Too Old for Dancing?

Am I getting too old for this?.

When I was 19, I went through a magic door. I had been a complete nerd, with no sense about how to enjoy my body or connect with other people below the neck. Then, attracted by the exotic-sounding music, I started learning Greek and Balkan folk dancing. I didn’t know, then, that I was stepping into a line of ecstatic tradition going back into prehistory. It started me on the path to enjoying being present with my body, healthy, connected—ecstatic, changing my life beyond recognition.

Coincidentally, it also resulted, almost 50 years later, in my getting to know Tania.

Alan and Tania dancing in a Greek taverna, 2010
Alan and Tania dancing in a Greek taverna, 2010

But last month, I cut my last link with the folkdance world. Since Tania and I went to Greece 7  years ago for a folk-dance tour, I’ve been on this mailing list, and I usually read the tour announcements to dream about going and doing it again. But this time, I wrote back and asked to be taken off the list. I love your scene, but my knees have let it be known that my folkdancing days are over.

3-4 years ago, I was bragging on my blog about going on adventure tours with groups of people half my age. Careening around Dutch cities on a rented bike with 25-year-old couchsurfing hosts. I was really enjoying being this kind of old coot. I was hoping that character could run a few more years. (To be clear, it wasn’t about being athletic or fit for my age—my fitness has been mediocre at the best of times. It was about not being in a box).

But I fear that role is beginning to crack.

Last year, I planned a 7-week tour of Mediterranean attractions, with lots of walking. But it hit disaster on Day 1. Some knee cartilage has worn just thin enough to mess with the alignment of the joint, catalyzing a sudden cascade of muscle cramps that lingered for months. I needed a wheelchair to resume the tour.

But there’s still a lot I can do, even with challenged knees, and the months of healing work are paying off. I have finally recovered to the point of wanting to try traveling again. So here I am….

Now, my second day in Thailand, I sign up for an activity tour of nearby islands. As expected, I’m the oldest one on the boat—everyone else, Chinese, Australians, Indians, Europeans seem to be under 40 (except one athletic-looking 50ish Swiss man, who is with his younger Thai girlfriend).

First stop, snorkel. I’m ready—nothing too challenging here.

Second stop, hike up a steep rocky island for the view. Hmmm, not so much. One glance at the gradient of the trail and I can see it’s not for me. Going up will be exhausting in the heat, and since I don’t have my hiking poles, my already-stressed legs will give out. Not to mention, coming down would be worse; that’s how I tweaked my knee last year. So, no. I sit on a crowded, noisy beach and wait until we can get back on the boat.

43 scenery
Ang Thong National Marine Park, near Ko Samui


Third stop, kayaking. As the only single person who wants to go, I get my own kayak. I took the standard position in the back, legs forward in a semi-crouch for leverage, and right away felt uncomfortable. A few strokes of paddling, and it was clear: my hips will not tolerate this position. At all.  Hmmm… can I paddle with legs folded, “Indian” style? Yes, not all that efficiently, but well enough for the present audience: it’s just me, the kayak, and a lovely cove among limestone cliffs. Take it easy. I began to enjoy being there. But what an enormous red flag, if my hips are so tweaky. I begin to wonder. Am I really getting better, or am I on a one-way trip to ultimate immobility?

54 kayak selfieTaking a selfie while sea-kayaking is tricky—I almost lost the paddle!

The speedboat is returning to port at full throttle. It bangs across the waves with all the grace of sumo wrestler being slammed down onto the mat—only harsher, and every 10 seconds or so. Everyone is laughing at the repeated shocks, like riding a roller-coaster. But after a few minutes of this, I am not laughing, because each shock bangs the hard bench up my spine and tells me: your cartilage has gotten too worn out to cushion your spine, sucker! Now I’m seriously worried. I have visions of emerging from the ride with long-term damage.

So that’s when I start to feel sorry for myself, and think, maybe I’m getting too old for this. What will become of me, when I can no longer enjoy playing with nature like this?

I never wanted to believe this. I wanted to be Peter Pan and never grow old.

The banging against my spine continues, and it’s clear I cannot just allow myself to be a victim.

So, I stand up. Crazy, right? Standing in a wildly pitching boat can get you seriously injured when you loses your balance, and my balance is not as certain as it used to be. But I hold on to a rail, bend my knees so I can absorb the motion in my legs instead of my erect spine. Even better, get up on my toes a little, making my legs even more flexible. The bang/crash slamming of the pitching boat continues, but it’s no longer impacting me, it’s just making me dance.

As long as I can dance, I’m fine.
As long as I can dance, I’m great.
As long as I can dance, ecstasy is available to me.

I start laughing.
I look around the boat, and see all the young people have stopped laughing; they are just waiting for it to be over, now.

I will never be too old for this.

I will never be too old for this.

But I’ll just take it easy for a day or two.

(P.S: In general, I have not lived my life with the idea that dancing was important to me, the way music is. And yet, it seems to come up as a recurring theme in times of crisis.)

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