American society is enchanted with youth and beauty, particularly when it pertains to women. Fashion models lose bookings and actresses lose leading roles once they hit thirty. My husband’s friends who are well over sixty, proudly state that they would never date a woman over thirty-five. One had the audacity to tell me that after that age, women fall apart and are old hags. Alas, all a man has to show is a wallet full of cash and his looks are irrelevant. Just look at rock stars, movie idols and wealthy men. They keep trading in their wives for younger and younger models.
Ageism hit me in the face on a classic belly dancer Facebook loop. Younger dancers began to troll and told me that my opinions didn’t count because I was old and irrelevant. This opened a firestorm of conversation between generations. When was one too old to belly dance?
In the United States, it appears that one has to be under the age of thirty-five to perform in restaurants, clubs and hookah bars. Those venues prefer young, thin, buxom women. Dance experience is considered secondary. Private parties and singing telegrams offer a little bit of leeway, but not much. It’s all about youth, beauty and glamour. Thus, older dancers are relegated to non-paying haflas and festivals. Instructors may be older, as they are viewed as having experience and knowledge to share with the young. Yes, the older dancers teach the next generation. I do find that "six-week wonders" are taking over instructing at local dance and fitness centers, with youth preferred over experience.
When in Egypt, the top dancers were over forty and some even older are revered and respected. In Europe, older women are respected. In the United States, older women are ridiculed and put out to pasture. It doesn’t matter if your figure is better than most twenty-somethings and that you look good. A youthful beauty will win over experience any day.
What is an older dancer to do? Sell your costumes and hang up your cane? Train your daughters to carry on for you? Instruct and dance for free at haflas and festivals?