Should the performing arts have an age limit?

In the past 20-30 years, the world around us has changed so much it is sometimes hard to remember what life was like before smartphones and social media dominated a large portion of our day. However, while technology has raced ahead and we too have changed the way we live our lives, certain social norms have remained unchanged. In this article I would like to address one of these norms which more and more artists are affected by. Should there be an age limit when it comes to jobs in the performing arts?

Photo by Oleg Magni

We live in a world in which people like to believe that there are no limitations, but as artists we are well aware that this often does not apply to our lives. Some of these limitations make sense and we have learnt to accept them. It is unrealistic to expect to play the part of Belle, if your playing age is 40-50, you will not be cast as the white cat if your level of flexibility isn’t sufficient and without a strong vocal belt you don’t stand a chance of singing Defying Gravity anywhere other than in your shower. But when it comes to acrobats for a dinner theatre production, dancers for a movie or performers for a contemporary circus production it is hard to understand why some companies only allow those under 30 to apply.

While there are many, who are happy to perform for a few years and then change direction and settle down, there are others who would prefer to stay active in the career they are passionate about. Of course there is always the option of becoming a teacher, a producer or a stage manager. But should you be forced to give up your performing career because you have past the expiry date someone chose to give you?

When young artist graduate from college they begin a race against time. When most people do not expect to reach great heights in their career until they are in their 30s most artists know that by then their career may well be over. With so much pressure to succeed, it is often difficult for these young talented individuals to enjoy the journey and benefit from the lessons life can offer them along the way. Lessons which will help them to become even better performers.

Photo by Anna Shvets

After spending many years hiding my age and feeling embarrassed by it, I found myself at a workshop about marketing for performers held by Lyell Grunberg in Barcelona with a very mixed group of artists. When we were asked to introduce ourselves, one of the participants asked me how old I was. On hearing the answer, her reaction surprised me. She said: “That is such an inspiration.” This genuine statement by someone I had only just met, made me see a different path. If young artists can see their older colleagues performing well into their 30s and 40s they will feel inspired and less pressured to achieve everything straight away. Perhaps non-artists who see us performing dance routines and aerial acts will be inspired to start that dance class they have always wanted to take or try a new sport they always felt too old to do.

While youth is without any doubt a beautiful time with many benefits, experience and maturity can also be a beautiful thing. If we remove those age limits and focus rather on skills and performing quality, the mix of youthful skill and enthusiasm combined with the experience and maturity could create even better productions and offer inspiration for other artists as well as all audience members.

As a 41-year-old dancer and aerialist, I am faced with this challenge every day. Have you had similar experiences in your personal career? Please share your thoughts and experiences. I would love to hear your opinion on this delicate matter. 

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  1. This is such a good blog and it surely talks to so many of our fellow dancers and circus folks. I personally think that age does not matter. What matters is that you, the casting director, and the audience are delighted by your appearance and your craft. If they feel confident that you are healthy and fit to do the job, plus you look great… there are absolutely no borders to how old you are to do the job! Most bodyworkers are really good with their bodies and they will clearly feel when it is time to stop. Personally when I turned from dancer to aerialist, what I saw is that in the circus world, you can be older and still perform. AND bloody hell; Do all these artists look great when they do what they do!!!

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