The joy of being a dancing fool: thanks, Mom

This week I went to hear a band I’ve loved since the early 80s– the English Beat. I last saw them in 1983, when they played at my university student center ballroom.  Another good band opened for them.  You may have heard of them–  REM.

Back to the present day— looking around the concert venue at this week’s show, just about everyone I saw was in their 50s or so (like me).  That wasn’t too surprising– this band was at their most popular when people around my age were in college.  And everyone was having a whale of a time– the English Beat are a ska band (one of my favorite genres for dancing), so their music is about as danceable as it gets.  If you doubt me, listen here

The whole crowd was grooving and swaying, and my friends and I were dancing the whole time, jumping up and down, sweating, singing, shouting, waving arms, enjoying ourselves to our fullest capacities, expending all available energy.  The drive home was a bit tiring, the next morning a little slower-moving than usual, but the evening was completely worth it.

Today is Mother’s Day, and this week’s dancing episode reminded me of how my mother always enjoyed (and still enjoys) dancing and music.  We had music playing all the time in my house and on the radio.  In those days in South Carolina it was a lot of Motown– R&B and Soul.  In the 70s we welcomed in the funk, and my mom took me to see Earth, Wind and Fire.  Check them out here.

Her favorite song to dance to with my dad was Sixty Minute Man, by Billy Ward and the Dominoes.  They were experts at dancing the shag (apologies to English readers– it doesn’t mean the same thing here in the US), a dance still popular in the Carolinas.  It’s a lazy-tempo dance, but with interesting footwork.  You can see it in action here.

Jimmy Fallon got a lot of attention and laughs with his now-infamous Evolution of Mom Dancing collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama.  And it’s funny.  But let’s not kid ourselves– Michelle Obama can move.  So can my mom.

So thanks to my mom and all the moms for dancing with us, playing that funky music, and helping us discover joy in musical movement.

Happy Mother’s Day!  (And if you like, you can still order Mom some swag from our website here.)

 

 

 

I like to kick, stretch, and kick and I’m 30

Sally O’Malley

A couple of moments have stood out to me lately – fitness-wise. One was during the cool down in my Zumba class (to the tune of R. Kelly’s “The Greatest.” I didn’t pick the song, and Mr. Kelly’s past indiscretions can be discussed another day) surrounded by women 10-20+ years older than me, and the other was this past Monday night – finishing up a dance class, surrounded by women 10-15+ years younger than me. And I was good with all of it. If this is fitness at 30, I’ll happily take it.

When I actually turned 30 in March, I was surprised by the reactions of those in my peer group. Some noted how excited I seemed about turning 30, almost relieved (maybe they had nothing to fear!), others blatantly informed me that they didn’t want to turn 30 and were absolutely terrified. What that tells me is that we’re all still dealing with a lot of fears around life milestone “shoulds” and other delightful expectations.

However, the journey I did not expect to really appreciate at this age was the fitness one. I think back to when I was in my mid-to-late teens, seeing adults in the gym or in dance classes, and wondering what my body would be doing at their ages. I am grateful to say I’m in much better shape than that mid-to-late teenage Jess and that is cool!

I am also grateful that for the most part my life has embraced physical fitness in a body-positive way. It’s become my outlet, my way of getting back to myself, and my way of letting off steam. And in the past 3-5 years, my way of showing appreciation to my body.

Watching my grandma, who loved to dance and was mobile until her 80s, lose her ability to walk made me realize that I wanted nothing more than to move as much as I could, while I could. I sprinted, I danced, I punched, kicked, grappled, and lately, I have even come to love jump lunges. Yes, that’s right! JUMP. LUNGES. Give me a HIIT class any day, I eat that stuff right up now. My body is eating it up. It actually wants it.

I stretch every morning, and I say thank you. I sweat every day (even just 15 minutes if that’s all I have free) and I say thank you. I enjoy food immensely and I refuse to beat myself up, and I say thank you. I rest more than I ever did, I say thank you, and I still kill my work outs! (Because burning out is what will truly make you feel “old.”)

Someone told me once that as you get older, you give fewer fucks. And it’s true! But you give more fucks around what matters. I will give a fuck about my health. But not about looking a certain way, or choosing not to do the advanced yoga move this class, or being around people who are better than me, younger than me, or older than me. Instead, I smile to myself a lot more when I’m moving my body because I can say I’m here, bring it on, I’m ready. And then I jump lunge the shit out of it.

Excited to see where the next decade takes me, and I hope I can encourage others to get excited too.

JESSICA IRELAND-4In addition to jump lunges, Jess has been dancing for the past 20+ years of her life, the last few years as part of the Breath in Mvmt. dance company in London, Ontario (involving some of the most amazing humans in the city). She’s also been MMA-ing for four, and doing whatever else she can to keep moving, including axe-throwing, indoor rock climbing, interval training and more. She is a practicing (but not perfect) vegan, a full-on vegetarian, and generally an open book. She is a feminist (and sometimes an angry one). She loves crystals, astrology and is a bit of a peace-loving unicorn, unless you piss her off. She sometimes has a bit of a trucker mouth. But generally, Jess feels pretty lucky to be spinning around on this big blue ball with everyone else

Joie de vivre

 

I started a new job back in June. It’s very sedentary. I’ve always had desk jockey jobs, from being an Air Navigator to not for profit work, they are all office work. My current job though is completely at a computer. No lugging and slugging but I did have a ergonomic assessment early on that has me set up nicely. I continue to walk to work but I’m noticing my hips and shoulders getting tight with the more sedentary role. I had been stretching in the hall when I took my breaks but I was getting odd looks. I decided to switch it up with some dancing in the hall. Well, it’s really caught on as my dancing is reciprocated with other people’s boss moves. I’m feeling good, I’ve got my joie de vivre back and it seems to be catching on.

 

Guest Post: Lynne on being “fit for life”

lynee

 

When I grow up, I want to be like my Mom. At 84, she walks her dog, goes to the gym every day, and works out with a personal trainer twice weekly. In good weather, she’s busy in the garden.  Spring through fall, she swims outdoors in a freshwater lake. She reads and has an active social life. We’re planning a trip to Paris, so she’s working on increasing her walking endurance to see the city by foot as much as possible.

Having goals helps us all guide our fitness choices, and for me, actual activity goals are best, like having quicker foot speed and smoother movements in tennis. Tell me I’ll look better in a swimsuit and my motivation plummets.

So, the fitness question I love most is: what do you want to be able to do that you can’t do now? Your answer will guide your training, and step by step, rep by rep, you’ll get there.

I’ve got decades to go before my 80s, but the things I see as life enhancing for my elders are crucial to cultivate at every stage of life.  Fitness is about having the capacity for activity. The challenges may vary, but we know this: Our bodies work better with use, and we feel better, think better, laugh more, do everything better if we move quite a lot every day.

As I’ve moved through my life, my fitness and play activities have changed in somewhat predictable ways. In my early years, I danced all year, swam and rode my bike all summer, and was once the tether ball champ at our nearby park. (I was so proud!) I learned to play tennis at ten, and still play weekly matches. I loved playing varsity lacrosse in high school, but left it behind in college. All through college, my bike got me everywhere. Instead of going to the massive graduation at Camp Randall stadium, I commemorated the day with a long bike ride into Wisconsin’s countryside with friends. In grad school, I briefly took up squash and raquetball, but never liked them as much as tennis. Strength training became important when I learned how quickly women lose muscle mass as we age, and I became a gym rat hitting the weights starting in my late 30s.

What started with a somewhat negative motive (fear of impending weakness) switched to positive motives once I engaged.  I still keep regular appointments with a trainer who helps me meet strength goals, but I don’t spend as much time at the gym as I once did. I realized I couldn’t afford that kind of time.

One thing that has stayed constant is my belief in the importance of maintaining 4 equally important capacities: strength, endurance/cardio capacity, balance, and flexibility. These last two are too often ignored.  I often hear gym buddies say they are fitness fiends, and all they do is cardio. Or they lift, but they only do enough cardio to warm up. Except for yoga classes, I almost never hear people say: “I just love to stretch” or “I’m so happy to be meeting my flexibility goals!” And there’s an issue: the gym is as balkanized as the high school lunchroom, with people tending to keep to their zones and routines, and forgetting the importance of the whole package of activities we need. I get it.

I’m guilty too, at times. Lately, I’m at tennis or in the weight rooms. I love cardio when I do it, in fact find it addictive, but getting started is always hard. The call to stay at my desk is deafeningly loud and when I’m at the gym I want to do things that are available only there. I make excuses like, “well, I walked 3 miles around the lake with my dog today, so that counts.” Yes, it counts, but my heart rate never spiked and stayed up, so it doesn’t count enough for my own goals. Running sprints on that walk would make a huge difference to my cardio fitness and to my speed ‘off the blocks’ in tennis. (Note to self!)

Balance and flexibility are crucial for athletics and for life. They become even more crucial as we age and face the various physical degradations that time throws our way. So, go ahead, love cardio and weights, but I want to encourage more mindful attention to balance and flexibility for their power to stave off injuries, and keep us moving more fluidly through our days.

My understanding of the need for balance and flexibility was ingrained early, in serious ballet classes starting very young and lasting until I was about 14. There’s so much feminist critique of ballet that I want to explain its virtues without opposing those critiques. Yes, ballet tends to promote unhealthy body image problems, demand thinness, and instill an aesthetics of ‘the line’ are absolutely unrealistic for most girls and women.  My beloved aunt, a ballerina, used to say she could tell a woman’s weight to within 2 lbs with a mere glance at her thighs. A dubious skill, acquired through a lifetime in ballet. As a skinny little kid who just loved to move, these messages just blew by me. What I learned was the importance of the barre, that warming up well meant moving well when it counted, that strong legs and a strong core meant everything. Also, in ballet, I learned to leap and spin and use my eyes and head to stay upright. My favorite was the grand jete entrelace, a big leap with a half turn to the back. You cannot do a pirouette without learning to balance on your toes, and maintain proper head balance so you don’t get dizzy. What I learned about real discipline in ballet made it a breeze to understand Brandom’s “Freedom and Constraint by Norms” when I got to grad school, for without the discipline, the invigorating moves are unavailable…But I digress…

With ballet, one must be flexible, maintain balance, and have aerobic stamina. One learns to stretch effectively and this can change your body for years to come; the range of motion I developed in my youth is still with me, a surprising bonus decades later.  It has surely helped keep me injury-free in my sports. Ballet requires a strong and flexible core, amazingly strong legs and don’t let the flexible arms fool you: holding them in that soft graceful line takes strength. So for me, ballet was a great start to understanding the ways that stamina, strength, balance, and flexibility are all crucial components of fitness.

Some people talk a lot about their sports or fitness activities and goals. I don’t. For me, it’s personal. Writing this has been a challenge. I know how much I can deadlift, and I know how many miles I can run. Others don’t need to know these things about me. But for those who do like to share such info, I say, good for you for inspiring others to get moving. And as we move, let’s all be mindful of improving our balance and flexibility as complements to our strength and stamina. If we keep developing all four capacities, we will, indeed, be fit for life.

Lynne Tirrell is a professor of philosophy at U Mass Boston, where she also teaches in Women’s Studies.  She plays tennis, trains in various ways, and loves long woodsy walks with her wonderful dogs. 

Inner conflicts in the life of a feminist dancing mother (Guest post)

I have danced all my life. I started ballet when I was an eight-year-old skinny child who never seemed interested in food. But when puberty hit, I developed a ferocious appetite, which made my mother elated, and my ballet teacher, who weighed us every first of the month, horrified: I put on 3 kilos all at once!

So I started weighing myself before and after every meal—or, as my mother teasingly put it, before and after every feed, like mothers used to do with babies, and I declined dinner preferring a meager yogurt instead. Fortunately, I got bored with this regimen, and I liked eating too much to develop an eating disorder as my mother feared. Aside from that one time, I never seriously dieted, mostly because I didn’t need to, but I have struggled with body acceptance since. What boys thought about my body started becoming important soon after, and I routinely found a body part to obsess about: my nose (too big!), my calves (also too big!), my breasts (not big enough!).
My recent favorite: wrinkly knees. I am seriously considering injecting something in them. (I would have to do some research on this!)

My partner has now taken my mother’s place in teasing me. Now, this is interesting because both bear at least some responsibility for my insecurities over my body. My mother, like—I suspect—many other mothers, may have been reassuring about weight, but not about my appearance in general: she rarely praised my looks and often made disparaging comments about them. She also has been on a diet since I can remember. More precisely, she has been “starting a diet” since I can remember. She is the reason why, as a mother myself, I really want to change the way I think and talk about my body. I don’t want my daughter to inherit this self-loathing obsession with looks that is passed down to so many of us, for generations.

I have to acknowledge that my partner has been a lot better than my mother in many respects. As a feminist, he is very aware of the importance of fighting back against stereotypes of femininity. As a lover, he has made me feel beautiful and sexy. However, he has his own preferences about the female body. In fact, his preferences happen to be fairly conventional (although maybe conventional for a man 20 years his senior): he likes curviness. He finds cellulite cute, and muscles unattractive. On the one hand, this is good news: unlike some women I know, I don’t have to deal with men who complain about me getting too fat. On the other, I have to deal with a man who excitedly compliments parts of my body that I do not want to hear praised as “jiggly” and who seems to find never-ending amusement in poking and squeezing stuff that an entire industry has been created to eliminate—or at least photoshop away.

Finally, add to this picture my pregnancy, during which I juggled the worry to stay fit and gain just the minimum amount of weight with the worry of not worrying too much about it, and accept with serenity the unavoidable decline. After I gave birth, I juggled the admiration for feminist, supposedly empowering projects like the  4th Trimester Bodies Project with the shame of feeling relief for not looking much like the women portrayed.

I know that my current concerns with being fit and thin have a functional nature: I can be a better dancer if I am back to my pre-pregnancy weight and shape. But now that I am close to that target, I know that it’s not just that: my not-as-toned-as-before belly does not prevent me from dancing well, but it does make me extremely, and irrationally, sad.

So… the jury is out.

As a mother, I want to be relaxed about my body, and transmit to my daughter the idea that it really shouldn’t matter what she looks like, and that she should instead aim for a healthy, functional body (I am hesitant to say “strong” because of possible ableist biases that shape the normative ideal of physical strength: I think being functional can be declined in ways that involve fewer such biases.)

As a romantic partner, I want to please my significant other, but without sacrificing my preferences. As a feminist, I do not want to succumb to objectifying and disempowering aesthetic ideals. (Don’t get me started on padded bras and waxing practices.)

As a woman, I want to be pretty, even with the understanding that my aesthetic standards are the product of my history and the era I live in.

I hope by the time I am old enough to have a granddaughter I will have figured it all out. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy my chocolate tonight, and my ballet class tomorrow.

Sara Protasi is a PhD student in Philosophy at Yale. She is currently working on her dissertation, tentatively titled “Envy: Varieties, Evils, Remedies, and Paradoxes”, which is at the intersection of moral psychology, normative ethics, and ancient and modern philosophy. Her other teaching interests include feminism and bioethics. Dance is her main hobby and passion outside of philosophy. She is an alumna of Yale Dance Theater and A Different Drum Dance Company at Yale.

Photo credit: Duc Nguyen