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At age 64, it's okay to own your expertise

Artist Mary Sheldon Scott of Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman
Artist Mary Sheldon Scott of Seattle.

We live in a culture that values being young and hip, but there’s something to be said for age and experience.

Just ask Seattle artist Mary Sheldon Scott.

At the age of 64, Scott’s been working professional for more than 40 years; she started creating dances when she was 19 or 20. She’s also a painter.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Mary Sheldon Scott, 1990.", "fid": "132202", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201612/molly_1990_0.jpg", "attribution": "Credit photo courtesy Mary Sheldon Scott"}]]Six years ago, Scott received news that interrupted the trajectory of her career.

“My brother had gotten very sick,” she explains. “It was a neurological illness where he was going to need a lot more help.”

The artist decided to take a three-month break to take care of her brother.

She also needed to take care of herself.

Scott says running a dance company was a constant struggle to raise funds, and to attract audiences and critics to come see her work. She wanted to get off that merry-go-round.

Scott also craved a creative break. Despite her years as an artist, sometimes she found herself second-guessing her creative decision-making, and needing outside approval to validate what she was doing.

Her brother’s illness gave her the out she needed.

Scott retreated to her painting studio where she spent hours alone. No stress, no demands.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Mary Sheldon Scott's Seattle painting studio.", "fid": "132199", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201612/Studio-Shot_0.jpg", "attribution": "Credit photo courtesy Mary Sheldon Scott"}]]Three months away from the dance studio stretched into six years.

“I had no urge to return,” Scott says.

But earlier this year, Scott started to envision a series of interconnected solo dances.

“All of a sudden, I woke up one day, and realized I had a piece,” she marvels. “It came out fully formed.”

Scott recruited seven Seattle dancers she admired, and started to work with them on individual solos that she collated into an evening-length performance called The SOLO(s) Project.

Within months, she traded her painting studio for dance rehearsal rooms, her solitude for conversation and collaboration.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Dancer Jade Solomon Curtis in Mary Sheldon Scott's SOLO(s) Project.", "fid": "132200", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201612/solos_tim_summers_2.jpg", "attribution": "Credit photo by Tim Summers"}]]“It’s been more fun than I remember it being,” she says. “You’re sitting in a room, getting to know the dancers, and you’re working together on something you’re both interested in. That’s the best time, when you’re working with someone.”

Not only did Scott rediscover her love of choreography; she also found a new confidence in her abilities.

“There is deep satisfaction and a deep calmness about just doing this for the rest of my life,” Scott says. “I just love the process of engaging with the artists. I don’t really need it to be something else. And for me, that happened with age.”

Velocity Dance Center on Seattle’s Capitol Hill presented The SOLO(s) Project in November.

Mary Sheldon Scott has no firm choreography projects in the works, but she’s open to whatever opportunities come her way.

“That was the way of finding my path again,” she explains. “Leaving and coming back. I’m not anxious anymore. I really know a lot about movement. And that’s okay at age 64 to own that!”