The Company of Elders

Sadler's Wells Company of Elders

Sadler's Wells Company of Elders

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance? –  W. B. Yeats

I have just finished watching a wonderful programme about The Sadler’s Wells Company of Elders dance group. I spent nearly the entire hour with tears rolling down my cheeks – I found it so moving and inspiring. Set up as a company by the Sadler’s Wells in 1992, the current batch of dancers’ ages range from the youngest at 61 to the oldest at 85. None of them have been professional dancers and most have never had any contact with Contemporary Dance until their retirement and involvement with the company.

The programme followed the rehearsals for a show choreographed by the lovely Chris Tudor – who was obviously also very moved by his experience of working with these extraordinary dancers. Any lack in physical strength, flexibility and virtuosity was more than made up for in expression. What really got me reaching for the tissues was the brief moment of a duet between a woman and man – both in their late seventies; the intimacy of their eye contact as they danced, the tenderness of their movements, reminded me why dance is so incredibly special – words can not always express the deepest truths about our living with quite the same directness, poignancy and power that the body is capable of. It was commented on that it is often quite a struggle to get that sort of emotional depth out of young dancers – they simply haven’t lived long enough yet.

Each of the dancers shared some tough physical challenges which they had to overcome, from hip replacements and osteoporosis to cancer and heart troubles. One woman had suffered a brain tumour in her twenties that had left her blind, deaf and incapable of movement; she had spent a great deal of her life relearning all these skills and I was struck by the youthful joy of her movements. In fact all of the dancers exuded a great deal of joy, that wonderful light that shines out of people when they are doing something that they love. Such things make me want to live well.

The Company of Elders have had a profound impact on me tonight. They have made me realise that I have never stopped being a dancer (or for that matter a singer). What we are – those God/dess given things that are ours to express in life – remain a part of us. Dancers know that their professional lives are relatively short but of course age does not stop the desire or the delight of letting your body speak.

Briefly, tonight I had the memory of myself as a small child dancing; I recalled for a moment the total compulsion I felt to move, to express the emotions I felt, or that music made me feel (and which it still does) through my body. I also saw myself as an old lady dancing and it was such a compelling vision that I now can’t sleep, my head is buzzing. I once had great ambitions for myself but now all that pressure has gone. For too long I think I interpreted this as a form of loss; I grieved and a little light went out somewhere inside me. That look in those dancers’ faces seems to have flipped the switch back on. I have decided to stop wasting time and find a class to return to – I want to do some serious but happy sweating, my body (like my voice) has been mute for long enough. Watching the Company of Elders, I know that the aging body will have its limits but I also know that the heart still yearns and the soul still soars and the dance is boundless and eternal.

Company of Elders

Company of Elders



  1. July 23, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    What you have written is so true,I have found dancing very liberating, even though I used to do it in my front room to loud music on my own, it helped lift me out of depression, Its a very Spiritual thing I think. Wish I had seen the programme, glad you did and passed on your thoughts and feelings. You go for it girl!! Much lovexx

  2. trish said,

    August 1, 2009 at 10:41 am

    O Maria
    This is so lovely. I feel exactly the same about dance. For reasons that you know I now need to find a different dance class. If you find one to go to I would love to come with you. I have a beautiful book called the Joy of Dance given to me by Claire. I too feel it’s what I am here for, any dance.
    Hope to see you soon xxx


    Maybe we could catch this program on BBC i player, those of us that have missed it, it sounds amazing, and what a wondeful idea x I felt the same when i spent the week with my mum wacthing all of ther friends dancing together

  3. luckyloom1 said,

    August 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Trish,

    It would be lovely to go to a class together! I am looking into it – I seem to be retrieving scattered bits of myself – I feel like the Goddess Isis making Osiris whole again!

    The programme was one of the ‘Imagine’ series. I saw it as part of the current series on BBC4 about aging. The ones I have seen have all been so wonderful.

    Will let you know what I find class wise; if you spot anything let me know.

    See you soon Sweet Cheeks!

  4. luckyloom1 said,

    August 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Dancing is such a brilliant release. I think the reason that I love both Yoga and dancing (actually and walking too come to think of it) is because when I feel most connected to my body, really in my body, I feel at my most happy. For me it’s those moments when my body, mind and emotions all feel happily wedded, and I believe that when this happens, you can most easily feel your spirit or soul resonating within you. That probably sounds really corny but I truly think that in those moments I transcend all the niggly, petty worries that cloud my vision and get a glimpse of something deeper.

    In order to feel happy and healthy I have found that I function a lot better if I am working my body. I mentally stagnate really quickly if I am not using my body, however, I am not really a gym or sporty person – movement for me is definately about some kind of emotion expression or connection. It’s a really fascinating process.

    Take care lovely one

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