She drifts in late at night, hovering over your bed. Sometimes she sweeps her wand quickly, other times she lingers over you hip, shoulder or knee. “You’re a day older,” she whispers. Candy says that the mysterious visitor is the “Old Fairy.” We roll out of bed, take an inventory of our aches, pull on our tights, grab a coffee and head out for another meeting of the O.T.F.D.C.C. — the Over Thirty-five Dance Club and Class.
We’ve been together eight years now, gathering from all parts of the city in this place that lives and breathes dance. We meet one to four times a week. Sometimes we miss two days, two weeks, two months, two years. But we always drift back, driven by some unknown force, almost like thirsty animals heading out once again to that watering hole on the Serengeti.
It’s inexplicable, but we’ve tried to explain it. When asked, some have said:
“It’s a safe environment where we can be ourselves.”
“It’s the camaraderie of coming together and learning steps together.”
“It’s a place where I can get back in shape; I climbed to the nose-bleed seats at the Washington Redskins’ game and I wasn’t out of breath.”
“No one makes me do a double turn anymore unless I want to.”
“It’s my meditation.”
“It’s Dance Church,” says Ron.
The bottom line is, we’re fiercely protective of this space. There’s something about opening the downstairs door and climbing the steps. It’s the smell of coffee, damp wooden floors and old photos. You pull in your gut a little tighter and lift your chest a little higher. This is a place with a lot of history. Star Search auditions, toddler ballet, music video rehearsals, quinceñeras and gay-lesbian dance troupes.
We’re a diverse group, coming from all kinds of backgrounds. We’re black, white, Korean, Filipino, Native American, Orthodox Jewish and Puerto Rican. Some of us have professional credits, having appeared in the original casts of “Chorus Line” and “Chicago.” Other shows include “Fosse,” “Dancin’,” “Pippin,” “My One And Only,” and “Hello Dolly.” One of us is a former Rockette, another a child star in “The King And I,” who later danced on TV in “Hullabaloo.” We’ve starred in “The Waltons,” “E.R.” and “The Shield.” We’ve danced in industrials and toured with a Filipino rock star. We’ve even wielded a sword in “Conan the Barbarian.”
Outside of class, we also have varied professions and careers. When we leave here, we become photographer, script supervisor, cable show producer, theatre and TV actress, PTA mom, student, senior fitness instructor, reflexologist, English teacher, parent education teacher, costume designer and ballroom dancer.
We don’t get together much outside of class but somehow we know each other real well. We laugh at ourselves and kid each other and we know when someone needs a hug or needs to be left alone to shed a tear. Sometimes young ones pass through and we scowl when their noses touch the floor in second position. What must they think of this AARP contingent of dancers? We chat while we stretch. We talk about the DNC and Bush. We talk about Kobe, Beyoncé, and Hurricane Ivan. But the most important things we talk about are if the turn is on “7” or “7 and,” or if the glissade is “1, 2 and 3, 4” or “1, 2, 3 and 4.”
We’ve overcome great personal adversity and distractions, but we won’t give up. The kids have gone back to high school, college and the Air Force. We’ve survived carpools, SAT’s and college applications. We balance marriages and rocky relationships. We continue to audition and curse when we have to go back to work. We’ve endured life-threatening illness, deaths of parents, and worst of all, the death of an only child. Giving up is not an option because of our love of dance. Forget treadmills and weights and power walks. We observe the robots at the gym and we wonder: “What are these people doing? They just don’t get it!” We need to plié and relevé. We need to passé and jeté. We need our daily dose of jazz, hip-hop, classical and salsa.
However, there are moments when we do question ourselves, and that takes us back to the “Old Fairy.” A doctor once told me, “Each of your joints has a life of its own, and you can use it up anyway you want.” As much as the joy of dance prevails, there are bumps in the road: back surgery, knee surgery, two broken feet, a sprained hip, warts, a bruised rib and a bulging disc. We’re very familiar with epidurals, cortisone, glucosamine, gingko biloba, Advil…and a drink here and there. We’ve come to class wearing all kinds of braces — and I don’t mean the ones in your mouth. We even come to class on crutches, and that’s no easy feat climbing up those stairs.
So here we are again. Some of you have shared our love of dance in this space before. We’ve done Donna Summer and Will Smith, we’ve done the 40’s and Space Jam. We’ve done sit-ups to “I’m Just A Love Machine” for so long, that if we heard it at Ralph’s, we’d drop down in front of the freezers and do the required 150 crunches. This year, it’s “Miss Jones” and “Damita Jo.” And to the three 16-year-old daughters — be afraid, be very afraid — because your mothers have finally learned to “booty dance.”
And, finally, the thank-you’s. Thank you to Candy Brown and Ron Dennis for their unwavering encouragement and inspiration. Thanks to Luis who keeps the floors and mirrors clean, and to Pam, the owner of this cherished space. Thank you Martha Graham, Twyla Tharp, Jack Cole, Claude Thompson, Luigi, Bob Fosse, Roland Dupree and Mia Slavenska. Thanks to Walter Painter, Hama, Delane, Patrick Adiarte and Joni Palmer.
So, look close, but not too close. Have the oxygen ready and remember: See you at the Palm Springs Follies!
Written by Diana Eisele and shared with LA Dance Chronicle, March 31, 2020.
DIANA EISELE graduated from UCLA with a degree in Dance in 1977. The program was vigorous including classes in kinesiology, placement, choreography and performance. She was living in Westwood when she received the brochure for fall classes at University/Palisades Adult School. She made an appointment to meet Dr. McKenna, the principal. He offered her a class at the Armory near the V.A. Diana told him she had no experience teaching older adults and he said, “Oh, you’ll be great!” Little did she know that this would become her career.
Previously, Diana taught children and concurrently taught Dance at Marymount Palos Verdes College. She soon realized that working with older adults flowed naturally from her training and experience. Senior Fitness was her calling. Although performing was her first love – she danced professionally on stage, in film and in clubs – she was most gratified by her teaching.
Diana’s class at Felicia Mahood Senior Center was her original class in 1976, and continued for 40 years. One of her students, Toyono Higa, remained as one of her original students until the age of 96. Diana also taught at other sites, including Westchester, Venice, Palisades and Los Angeles Adult Schools.
Diana is the proud mother of two adult children, Nick, 35 years-old, and Marissa, 32. Both of them work in the entertainment industry. Her husband of 45 years, Bob, is a film and television writer.
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Featured image: Diana Eisele (front row center) with her Senior Fitness Class – Photo courtesy of the artist.