best where I’m at right now, and I want to grow from right here. I look to Brigitta when I think about claiming my own dance. Be brave…explore, play, get messy, and run…run without fear.
When I look back on my college experience there is one person that stands out. Her name is Dr. Theresa Martinez, my most admired college professor (who truth be told was probably only in her 30s when I knew her, but I believe she is still wowing students in her sociology courses on race and gender, now in her 50s). She is a woman who grew up in a large poor Mexican American family, and still managed to plow through school and receive her PhD at a young age. She amazed her students with her ability to memorize all 70 or 80 of our names the first day we entered her class. She had no cheat sheet. She just talked to each and every one of us sometime during the course of that first hour. Then on graduation day, in a room full of maybe 1-2 thousand behavioral science graduates, she hugged each and every student that had passed through her class…even if it was only one class…one quarter. Her class is the reason I don’t completely fear writing anymore. I learned to share my thoughts and ideas there. We were a community, because that is what she fostered with every single person that entered her room. Be brave. Have Empathy, even when you might not think you can. HAVE EMPATHY!
“Communities are built by women. It’s not about the houses we build, and sit 50 feet from each other. It’s about the building that happens when we do things together as women”. I met Barbara Zakarian when I began Tango. She dances with more awareness than any dancer I’ve ever talked to. She can describe every part of what she is feeling inside her own body as well as the body of the person she is dancing with. I realize that it is a great skill to be so very observant of yourself and others; not just in dance, but also in life. How wonderful if we could all apply this philosophy to our own lives. Closing our eyes to the things around us, does nothing for us in the end. Only in our desire to be aware, can we move. Maybe Barbara cultivated this skill over time, or maybe she has always been this way. I don’t know. But I do know many women AND men are not so very aware as she. Be brave. Observe and keep your eyes open. You’ll only fall on your face if you don’t!!
My Grandmother, Jan Bennett, who is not my grandmother through blood, but my grandfathers second wife spent her career working for Orrin Hatch, and later Bob Bennett. I lived with my grandparents when I was 18 (I’m sure a great joy for them as they had already spent years rearing 10 children collectively…they were patient to say the least). Working for these men, and being mormon, she has always had more conservative political views than me, but not in a pushy way. I remember when election time came around. You better believe she made sure I was registered to vote. She took me to the polls for the first time at 18. Not one time did she ever tell me who to vote for. Nor did she ask who I had voted for when I was done. She just wanted me to participate. Period. Always always participate. Be a part of things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned what a fascinating woman she is. She worked for conservatives yet counted women of planned parenthood and the like as her colleagues….equals in every way. Her greatest work was for women and children and participating is how she has lived her life. Be brave. Participate. Participate when it’s easy, and participate when it’s damn hard.
The last woman I think about when I think of women that I want to emulate, is Lee Chemel. A woman who has been an example to me in so many ways. I can’t come close to expressing them all. Lee has a career as a director in television. It’s a field that’s so dominated by men. I wasn’t around her in the workplace, so I can’t say if she was “like a man” or not. It doesn’t really matter. She did it the way that worked best for her, and I know that she has held her ground in an industry that’s dominated by men and in love with youth, for many years. I met her when I was a naive 20 something, as her nanny. I watched her as a mother and thought…wow! What an example she is to her kids! Over 50 then, she was and still is strong and open, thoughtful and creative, and always on the move. But the most important thing is that she didn’t sacrifice the ones she loves. After 13 years away from her, I still look to her for guidance. She has experience and an understanding about life that I am only starting to grasp. She meets her challenges head on, and I feel safe and grounded when I am in her home. Her whole family is very precious to me, and I cannot imagine my life having never known her or them. She has raised a family with her spouse and done some of her very best work in the years since 50. At 71, she is continues to be one of the most vibrant and relevant people I know. Be brave. Follow your path. Follow it when there are logs and bushes and trees and stinging ants and mud and animal shit…and no fucking path at all. Keep going.
Sometimes I think I get a little bit sappy when I talk about the women that I admire and adore. I can’t help it. That’s part of who I am, but this isn’t about me telling anyone that will listen what to think about these women, or that they should admire these women for the same reasons that I do. This isn’t about condescending statements like…oh, isn’t that sweet. This is more about starting the discussion… realizing that these women exist in all of our lives if we look more closely. Life doesn’t soften and quiet at 50. It might just get louder. It might get more vibrant. We might have more to say. We might have more work to do, and I hope with all my heart that I’m up for it, at 42 and beyond!
And here’s that other link…enjoy.