For Jan Lawton, dance is the life force that fuels her passion and her future. It gets her up every morning with a smile and promise that her lifelong career as a professional dance instructor will pave the path to healthy aging.
“I just love dance, and I especially love the teaching,” she says with a smile. “I love choreography and to see what people have within themselves when dance enters their lives.”
This native Californian was a true child of the 60s, a hippie chick surrounded by a flourishing community of artists. She exudes everything you might expect of a free-spirited dancer who has relied on her creative gift for strength and resilience throughout her life.
Raised by a single mother and a stepfather who was a dancer and studio owner, she recalls much of her childhood in the context of living and working among dancers. “My Mom worked at the studio, and I would walk to the studio after school and work cleaning the floors and bathrooms in exchange for lessons. That was my life.”
By 12, she was student teaching at that studio and at 16 was running her own classes. “I bought my first studio at age 20 from my stepdad,” she says proudly. Under his tutelage, the business grew to three studios in the San Diego area.
In 1992, she sold the studios and moved to Arizona with her former husband for his job. Lawton has one daughter and 2 grandchildren.
A Life of Continuous Movement
Today, Lawton spends 100% of her professional time imparting her love of dance to dozens of students every week. From schools, to studios to senior centers, she’s on the move continuously, teaching, creating choreography, planning dance recitals and organizing community performances. Jazz, tap, Polynesian, ballet, hip-hop, you name it, and Lawton teaches it.
She compares the joy of teaching children – who move easily and without inhibition – to teaching at the local senior center and seeing faces light up when the steps flow freely. “They do like to cut loose,” she says with a chuckle.
A Milestone at 65
As the 65-year milestone loomed earlier this year, Lawton had a difficult time digesting the fact that she was Medicare-eligible and officially a senior citizen.
“I took three months off of work and did a complete health check-up,” she says of the trepidation she felt. She learned she was diabetic and could potentially turn that around through weight loss.
So far, she’s down 20 pounds, feels better than ever and is back to teaching up to 21 dance classes every week. “It feels so good to know I’m healthy. Everything is working out really good, and it’s only going to get better. I have a renewed outlook on life.”
As Lawton looks back on her life and choices she has made, she knows she has been true to her heart and the passion that fuels her soul. And she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I knew when I chose dance that I was following my dream and my heart and I would have to work the rest of my life,” she says. “I have the confidence of knowing I am a strong enough woman to do that. And at 65, I’m still working full-time because I love what I do. As soon as I step my foot on the dance floor, I come alive.”
Not that life has been all roses. For many years, she worked full-time as an administrative assistant at a wealth management company, squeezing in dance in her off hours. She was a single mom raising her daughter and knew she had to provide more for her child.
“I’m a caregiver by nature. I took care of my daughter. I took care of my parents. And now I’m finally taking care of myself. I find I’m getting even more creative with dance now that I have that freedom,” she says.
Path To Healthy Aging
Lawton believes the key to healthy aging is movement. For her, dance has been the vehicle that motivates her to move her body every day. “Dancing has been there all my life. It’s my comfort zone.
“I can always do things because I’m a dancer. Someone want to go skiing? Yes! Because I am physically fit from dance. Play tennis? Go for it! Golf? You use the precision and technique and those are the same skills I get from dance.”
She urges people over 50 and beyond to find an activity that bring them joy. It can be as simple as walks in the park, riding a bike or hiking a mountain. It’s all about finding passion for something in life that keeps your body in motion.
She also believes a spirit of service and compassion contributes to happiness as we age. “I’m a happy person, and I genuinely like people. I believe humanity is good, and I love to help people,” she says.
Her gift is dance, and giving that give to others is source of great pride. “I just love being able to help people see that they can do anything. I love to give people confidence.”
Finally, a positive outlook is essential, she says. “Life is life. You just keep smiling and keep going, no matter what. Give it everything you’ve got and enjoy yourself.”