Approaching 48, I am coming to grips with being a late bloomer while my body is entering a new phase of life. I am more aware than ever of my physical limitations at precisely the moment when my creative work is peaking. God, I hope there are more peaks to come.

I have always loved dancing. I have danced while no one was looking in my bedroom since I was very small. I choreographed my first solo in second grade and performed it for my music class. It was set to the Jefferson Airplane’s “Go Ask Alice.” (Really. I thought it was about a girl who got lost – the psychedelia of the era went over my head and continued to do so, on through high school!)

My doctor prescribed ballet to cure my flat feet when I was nine years old, and I was instantly hooked. I loved everything about ballet: the rigor, the performance of femininity, the covert competition to be noticed and put en pointe, etc.

But ballet did not love me. When I hit puberty and it became clear that I was built more like Bette Midler than Cynthia Gregory, Madame Merinova stopped giving me corrections and put me in the back of the second group. Translation: I was utterly demoted to the ranks of the invisible and those not worthy of the effort to improve.

Luckily, I got mad. I know many girls whose body image and creativity were fractured in ballet classes. Instead of becoming anorexic, I quit in a huff. I then found modern dance at the 92nd Street YMHA. (I took it to get out of gym class.) It was here, and with the encouragement of my teachers, that I found that dance was my language.

Dancer: Rebecca Johnson. (Photo: Rob Kunkle)

I successfully avoided pursuing dance openly until I became a first-degree black belt in kung fu. One of my kung fu teachers said, “Nina, this art is available to you but it is not the one you want.” She was right. But what Kajukenbo Kung Fu gave me was an acceptance of my ample body and powerful movement. It gave me pleasure in my ability to see, teach, and direct others in finding a powerful relationship to their own bodies.  And it gave me a form that spoke to my activist self—my work in the women’s antiviolence movement, my exploration of dis/ability rights, and my desire to find my voice.

I have always been more of a choreographer than a performer. Don’t get me wrong—I love to dance, and this has been one of the ways I was able to come out of my shy shell and enjoy some attention. But the satisfaction of making dances—sharing the way I see and experience the world—is sweeter for me.

In this 10th Anniversary Year of Nina Haft & Company, I can honestly say that I am a dancer. I only started saying that in my late 30s, when I went back to graduate school and learned that there were so many ways to be a dancer. As I age, and my body cannot do what it once did, I am humbled and also honored to work with dancers who are as passionate as I am about showing up, being present, and saying the truth with our bodies.

Dancers: Juliana Monin, Edmer Lazaro, and Christy Thomas. (Photo: Rob Kunkle)

I am surrounded by dancers, women and men, who are progressively younger than myself. My field is youth-focused, yet I find depth of experience to be the most compelling thing about movers. For this reason, I work with dancers whose minds and spirits are as limber and intelligent as their bodies.  Nina Haft & Company is multigenerational, with dancers ages ranging from 25 to 53. I completed my first international tour to the Middle East this year, and am now bringing my dance company to New York City for the very first time. I am very much what is called a ‘mid-career’ artist, yet my body and my life are urging me to reorganize as my energy becomes limited, distilled, more potent, and less tolerant of futility.

I no longer want to sacrifice sleep to write another grant or teach another workshop in order to promote my creative work. On the other hand, I wake up every day and feel inspired by all the creativity and movement that is my work and my avocation.

Best of all, I get to invite my mom to come see my show. I grew up in New York, and although I have not wanted to live there, it is sweet indeed to return on this particular chariot.

Nina Haft & Company is performing in New York City this coming weekend at two events: GOWANUS Guest Room Series, March 25 and 26 at 8 p.m (tickets here).; and two free lunchtime performances on Friday, March 25  in Washington Square Park, in honor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. We’ll perform between the fountain and the gate at 12:15 and 12:45 p.m.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Lucy Simpson March 27, 2011 at 11:43 am

    The woman on the beach reminds me of a modern Isadora Duncan.

  • Lucy Simpson March 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I studied modern dance in high-school and was told I didn’t have the body for technique, but was a brilliant choreographer. I left dance in college, because the head of the department would send out dieting notices and all the dancers produced really boring, but technically correct work. I love the photos here. Gorgeous work! I hope you all give a performance in Seattle. I sculpt and write now.

  • Donna March 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Brilliant! I’m am approaching 46 and always wanted to be a dancer but never followed my dream down that path. But I love reading and hearing about women who continue to impact the dance world after the age of 30, after 40, and beyond. Hoping to catch one of your performances this weekend. Congrats!

  • Julia Kay March 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I hope the New York gig is great – thanks for telling your tale. Interestingly the only place I’ve felt comfortable in movement, despite many ballet, yoga, african, and other dance classes – is in Aikido dojos.

  • Millicent March 21, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Brava! I liked how you discovered the venue/genre which fit you and also fit your body by trying different things. I do yoga and am in awe of these 90 year old yogis who still progress and gain flexibility. It gives me hope.