Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Gladys Knight and Martina Navratilova have achieved incredible professional success in their respective fields.
Knight is one of the first ladies of classic Motown soul music with millions of records sold during her recording career, 21 Top 20 singles and 12 Top 20 albums, 14 Grammy Awards and more honors than we could list. Navratilova is one of the greatest champions of tennis. She has won 59 grand slam tennis titles, the last one six weeks shy of her 50th birthday. She was named one of the “Top 40 Athletes of All Time” by Sports Illustrated.
Neither of these women has anything to prove. So why are they sweating in a dance studio for hours a day and punishing their bodies to perform on a reality competition TV show?
For both Gladys Knight, age 67, and Martina Navratilova, age 55, competing on Dancing With The Stars was an opportunity both were eager to embrace, in part to prove that you can be competitive, embrace new challenges and learn new skills at any age.
Knight recently told Access Hollywood, “It was the challenge of it. I like living life. There are certain things, if we feel like can do them, it sets an example for young people. Age is all in the mind. There are others out there that we discount when they get a certain age. I’m going to go do it.”
Knight says being the oldest competitor on the show is irrelevant to her. “I don’t think about it,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t think in terms of age, per se. We sort of categorize ourselves. It’s what we feel in our hearts and our spirits and our minds that makes the difference.”
For several years, Navratilova has been fitness ambassador for the American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP. She says in an interview on the AARP website that producers have been asking her for years to appear on the show, but she never had time, or thought twice about wearing heels. She decided to do it to promote her goal to get older adults to live more active, healthy lives.
“When people ask me whether I have done these dances before, the answer is always the same: No!” Navratilova told ESPN this week. “But I will say this is an amazing experience for me. I’m more comfortable in my skin. The feedback has been terrific.”
“I’m hoping the show encourages people to get out there and dance. They need to be brave like I am, laying it on the line. I’m doing something so foreign and new and risky,” Navratilova said. “I could really embarrass myself. I don’t want to look like a fool. But I’m showing a different side to me. I want people to get out of their routine and their rut.”
“I haven’t done anything this intense since I quit playing [competitive tennis] in 1994,” said Navratilova. “It’s not as physical as playing tennis four hours a day, but it is pretty physical. I just have to be careful to not try to do too much, too soon.” Navratilova reports she’s feeling great after the first few weeks of rehearsal and competition.
Navratilova said far more nerve-racking than the dancing are the costumes, hair and makeup. Her dance partner Tony Dovoloni is designing her dance dresses for her.
Gladys Knight is used to the glamour of the stage. But even she feels her nerves in front of the live audience. “I’m trying to be cool out there when we get our scores, but that audience reaction is just swamping me with the pressure. Normally before I do a show, I’m very quiet in my dressing room, but here I’m right out there with all the noise and excitement going on before we dance.”
Sadly, Navratilova was the first contestant sent home from the show. But she has only positive comments about her all-too-brief experience. Her sole disappointment is that she didn’t get to use the platform to share her story about her struggle with breast cancer and encourage women to get screened.
Navratilova says she will keep right on dancing, show or no. “Yes, I’ll continue dancing. I love it. I will continue taking lessons. I’ve enjoyed being transformed on the show and I enjoy what it does to my body and my mind, and I will continue.”
Navratilova predicts either Roshon Fegan or Katherine Jenkins will win. But Gladys Knight intends to give them and the rest of the field a battle for the Mirror Ball Trophy.
“I want that trophy! It I ain’t playing with y’all!,” laughs Knight. “But I’m not doing it just for the prize. I want to make the journey the best that I can make it. But if I can get ahold of that mirror ball, I’m gonna go for it!”
Knight received the third highest score out of 12 competitors the first week with partner Tristan McManus, who is 38 years younger than his partner at age 29. “The thing about Gladys is that she’s willing to try anything,” said McManus.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!