Picture: Vincent Wijlhuizen

‘Moisturizing’. This is what former porn star from the seventies and currently 76 years old Georgina Spelvin (check out her appearance in a Massive Attack video here) stated as her motto in life. The witty skype conversation with this grande dame of porn was part of the research week Act Your Age during the Nederlandse Dansdagen (Dutch Dance Days) in October in Maastricht.

As artistic coordinator I was part of a group of four international choreographers, a philosopher and a medical health researcher. Every morning, theatre maker Ria Marks (Orkater) created a physical awareness and sensitivity in three hour long workshops. Theatre makers Romy and Gaby Roelofsen from Het Geluid and senior amateur dancers Elize Delize and Floor Martens joined the club these mornings. The workshops resulted in a certain collectivity and openness that was useful, and I would say necessary, to experience the afternoon and night programmes. Professors and researches lectured us on topics as Imaging of the Elderly in the Media, Elderly and Sex, and The Vulnerable Elderly, we visited elderly centre De Mins, where we had dinner with some of the residences, we were invited to a senior ballroom class and saw several performances on the topic.

Although we all are faced with getting older, the tendency to ignore that fact seems quite embedded in our Western society. The focus is on young, even though the group of elderly becomes bigger and bigger every year. Aagje Swinnen, Professor of the University Maastricht, gave insight in how elderly are usually portrayed in the media: in economic terms (they cost money) or in stereotypes (the elderly in medicine advertisements or the happy older couple that are living the good, and young, life). As with other minority groups, the images we encounter go hardly beyond any clichés, and are confirming or even creating them.

By meeting elderly of different ages, but especially in the elderly home, I was confronted by the importance of language for me in communication. Words, we spill them out like it is nothing. But what if words are just not good enough anymore, because the other doesn’t speak the same language as you, even though you are from the same country? How do you connect?  After quite a long time of me feeling extremely awkward my 96 communication partner in the elderly home and me managed to create some sort of connectness. The encounters with people out of my regular group of peers were touching and thought provoking and stayed with me for a long time.

To engage with a group of people that becomes bigger and bigger and that we’ll be hopefully part of in the future, we need stories. Stories that go beyond the clichés. Stories that don’t replace other stories,  but exist all together and show the diversity of age groups. Because, and yes we’ve heard it all before, there is no such thing as ‘the elderly’, like there is no ‘the woman’, ‘the black’ or ‘the people’. Stories on stage, in art, on television, in adds and commercials. Stories not only about ‘the elderly’ but with and told by a diversity of people. Stories that we can create and experience ourselves. Stories that the participants of the Act Your Age research group can bring. And then, we will not only moisturizing our skin, but the inside of our body and our brains as well.

www.actyourage.eu

Act Your Age is a two year project initiated by Nederlandse Dansdagen (Dutch Dance Days), Centro per la Scena Contemporanea (Italy) and Dance House Lemesos (Cyprus).

The participants of this week were: Choreographers: Lia Haraki (Cyprus), Tabea Martin (Netherlands), Silvia Gribaudi (Italy) and Tugce Tuna (Turkey) Researchers: Ramona Backhuis (Medicine and Health researcher) an Nico Vos (philosopher