I never thought my list of goals in life at age 49 would include wanting to do the splits. But here I am, watching a Pro show and dreaming of an overhead Tango kick. And feeling my body laugh at me.
While I’m playing the comparison game, watching the children dancers is always humbling when facing the 50-candles landmark. They are little rubber bands whose bodies bend beautifully. And they can dance a heat without breaking a sweat or breathing heavy. Ah, those were the days of endless flexibility and energy!
The problem was I spent mine playing hide-and-seek and arm wrestling the boys. I was in my thirties before I started dancing. I don’t begrudge my rough-and-tumble childhood, but I won’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “If only I could have started this sport earlier…”.
Many of us didn’t. One of the wonderful things about ballroom dance is that it truly is available to all ages. I intend to do this well into my golden years. But it hits me at times that I have a body that is aging faster than my dreams. And I seem to be on an inverse ability-to- requirement ratio. We don’t start out at the Championship level and gradually fade to Bronze as our bodies slow down. We do exactly the opposite. I comfort myself with that as I’m huﬃng and puﬃng to get through one heat and remembering how that didn’t happen at my first competition. That was 13 years and five levels ago, so I let myself oﬀ the hook…most of the time.
But the dancing is getting harder. And I love it. I’m determined to possess the physical ability to keep up with that climb towards Championship level. The reality is that it’s going to take more eﬀort, and a focus on things that could be blissfully neglected in yester-year. I’m going to have to give more TLC to this body that I expect to glide gracefully across dance floors for years to come.
It makes me smile when I realize what wonderful motivation dance has provided. I’ve put my neck out before and grumbled as I realized I can’t put my hair in a ponytail, and I have to use my rearview mirror to back up my car because I can’t turn my head. But miss a dance lesson? Heaven forbid — miss a competition?? Now uncooperative body parts have gone from the “pain in the butt” category to the “unacceptable” category. It’s amazing what we’ll do to keep our bodies in shape with the right motivation dangling out there.
And it’s not a mystery. We know more than ever about how to take care of ourselves. I always laugh when I see a headline boasting that some celebrity lost weight using diet and exercise. Long live the common sense pillars our grandparents took for granted! We know we should eat right. We know we should be active and elevate our heart rate. We know we should sleep more and not prop ourselves up with energy drinks. We know we should stay more hydrated. We know we should choose something active over screen time more often than we do. For dancers, I would personally add that we should have a good chiropractor and a good massage therapist, and use them often.
But even when my motivation has done its thing and I’m proudly on that straight and narrow path of good habits and self-care, life happens. We can’t avoid the unavoidables. The darn things are lurking in more corners as the years go by. Arthritis crept into my life, sometime when I wasn’t looking. And it loves to join my dancing at inopportune times. My partner had to take a season oﬀ for shoulder surgery as a result of decades of enjoying a diﬀerent hobby –volleyball. He is too young to have to declare he will never do a jump serve again. And yet, that is his reality. One of the most frustrating experiences of this time in life is those days when I wake up with a joint out of place or a pain that makes no sense—and I did nothing to deserve it! Remember back when we had to actually earn our injuries? At least there was some glory in limping through a downtime because of a full day of hiking or a weekend of outdoor games at the lake. Now all I have to do is sleep wrong. The injustice itself hurts!
The good news is none of these things will stop me. Dance is always right there waiting with open arms, welcoming me back in whatever shape I’m in. Sometimes I’ve worked out my kinks on the dance floor. Other times, I worked out my kinks so I could get to the dance floor. I love dance all the more for being the factor in my life that tips the scales in the right direction. I have a reason to push through. I have glory to catch!
I chuckle at how high my dance dreams can reach. But I’m thrilled to see folks much older than myself proving it possible. My perspective stays grounded and grateful when I see how many who started dancing with me are no longer doing it. If I slow down and take a good look, I see that my bulletproof days are indeed behind me. That’s ok. A little prudence is needed to replace the fearlessness of youth. But on the flip side, the hill that “50 candles” made me think is looming, really isn’t that close after all.
So no, I can’t do the splits yet. But I’m not over the hill. Not even close. I’ve made peace with my aches and pains. I’ve made the fascinating discovery of how much discomfort adrenaline can cover. And determination, always there but never this focused, now comes in all its sparkling glory wearing a ballgown and heels.
That hilltop is way in the distance. I see so many things on the road between here and there. Yes, there are blisters and sore joints. But there are also medals and magic moments. And when I do reach that top, rest assured, I’ll go over it Waltzing.
Lorie Hurst lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has been dancing for 14 years. She competes Am-Am with her partner CJ Hurst, who she likes to joke “conned her” into her ﬁrst competition and showed her a world she didn’t realize how much she would love. She has lived chapters of life in Canada and California, and experienced everything from remote-woods living to downtown high-rise life. She is a massage therapist specializing in oﬃce and event chair massage. Reading, writing, and baking are high on her hobbies list, but she has also discovered a love of travel in the last decade that has sparked a goal to want to see more corners of the world.