Welcome to mnmaloney.wordpress.com, Anouschka! I’m pretty pumped for this interview today and the reason is simple: dance! Like you dance has always called to me. Unlike you I started when I was a child, in fourth grade, although for some styles of dance that’s still considered an advanced age to start first lessons. Now my love of dance helps to finance my career as a fiction author.
After looking through your blog at urbanafter30.com I’m so interested in your story. And I think you’re right that people are turned off from dance after their teens and twenties not because of a lack of interest but because there seems to be some glass ceiling of expectations of youth that deters them. Plus, I think people tend to think of older bodies as fragile, as more challenged to learn to move. However in my experience teaching ballroom dance that certainly hasn’t been the case.
Anouschka: I am excited too! Dance has given me a new lease on life!
You talk about living in Berlin, in New York, and visiting Kenya. What inspires you to travel and how many countries have you called home?
Travelling is in my blood. I grew up moving. My mother is Swedish and my father American. He was a doctor in the US Military so we moved every one or two years- Geneva, Boston, Washington, WA D.C., Frankfurt, Kansas, New Orleans, Germany, England, Thailand… Being in motion is where I am comfortable, that in-between space between two points. I think this may be why dance makes so much sense to me.
I spent my childhood summers in a rustic cottage in the southern Swedish woods. I used to call that home. We had a well where I would fetch water. My grandmother and I would bike an hour to the nearest store to buy milk, my aunt taught me how to read Swedish, my brother and I would go skinny dipping in the stream. I would run round the woods and play detective. Summers were magical and gave me a sense of roots. I feel at “home” in nature.
My mother raised me to be independent and to make my own way. At 13 I started working summer jobs to make money to travel alone. When I was 14, I went to France, 16 to Greece, 17 to Ibiza. I moved around to new cities to pay my dues seeking my big break as an actress and musician: Stockholm, New York, Boston, Los Angeles…. As I got older, moving to build another new life alone from scratch started to feel so exhausting. In my late 30s, I moved back to Sweden hoping to meet the love of my life and have a family and settle down. But that was not to be. I did not fit in and people were not welcoming. It was a far cry from my beautiful childhood memories. My brother recommended Berlin and took me there for my birthday. A rebel city for my rebel soul.
I rearrange furniture when I get restless. I still move the sofa around a lot. It always lands back in the same place though. I really can’t figure this out. I struggle with being single and figuring out what to do career-wise since I am a workaholic and have a ton of energy. Dance has given me a new footing, which is what I used to find in music until I got burned-out. My dance journey feels very exciting right now. Maybe one day I won’t feel the need to move the sofa again…
Have you danced in all of these places? How were the popular styles of dance the same? Different?
I started officially dancing in my late 40s so my knowledge is very limited. However, I do have some memories. Thailand was my first real home because we lived there 4 years (the longest!) We had to leave because of the political uprisings and anti-Americanism. When we lived in Bangkok I learned Thai, Buddhism and Thai dance.
Thai dance is very gentle, soft and feminine, like the people. You should be able to bend your hands far back gracefully. My teacher told us Thai dancers sit with a string with a rock at the end tied to their hands for hours to pull their fingers back into that perfect lean! You keep a very straight upper body and dance barefoot with your toes turned up. I see now that it is very stylised with many “pictures”. Unlike unisex dance, roles are very clear for female and male dancers.
I performed at school and remembering being invited once to dance with professional dancers at a festival. I was so happy. I think I have always been a dancer; I just did not have the outlets for it until now.
New York in the late 80s was crazy. My best friends were from Brooklyn and we worked full-time day jobs to make rent and go to clubs. I was privy to see the scene when it was still raw and real…before hip hop became totally gentrified. I used to go to Nells, Save the Robots and floating parties. Guys were packing guns, drugs and bling. I remember one party my friends took me to where there was a towering bodyguard with a gun who looked me over carefully like “Girl, what you doing in our hood?” I stuck out because I was the only white person there. The hot-shot rapper celebrity was in a flashy pink suit with a ton of gold chains and surrounded by groupies…. it was over-the-top and better than any Snoop video. There was a lot of racism in NYC and it got worse when the “wilding” incident happened and the Central Park jogger got raped and five innocent black boys got jailed. It is such a typical, tragic story of racist profiling. I lived in black Harlem when I first got to NY and the African American community was much more welcoming to me as a white girl than the white community was towards my African American friends! I feel blessed that my friends shared their world with me. Otherwise, I would have no clue what their urban struggle was about.
The city was more dangerous back then. I always carried cash in my shoe because there were so many muggings. It got a bit unattractive when you had to take your shoe off at the bar to pay for drinks. I had friends held up at knife or gun point on the subway, walking home on the street. I met a Jamaican Sensei who told me I should know how to fight and radiate confidence because I looked too sweet. So I trained with him at a local high school after work. We were a motley crew of people at that Dojo learning how to fight. It sounds cool, but I was not very good! But, it gave me some attitude.
In Kenya, there are some ballet and contemporary dance schools. I think it is a remnant of the colonialist legacy- just as speaking English is. After all, they don’t really need English; they have Kiswahili as well as 43 other tribal languages! I found the performances more interesting when they fuse these styles with tribal flavours. However, I also understand that they do not necessarily like the expectation to dance “African” just because they are Kenyan. They might just want to be competitive by formal standards. In terms of street crews, I met a crew from the Kibera slums who train in a room with no mirrors, only a small portable. I trained with them once and they asked me to share something. I had only done a small choreo to “Sorry” so I started my choreo, but the song was a remix so after 4 beats it changed and I was completely lost. They did not even have the full original version to practice with! When I was on the coast, I taught hip hop for free at the local boxing gym. The footwork is really good for boxers. I was surprised how hard it is for a professional boxer to do a pas de beurre! I met dancers on the beach as well. That is where B boys practice, no shoes no music, and no stage….just sand. Obviously moments like these make you feel incredibly humbled and grateful for your freedom and luxuries in life.
Aside from urban styles like hip hop, afro, locking, etc. have you tried any other styles of dance?
It is always good to know and borrow from other traditions. I have tried ballet and contemporary. I am open to taking such classes, but I find urban resonates with me and is more friendly to my body. Don’t get me wrong: you need tremendous discipline, body control, creativity, fitness stamina and open mindedness to become really good. I think people fail to understand how much of an art form and sport urban dance is…you also have to be very brave to freestyle and throw yourself out there in a battle or zephyr!
But, because there are no rules after you get the basics, you can interpret a movement within your limitations and still retain the intention of its shape and purpose. In ballet, it’s either there or not. It seems like a very uncompromising art form to me as an older dancer. Moreover, I like to break rules, not follow them. I gravitate towards street styles because I am a rebel at heart. It’s more than just dance; it’s about celebrating freedom. Urban dance started as a creative protest to a rigged and racist system that keeps many Americans in poverty. It challenged formal traditions like classical and contemporary. Access to education and opportunity is not equal. How many African American ballerinas dance the dying Swan or Nutcracker? How many kids in the projects can afford to go to a dance studio, get pointe shoes, tights, leotards? Alvin Ailey helped change perceptions in modern dance and I think OG (Original Gangsters) did that for the urban generation. Urban dance is much more than just an entertainment message.
In the streets, costumes, a perfect, white slender body, or money to train were irrelevant. Dancers needed the fuel of injustice, frustration, and dreams for a better life. They needed the hunger to express themselves against all odds. I find this very gripping. That is the soul of art for me. Like jazz and blues, the urban movement came from oppression, and I was lucky enough to witness a little of that authenticity.
An intelligent dancer is a more interesting dancer, and I think that means awareness of this legacy. It seems hypocritical to me when dancers diss America while building their lifestyle on this American experience and cultural export. It disrespects the blood, sweat and tears that went into this movement. Urban (along with the protest forms like jazz and blues) is probably the only good thing to come from our shameful racism in America. Now more than ever, as the world shifts towards fear and narrow minds, we need to remember these battles of oppression everywhere. If more people remember and dance, we will have a happier and kinder world.
Creatively, urban dance is heading towards a fusion of all styles reflecting a globalist world. It makes sense to study all forms if you are an aspiring dancer. I hope the future of dance is more accessible, with inclusivity and freedom of expression for people of all ages.
Do you like to perform or are you a classroom only dancer?
I love to perform. I have always been a performer as an actress and musician so of course I want to perform as a dancer! When I started I did not think that, but you can’t escape who you are. I am training to get to a decent level and find my identity. When I have something interesting to offer, I will create my own opportunities to perform.
No one is interested in building an older-dancer-career for me so I have to do it myself. I am usually moved out of the shot if they film in classes. That hurts, and that is why I decided to start filming myself. I stand in the front in groups and film so I can analyze my moves and get used to being on camera. I shared some clips on social media and the response has been great. People write to me that they love watching me dance. At first I cringed at watching myself, but then as I improved I started enjoying seeing myself dance and that has fed my hunger. A few teachers and friends have told me I have something special irrespective of my age. So, I am exploring this now and building up my confidence. It is up to me to be brave enough to unearth the dancer in me and become interesting. This advice goes for anyone: If no one is giving you a chance, make your own chances. Change their minds. But first change your own.
How has dancing affected your relationships?
I have friends all over the world, but being an artist and moving around so much has always made it difficult to have a good partner relationship. My serious boyfriends have all been musicians. I am a romantic and long to be in a committed relationship, but I cannot imagine one where we do not share passions and interests, so I prefer to be alone than compromise. Creativity is a lifestyle for me. I think many people are unhappy in their relationships, but they hold on because they are too scared to let go. I spent my whole life learning how to let go of places, people, things. When the right guy comes along, I will learn how to hold on (with his help). Until that day, I feel very blessed because I have been so warmly received by the urban dance community. My teachers and classmates show me so much love and support that I feel ok. But that is urban for you.
If there is one thing you could tell women older than thirty about picking up dance, what would it be?
Really this is for anyone. Just because I am an older woman does not mean that this is just for older women. Any form of motion put to music that puts you in the zone brings out both your inner and outer beauty. Dance keeps your mind sharp, your body agile, and your spirit relaxed. I’d say it makes you sexier too since you tune into your body. Urban dance has fewer rules and limitations, so you can free your mind, and be the person you always wanted to be…Come dance with me!