Active Ageing: women in their 60s & 70s who train trapeze
LEARNING THROUGH THE LENS. The Making of Movement of Bones.
When I shifted from making purely personal fine art abstract animated films to videos paid for by clients, I never realised how much I was going to learn from the work. The subject matter varied from how corporations organised themselves and promoted their products, to what were the causes of arson attacks to DIY tips for how to build a brick arched wall. It was always new and productions took on the role of journalistic discovery as well as creative audio visual skills. I had to understand what I was seeing to be able to effectively communicate it to others.
I always loved documentaries and being able to share others’ stories in a way that was respectful and honest in their representation. I also loved dance and movement films. The internal rhythms of the edit and movement within the frame and the frames themselves all played a role.
When I made the first ‘Movement of…’ film with my friends Annty, Shirley and Fizz, Movement of Three ; the combination of all these film genres and interests merged. It was part observation, part choreographed and part experimentation in the edit. It was always an organic process of responding with the camera during the shoot and to see what I could do with the footage. The memory of how I felt in the shoot always stays with me during an edit and informs my film style.
WHEN A PROJECT INSPIRES YOU.
As always, I never had any set ideas at the start of what was to become the short film Movement of Bones. My first trapeze class shoot was with my friend Niedra Gabriel. She has been a mover all of her life and I had spent the afternoon with her in the beautiful small mountain town of Ojai in Southern California. I had delivered a movement workshop to Niedra and some of her friends in the local park that afternoon and had said that I’d like to make a series of short films about her as she inspires me very much in many ways.
Niedra had been doing online coaching with me for several months and casually mentioned she was “going back to trapeze again as Bob had started up an over 65s womens class”. That obviously sparked my interest. We had moved during the 2 hour workshop then headed over to the gym where Bob was meeting us to set everything up. I’d never seen trapeze training so had no idea what was involved.
Niedra was 63 when we first met at a MovNat certification I was assisting in Carlsbad, California in March 2017. She was the oldest of the participants and eased through the moves and cert. It was impressive to see her movements but more importantly and why we become friends was her mindset, spirit and our shared interests of positive ageing, mind body connection, life-long movers and a growth mindset.
ACTIVE OLDER WOMEN
I’ve filmed a lot of elite movers over the past 14 years in the parkour world so I don’t get wow’d that easily in terms of bodies in motion. It’s easy to normalise seemingly extraordinary actions when they become the norm because you witness them everyday. However, the trapeze was a new world and also the age of the participant. Bob set up the mats and took Niedra through a gymnastics warm up with some tumbling then next up was the gymnastics rings, then the trapeze bar. Filming was hard because I was wow’d.
None of the shared training and workshops that Niedra and I had done together prepared me for what I saw through the lens. At the end of the session Bob asked if I wanted to have a go on the bar. I grinned and jumped in and my god was it hard! I train on gymnastic rings frequently and now I had a whole load of new ideas of what could be done on a bar and a set of rings. It wasn’t only that the single moves were impressive, the routines and combinations were long. The grip endurance on its own was a whole new level for me to experience.
My mind was racing as I processed all of the societal residue of what I previously perceived about ageing bodies. It was wrong. Although I knew the majority of mainstream ideas around movement and longevity to be nonsense, to know it is different from witnessing, documenting and experiencing it first hand. I knew what was possible for someone in their 40s who hadn’t been active all of their lives as I was one of them. I also have many friends who are moving in their 50s who are strong and continually getting stronger. I hadn’t met women in the 60s and 70s moving like this before. It was so cool!
WHY MAINSTREAM IDEAS ON AGEING ARE WRONG
There was nothing in the moves and body that portrayed any previous ideas I had about how a 60 something woman ‘should’ be expected to move.There was always the exceptional YouTube clip but this felt different. Niedra wasn’t strong for her age, she was just strong.
And the best thing was that she is not special. I had not come across one freak athlete in a small town, there were more. The most interesting thing for me was that unlike Niedra, the others who I was soon to meet weren’t life long movers, quite the opposite. Some people have fixed ideas that they will peak and then break by their mid to late thirties. They buy into the myth that their youth is the time for enjoying physical prowess and gaining new athletic skills. However, this is only one side of the coin as others are afflicted with a misinformed view at the other end of the spectrum where people think that because they havn’t been moving for the past however many years that it’s too late so why bother. Both are wrong, so very, very wrong.
It is possible to build muscle up until our mid 90s. If we don’t do anything in terms of being physically active then yes our muscles will stop building in our 30s. Why would we choose not to move? A fulfilled and empowered life involves movement, a lot of it and a lot of different types at different stages in our lives, especially if you want to be empowered and have the freedom to live the life we want. It could mean not asking for help to get up for the floor or not needing to use a stool to step up and reach something in your kitchen, or more often wanting to be able to keep up with friends and families and all of their activities. To know that you can do things like lift that bag of groceries or help and support someone else because you have good balance or run through the airport and not miss your flight are all good life skills.
Most people dont consciously chose to not move and that’s the problem. It’s easy to get swept up in the everyday busy nature of life and shifting priorities and for some the forced chair shape that their bodies “rest” in for too many hours of the day at work is then replaced with the car seated body shape, then sofa, then it’s time for bed and the same body shapes are repeated day after day with bursts of activity here and there. Here’s the thing, we get really good at what we do. When we move and use our muscles they grow and can be maintained! We are a neuro-muscular ‘use it or lose it’ system. The good news is that means we are also a “use it and keep it’ which is a much better outlook and positive note to remember. The women in the film Movement of Bones are proof of it.
ITS NEVER TOO LATE
Niedra and Bob had told me about how good Barbara, Val and Val were, these were the class regulars. They’d be there next Sunday and I was excited to meet them. They were all happy to be filmed and I explained the ideas behind the See&Do project of showcasing what people are capable of and sharing movement resources for those who then want to start.
Barbara was in fine form and laughed when I asker her what it was like for the body to age. She asked me how old I was. 48 I replied and she said “oh you’re young, there’s nothing yet.” I wasn’t even in the ageing club in their eyes, that made a change from a lot of my training as I’m frequently one of the oldest people when I train parkour so it was great to be in the company of my elders who were all strong and active. One of the Vals had been looking after someone’s puppies for the weekend so was a bit tired and the other Val had had surgery for breast cancer the week before so wasn’t sure what she would be able to do. You’d never know or guess that from watching them move.
Barbara is the oldest of the group at 74. She took up trapeze 6 years ago aged 68. She had no physical background and mentioned that she hated exercise and had tried yoga and pillates and they weren’t for her. However, when she saw trapeze she got fire in her belly and thought ‘I want to do that!’. And so she did. She started training and excelled and loved it. 2 years ago she fell from a high trapeze bar and broke her shoulder. Never to be put off by such a set back, she recovered and came back to it. Again, the myths that you’ll never ‘fully recover at that age’, are just that. It depends on what you decide to do and the story you tell yourself. Barbara writes her own and it’s a powerful one of ability, self-belief and continuity in action and good habits.
FIND YOUR PASSION
One thing all of the women had in common was a sparkle in their eyes. They have passion for their activity. I returned again a month later and the progress of a months continuous training was evident. New moves were being learnt and explored. They were progressively more daring and elegant and always physically and mentally demanding. They share a joy in each others progress and the Sunday class is part of a routine that they enjoy as well as being active. None of the three women – Barbara , Val and Val, ever thought of themselves as being physically good at anything. It was never their thing although now it has become their normal. Along with Niedra, they all move and improve, having started from different backgrounds and having their own story. They are not special or exceptional and neither are you or I, that’s for some the hard pill to swallow. There is no way to dismiss what they are doing as unique or ‘well she’s bound to be able to do that because’, or ‘Ill never be able to that that because’. The truth of their stories is that when we all take a step forward and keep stepping, things change and we can decide what changes we want.
If you were walking down the street and walked passed any of them, chances are that you would never consider them athletes and movers. Their age and gender dismisses them for most peoples radars of ‘that’s what they do’. We don’t see so many examples of it in others and that makes it harder to imagine seeing ourselves like that either. It’s time to rethink that and see the future potential for ourselves.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT POSITIVE AGEING AND MOVEMENT
There’s one clear message from all the participants that I want to share:
It’s not too late.
Age is not an obstacle.
You can start moving more and getting stronger no matter your age.
Dont listen to yourself or anyone else who considers you to be “old”.
Find your passion.
Share your passion with friends and encourage them.
Athletic skills can be learnt and enjoyed at any age.
HOW DO I DO START MOVING AT MY AGE?
If you are inspired by what you’ve seen and read, please share the video and let others know what’s possible. Don’t settle for the outdated and limited version of what society and mainstream media tells and shows us about ageing.
If you know you want to be ageing in a more positive and healthy strong way but aren’t sure where to start, think about how you can include more physically active habits into your routine. You may not see yourself on a trapeze quite yet but know you’ve got more in you. You can enjoy the free MOVE MORE course I created and invest in yourself with the MOVEMENT SNACKS program. Movement Snacks is a daily 10 minute practice that will kickstart your mobility and balance to get you feeling good. If you are at a desk all day these are the snacks you want to see you through and leave you feeling strong and pain free each day. Find something that lights a sparks and gives you fire in your belly and go for it! Niedra, Barbara, Val, Val and myself all think you should!
Thank you for reading and let me know what you think and if you’d like to know more about positive ageing.