A burlesque performer, a pole dancer and an erotic writer walk into a…
And that’s how I found myself in a truly remarkable conversation with dancers Judith Vandepeer and Makeda Smith, hosted by Michela Di Carlo of CrunchyTales Magazine. In ordinary life, CrunchyTales holds in-person panel discussions several times a year in England and Italy. But in this time of social distancing the video forum was great fun and allows women all over the world to join the conversation. Women who discovered a creative passion after midlife were interviewed about their vivid sexy older life, and how they go about raising* the profile of older women. We also talked about helping other women pursue their passion and creativity.
I was honored to meet them and hope you’ll enjoy the conversation as well.
Judith Vandepeer (otherwise known as Pupin Devert) took up burlesque performance after menopause. “I’m quite childish at heart,” she says. “I’m a big grownup teenager and that’s never going to change.” Asked about growing older, she says, “There are challenges that you deal with about people’s perceptions of you.” But for Judith, the key is “adapting, to work on the strengths you have as an older woman. It’s about adaptation.” She stopped dyeing her hair eighteen months ago. Her attitude was, “Let’s see what comes out.” And her silver locks have become a teaching advantage onstage. “In performances, it twists people’s perception. I start with a hat on and do a gray reveal. You can be quite playful with your gray hair, which I like.”
Judith had loved dance as a young woman but got out of the habit. Then she went to a six-week burlesque course.
“As soon as I’d been there ten minutes, I knew This is for me!” She began applying to casting calls and said it was so much fun. The world of burlesque turned out to be incredibly varied, including comedy and eroticism as well as traditional burlesque. And people of all ages and genders are involved. She loves the creativity. “It’s a wonderful sparkly fantasy world and I love it!”
The burlesque audience includes many women, many of whom are older. They come up to Judith after her shows and tell her how important it is to them to see someone their age on the stage. “Some want to get into [burlesque] but it’s also about visibility – seeing themselves portrayed in a sexy positive way.”
Judith continues to challenge burlesque to become more inclusive of older performers. However, she emphasizes that the world of burlesque honors its veterans. “Older performers up to their 80s are very important to the burlesque scene.”
In this stage of her life, Judith feels liberated from caring so much about what people think.
“People ask, would you like to have started burlesque earlier? And my answer is no. I would have cared a lot more about what people thought. Now I don’t care. I care about expression. A lot of people at an older age get to a point where they are liberated in their own skin and from their own skin. It’s about your sexuality from within. What you look like physically is not really the point.”
Makeda Smith, whose moniker on social media is “FlyingOver50,” does not feel she has left her youth behind at age 59. “My youth has been enhanced. Aging is a whole different level of youth. In my youth I carried so many insecurities and now I’m just grounded.”
Like Judith, Makeda likes the word adaptation more than challenges. “I remember when I first started getting gray hair it was challenging,” she says, but these days Makeda is a blonde-haired dancer.
Makeda had always expected to celebrate turning fifty but instead found herself at a low point, both personally and financially. She knew she needed exercise. “I took a pole dance class just because it was cheap,” she said, “but after the first class I was hooked. The first year I trained like a maniac and every morning I felt like I had been hit by a car. But now my body doesn’t ache like it used to.” She found it liberating. “When I started pole dancing my body started doing things I didn’t think I could do.” And then came another surprise: “When I started pole dancing, being sexy was the last thing on my mind.” But then she started to feel sexy. And then came another realization. “I would look around and I was the oldest woman in the room.” Her brand, Flyingover50, is on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and she uses it to encourage women over fifty to explore yoga-inspired moves that are sexy and slow. “Once you start moving you wake up that inner goddess and you get energy to do other things.”
Makeda emphasizes the theme of liberation when she talks about her art.
“When I’m dancing, I’m dancing for myself. I am pleasing myself and loving myself. What is happening is between me and Spirit. It is so fulfilling sexually; it is self-fulfilling.”
When asked about growing older, I said it gives us a lovely freedom from the expectations society places on young women. The challenge is not to fall into the expectations society has for older women. We have to define our own lives. I view aging as a chance to reinvent myself. Now I get to do exactly what I want to do.
Michela asked about Elderotica, which I define as writing that celebrates being erotic at an older age, that turns social expectations about older women on their heads. Writing an erotic story where you reveal that your character is not 25 but 65 is a bit like Judith’s “gray reveal” while dancing. My book, Aphrodite’s Pen: The Power of Writing Erotica after Midlife,” helps women focus on writing erotica after age 50. The assumption that you have to write young characters to publish erotica strikes me as no better than the old days when women had to use male pen names to get published. We claim our own stories when we write for ourselves, and when we publish, it’s a way to jolt people into thinking about older women differently. Young women are pressured to become sexual before they are ready; older women are pressured to become asexual. But each individual woman, not society, should make those choices for herself.
When I was part of the Dirty Old Women reading series, young people would come up afterwards to say it gave them so much hope to hear that sexy living need not end at age forty, fifty or sixty. It was exciting to help people gain that perspective, and I am not sure how to do that online.
I do, though, have a free self-paced class online for women who would like to try writing a sexy story. And this month I plan to launch another self-paced class on my website, this time for women to write about their own erotic histories. It will be structured decade by decade, beginning with discovering our own bodies as children and going through all the stages of development up to our nineties.
Judith, Mikeda and I all agreed that, while there are things we can do online to help other women live sexy older lives, there is no substitute for in-person classes and interaction. But in the meantime, we will keep on keeping on.
Our conversation inspired me. As our interviewer Michela said, I may have found new characters for my next story in these vibrant women dancers. Our older years can be a great time to explore all kinds of new adventures, including erotic writing and erotic dance.
* typo corrected