St. Olaf College | News

Dance professor to perform new work that examines aging

St. Olaf Professor of Dance Janice Haws-Roberts will perform a new piece, Approaching Winter, that will allow the audience to see a lifelong dancer come to terms with aging and performing her final concert.

Professor of Dance Janice Haws-Roberts left her full-time professional dance career in 1994, when she accepted a teaching position at St. Olaf College. Yet for the last 22 years, Haws-Roberts still considered herself a dance performer.

Age and the will of the body, mind, and spirit have a way of catching up with us all, and it has come to the point in her professional life where Haws-Roberts is facing the end of her performance career. She is creating an introspective dance performance that encapsulates the feelings she has when faced with this inevitability.

The piece, Approaching Winter, will allow the audience to see a lifelong dancer come to terms with aging and performing her final concert. Haws- Roberts will perform the dance on September 8 at 11:30 a.m. and September 9 at 7 p.m. in the Wagner-Bundgaard Studio One in the Center for Art and Dance.

Haws-Roberts received funding to create the piece from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund made possible by the voters of Minnesota.

How did she come up with the idea for a performance about aging — a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about and that requires a performer to showcase their own vulnerability?

“When you look at the arts, it’s not uncommon to see an older person on stage, or an actor or even a musician. For dance, it’s simply not the same. So I began to think about the disparity between dance and the other forms,” says Haws-Roberts.

Her own relationship with being a dance performer is tinged with different emotions. Despite a career that enabled her to travel and perform all over the world, there is some pain — a result of the immense strain that dance puts on the body. Those conflicting emotions will be on view in the performance.

Haws-Roberts used her sabbatical this past year to ready the performance and also hone the meaning of the piece.

“It’s been a really interesting process. I wouldn’t say it was completely joyful; it was very difficult — lots of tears,” she says. “It’s been a learning process, coming to face-to-face with some really difficult topics such as my own aging process and maybe a nervousness about facing who I am now as a performer as opposed to who I used to be.”

With choreographer Keith Johnson, she has produced a melancholic piece that takes into consideration her own physical limits caused by a professional dance career that has spanned almost 30 years. Yet there are experiences that come with such a long career that Haws-Roberts can draw upon for the emotive performance.

“There are parts of this piece that I could not have performed when I was younger, because I did not have the life experience,” she says.

Haws-Roberts is hoping that the dance will foster a wider conversation around the topic of aging and the discourse that surrounds aging.

She has collaborated with the local Arcadia Charter School and Northfield Senior Center to bring together different generations to watch the September 8 performance. The September 9 performance will be open to a general audience, and admission will be free.

Immediately following each performance, there will be a discussion about aging that will encourage attendees to ask questions about the piece. Additionally, they will be able to able share their own thoughts on and experience with aging.