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Old But Not Over the Hill

Teaching Niche Movement

by Lucy French, 18th October 2022
For some stepping into retirement is a journey that is easy, while for others it’s a trial by fire!   But like any major life journey, there is the possibility of sweetness gently waiting in the wings!

This is a story of how the grief of retirement unexpectedly transformed my life and led me to teach dance to a group of women who may be old, in terms of a number, but certainly not over the hill.  Women who are hungry for moving with a new life so they can expand their horizons.  Where their retirement is not an end, but the beginning of something new – where they are asking, as I did - who am I now, and where is this leading me?

It was covid that thrust me into sudden retirement from full time work.  As a contractor, working as a change manager in the corporate world, work opportunities dried up overnight, which meant not only did my income drop from being very comfortable to extremely frugal, but the daily rhythm of my life completely changed too.

Although qualified as an Open Floor teacher, in hindsight I treated it more like a hobby rather than a vocation, and I wasn’t ready to teach online when covid hit.  I needed to take care of myself, because depression hit me like a brick.  

Consecutive lockdowns in Melbourne meant returning to full time work any time soon was a pipe dream.  So I found myself going into survival mode – making major life decisions so I could live on the pension.  But to reduce my rent I had to radically downsize, which at the time, was truly heartbreaking as I had to throw out or give away so many of my lovely things.

Soon I found myself entering a hidden world of being treated like a charity case, which was both shocking and painful.  I’d always been proud of being a single woman who was financially independent.   So, asking for help was strange and went against the grain.

Thankfully, I turned to the dance to support me and found wonderful teachers from all around the world, who offered flexible payments options and scholarships.  In fact, I ended up dancing with some truly masterful teachers who enabled me to move with my underworld, and navigate it safely.

But it took me a whole year before I understood I had been in a profound state of grief.  Grieving for my former full time working life (although I no longer enjoyed it) and the loss of identity it had given me.  That was a shock!

So why am I sharing my story with you?  Because I found myself asking who am I now and where to from here?  The answer led me to something quite unexpected and rather thrilling!  Which energised and awakened a new sense of purpose inside of me.  I began to wonder was I alone in my retirement experience, or were there others struggling with it too?  

So I approached an Australian organisation called the University of the Third Age (U3A), that specialise in offering lots of classes to people who are retired or semi-retired so they can retain a sense of connection with each other.  When I asked them if they were interested in me teaching a weekly Open Floor class the co-ordinator replied - “I’ve been waiting for something like this to come along!”

Since starting my Dancing with Life classes, I’ve discovered my niche, which is such a gift.  Teaching this group of women is truly satisfying because they don’t want to be treated as if they are old and over the hill (which is quite common).   They are looking to expand their horizons and flourish.
It also turns out some are still finding their retirement journey quite difficult to come to terms with – especially if their experience is relatively new.  We have all agreed it seems to take 2 years to settle into retirement – which is really the ending of the life you have lived before and the beginning of something new.   So, we dance with this.

Although they are open to exploring how to resource themselves through movement and dance, I’ve had to learn to adapt my teaching skills to develop a shorter class that suits different levels of fitness and physical restrictions.  I’ve learned to consider their strengths (rather than their weaknesses) and to add other layers of creativity to expand their movement experience, and to use chairs in different ways.  So far, what I’ve done appears to be working because I’ve seen expansion in their movement repertoire – which clearly brings them joy.

One thing is for sure – this is an older group of people who are hungry for moving with life but I have had to be willing to ask what’s working, what isn’t and how can I adapt my teaching approach so it works for them.

When I attended the Open Floor training it came as no surprise that most of the trainees were much younger, with only a handful of us over 50.  For the younger teachers are the future of Open Floor.  But what about us oldies, where did we fit in?  Here my life experience is relevant and has value – and it is truly magical to see this group of oldies learning to fly again, just like me!

As I said I’ve had to learn how to teach an older group of dancers, so I’m grateful to Kerry-Ann Stanton from New Zealand who gave me some excellent pointers when I began.  I’m also grateful to Deborah Lewin who offers a shorter online class, that’s structured in a way that enables me to go deeply, very quickly.  What I have realised though, is that while older people may struggle with physical agility, they also have bucket loads of life experience and creative imagination they can tap into, plus they seem to connect far more easily with soul.  As a teacher I am learning how to optimise those unique blessings!

When it comes to next steps, I’m really keen to share my experiences and to hear from others who are teaching older age groups (or would like to), so we can learn from each other.  Perhaps look at how can we work together to create something truly valuable in these people’s lives?  Please email me if you are interested at

Lucy French, Open Floor teacher from Melbourne, Australia. 

Although I had been teaching dance as a hobby, by profession I had been a senior change manager on large IT projects, until 2020.  Years of experience taught me there is no one size fits all to change.  It’s about diving deep into the organisation and understanding how that change impacts the business and its people so you can design a fit for business change approach.  When Covid hit I suddenly retired due to lack of work and unexpectedly found myself diving into a world of grief, losing my identity and sense of self.  Over time what gradually emerged was the birth of a new sense of purpose – one that truly values my age (70) and my life experience.   This inspired me to design and explore a new dance approach for a group of senior citizens, who like me, may be old but not over the hill.  This is my story. 

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