Glenn Curtis, Breakdancing Grandpa

At age 69, Glenn Curtis is an athlete. Nothing in the world could drag him from his breakdancing to play Scrabble in a retirement home. Portrait of a grandfather with 4 grandchildren who does hip-hop to stay young.  

By Estelle Gombaud

Originally from San Francisco, Glenn was always a fervent devotee of extreme sports and activities. After having enlisted in the Air Force until the age of 43, he decided to become a private trainer for a fitness centre. He stayed there for 20 years.

In 2007 he settled in Vermont. Despite the distances involved, Glenn doesn’t hesitate to travel the 180 km several times a week to practice his favorite sport at downtown Montréal’s Studio Sweatshop dance studio. It’s the closest place to offer hip-hop dance lessons within three hours of where he lives.

Forever Young

After having tried a wide range of sports, from modern dance to the trapeze via indoor fitness training, Glenn decided, at age 51, to turn his attention to hip-hop.

This 5-foot 3-inch tall dynamo of a man considers dance the perfect antidote for the effects of aging. “Yes, I am old, but I feel young,” he says with a wide smile. “I really have a lot of fun when I practice with the other students, and I love the rhythm of the hip-hop music we train by.”

His hobby is certainly out of step. Usually, older people are discouraged from doing hip-hop because of its complexity. But that’s exactly what attracts him to it. The difficulty of the moves allows him to surpass himself every day, and stay in rock hard shape.

The head spin, turning around while one’s head is on the ground, is an example. “When you see what he’s capable of doing, you no longer have any excuse!” says Jennifer Casimir, his instructor. “He’s also taking some lessons in ‘waacking,’ the toughest course we give. It’s a very athletic style that incorporates a lot of poses and arm movements.”   

Glenn’s goal is to wage war against accepted wisdom. The other dancers are generally surprised at his performances. “The first time he came to practice, I thought he’d be incapable of doing what the teachers were telling him to do. I was very surprised to see that he was more at ease than I was,” says Mikael, a Studio Sweatshop student.

Staying Young at Any Price

In 2 years, Glenn developed technical abilities and a solid physique that allowed him to gain in strength and speed despite his advanced age. Still, Glenn hit certain limits.

“Sure, I couldn’t do everything,” he admits, “but I didn’t give up. The goal was for me to train to stay young and keep in shape.”

He’s aware that in a few years he won’t have the physical strength to continue to train. He wants to profit from his current good health for as long as he can. “When I can’t do it at all any longer I’ll stop, but for the moment things are going great,” he says.

“A lot of people here tell me that I’ve made progress since I arrived, and I feel it, I’m doing better… I think that when you want to, you can.”

He believes that living better and longer, staying in good health and fighting back against age aren’t just the product of luck; it’s also a question of your mindset. He is sure that a healthy diet and physical activity are good bets to keep in shape and slow the inevitable aging process.

Besides, that’s the message Glenn wants to pass down to people his age who’ve left behind the notion of taking up a physical activity.

First seen on Raymond Viger’s blog, October 5th, 2010

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