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Nancy K Schlossberg Ed.D.

Aging with Panache—Mikhail Baryshnikov Shows the Way

Aging with panache requires figuring out your lifetime of possibilities.

I watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance at the 2010 Ringling Museum International Festival. He came onto a plain stage with nothing but a screen. Then he started dancing to a video of a young man dancing. And the young man was Baryshnikov at a much earlier age. He danced to his younger self. You saw three dancers-the younger, the older and the shadow. Now 62, he no longer leaps in the air but he still creates thrilling performances. He has style!

How does that relate to the rest of us? How do we continue to keep living a life where we feel we matter when our bodies are not what they once were? The answer: Let your creativity take the lead. The late Gene Cohen, an international expert on aging, director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University, and author of The Creative Age and The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, found that the brain works differently as people age. In fact, older individuals are able to use both sides of the brain together, giving them an advantage. Cohen's research on the brain demonstrates that new brain cells continue to grow IF people are active participants in life. Dr. Cohen wrote, "I think that after 50 there's a new senior moment-a creative moment."

We do not have to fear diminished capabilities. We give up something; we take up something else. Baryshnikov announced at the Festival that he will no longer dance but I predict that he will continue to choreograph, and stay involved with dance. Each one of us can inventory our strengths and limitations, continue what we want, slow down the pace if necessary, but not give up.

One woman took up professional ballroom dance after she retired. She traveled around the country with her partner, participating in dance contests. At eighty she broke her ankle and realized her dance career was over and claimed, "I plan to reinvent myself." She became a volunteer fundraiser for several non-profits. A retired investigative reporter no longer writes several stories a week. He paces himself and writes a bi-monthly column. And I can no longer jog and use the stair master, but I can do water aerobics. We don't need to hide our limitations but we do need to seek new opportunities, new possibilities. I plan a Winter Forum on Aging for SCOPE, a non-profit in Sarasota, called, "A Lifetime of Possibilities." And that is what aging with panache is all about-figuring out your own lifetime of possibilities.

Nancy K. Schlossberg
Author, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping your Identity, Relationships and Purpose
Copyright 2010

About the Author

Nancy Schlossberg, Ed.D., a Professor Emerita at University of Maryland , where she was a tenured full professor in the counseling psychology area for 28 years .She is the author of ten books, focusing on transitions.