It’s never too late to put on your dancing shoes

Company of Elders

Company of Elders - Credit: Matt Austin

Ahead of their performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in July, Robyn Darbyshire speaks to Company of Elders’ oldest dancer.

Many people retire only to find they still have a wealth of energy and a creative streak that needs to be sated. Since 1989, Company of Elders has encouraged a lively group of over-60’s to put on their dancing shoes each week. The group has put on choreographed performances at venues all over the UK and Europe, with some members dancing into their 90s.

Jeanette White, 89, is currently the oldest and longest-standing member of the company. The tight-knit group was unchartered territory for her when she first joined, but it’s become an important part of her life, keeping her connected with people she now considers close friends.

“We call it over-60s contemporary dance and the moves can be challenging,” she says. “But I absolutely adore it. I’ve been there since 1992 and it’s a major part of my life. I always say that the people there are part of my family because my family don’t live near. They’re very important to me.

“Nobody there has ever been a professional dancer, but with us from the very beginning it was a complete and utter challenge. It’s like nothing we’ve ever done.”

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Jeanette said the venture started as an all-female company. “We didn’t get a man in for about five or six years. We lose them sometimes - they either retire, or one actually died. He had been dancing until he was 93,” she adds.

Her favourite Company of Elders performance was a piece called Natural that they took to the Venice Biennale of Dance in 2006.

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She says: “The choreographer insisted that we had to be completely honest about our lives and she built a piece from that. We all did things that were personal to us. At the end of the performance we all left the stage and left metronomes that symbolised the ticking away of our lives. It was very poignant really.”

White is currently preparing for her upcoming performance of Mixed Bill at Sadler’s Wells theatre in Islington, which she says is “busy, busy, busy.”

The show has been put together by three renowned choreographers to showcase the diffierent dance styles the group of over-60s can perform; Dickson Mbi, who is a hiphop performer, Adrienne Hart, artistic director of Neon Dance, and Seeta Patel, who has a background in South Asian dance style Bharatanatyam.

One of the performances is built around the dancers’ memories, which Jeanette says is particularly fascinating as some of the dancers lived through the war. “It shows a variety of different experiences and the pieces are all so different.”

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