The popular image of a professional dancer is of a lithe young body pirouetting en pointe, with perfect poise and balance. Many dancers take up the art as children, and retirement can be a reality for some by their early thirties. But that does not mean the end of engagement with movement, form, or even performance. As Emmaly Wiederholt writes in the introduction to her book Beauty Is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond, “Dance is not an acrobatic sport to be discarded when the body begins to lose agility. Dance is much deeper.”
Wiederholt, a New Mexico native who danced professionally in San Francisco, worked with photographer Gregory Bartning to collect the stories and images of 54 dancers, male and female, between the ages of fifty and ninety-five in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. Many of the subjects teach dance or work as choreographers; all still have some version of an active practice they would not consider giving up unless they were to become immobilized. Wiederholt explores their careers, asks how they first came to dance, and discusses how their motivations have changed over time. “I used to crave the performative experience. The adrenaline and thrill of it. The challenge of it,” says Tere Mathern, the artistic director of Conduit Dance, Inc. “That has become less of an interest over time. What motivates me more now is just the work itself. Always there’s the work, rigor and wanting to explore a new idea that’s pulling me.”
“I can’t imagine living without it,” says Carla Luna, director of the Dance Arts Academy. “That is foremost on my mind. I want to be able to dance until I die.” Strangers Collective hosts a book launch for Beauty Is Experience at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, at No Land Gallery (54½ E. San Francisco St.). Wiederholt speaks and signs books; limited-edition prints of Bartning’s photographs are for sale at the event. Visit www.strangersartcollective.com.