Beautiful Minds: Evelyn Torton Beck
Evelyn Torton Beck began her college career at Brooklyn College in 1950, and fifty four years later her formal education may have reached its peak when she received her second Ph.D., this one in Clinical Psychology. A life-long learner, Dr. Beck’s desire to learn was only heightened by the intervening years she spent as a professor of literature of women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin and then at the University of Maryland. Today, having left the higher education scene behind for the most part, she continues her lifelong learning as a student and teacher of dance in many locations across the United States as well as Scotland and Mexico.
Dr. Beck has become particularly passionate about learning circle dancing, a form of dance she learned while exploring Poetry Therapy. The dance, which makes use of Greek, Romanian, South American and African music, involves a group forming a circle and dancing together as one. The best part (for those to whom dancing doesn’t come naturally) is the group mantra, which reads,“There are no mistakes, only variations.” And according to Dr. Beck, circle dancing has many benefits. She finds the dance to be calming and empowering and says the people to whom she has taught this form of dance feel the same effects. Her years of experience as a professor show when she cites a New England Journal of Medicine to describe how dancing wards off dementia. Older adults have everything to gain and nothing to lose by dancing.
In fact, two subjects of her studies over the years--Franz Kafka and Frida Kahlo--sustained their lives by remaining creative when their health deteriorated. But even in less extreme cases, Dr. Beck still sees creative engagement as a healthy pursuit. She said, “A study shows that people who even watch dances get some of the energy that comes from dancing. The brain is never passive.” And neither is she.
When she’s not learning or teaching circle dance, Dr. Beck is either writing, painting, researching, walking, swimming or doing something equally engaging, an activeness she attributes to her attitude. “People who think they are old act like they are old,” said Dr. Beck, who says that at 78 she feels more youthful than she did when she was much younger. While she acknowledges the importance of maintaining one’s health, her life’s work underscores the importance of creative expression for positive aging. If this is the advice a woman of Dr. Beck’s intelligence has arrived at after a lifetime of learning, you might want to put on some Romanian tunes, join hands and let the circle dancing begin.
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