The Wise Body, compiled and written by Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early, celebrates the lives and work of twelve experienced older dancers. They are all dancers who began their career in childhood or youth, and who are still dancing into middle and later years. There is no question of retiring, or of becoming ‘too old,’ as society would have it. For all of them dance is a way of life; they have continued to grow through lifetime of dancing, and they continue to enrich the dance community-and beyond - with their work.
The Wise Body is formed of twelve chapters, with an introduction and afterthoughts. The beauty of the book is that each chapter takes the form of an interview with one of the dancers, sometimes recorded at different times over several years, giving a sense of time and depth to the writing. We’re given insights into ballet, Western contemporary dance, and the radical New dance of the 1960s and 70s, as well as dance that has its roots in tap, flamenco, Indian dance and non-dance forms of movement such as tai chi. Through their work the dancers have individually discovered links with theatre, poetry, music, philosophy, art and architecture, religion, and science. They speak with eloquence, revealing aspects of a rich
This interview form also enables the reader to hear the unique voice of each dancer. Each chapter is far more than a mini-memoir or discourse into the dancer’s thoughts on dance. In a sense their words become the dance – from the highly energetic, almost chaotic flow of memory in Will Gaines interview, to the thoughtful meditative words of Pauline de Groot, or the searching, intense scrutiny of Steve Paxton. We see
clearly what it is that excites each dancer, and we sense the profound connection between mind, body and imagination experienced by them all.
In their epilogue Jacky Lansley and Fergus Early state how important this book may be for young dancers, giving them a strong sense of lineage, a foundation to their own work. It is also for the many experienced dancers in the world – those who might have retired from performing, as well as those still engaged with it, connecting them to their roots. Finally it is for those who have watched dance many times and wondered what it feels like to dance – to have lived a life through dance.
This is a beautiful book, powerfully life affirming.
‘Do you think dance is important to the world?’ the interviewers ask each
The answer is yes.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.