She took up ballroom dancing at 87
February 2020 was the saddest for ballroom dancers all over the world as their inspiration, Tao Porchon Lynch passed away peacefully and without any pain in White Plains, USA. She was 101.5 years young and was dancing in her three inches high heels a week before she went dancing her way to the next planet.
Tao Porchon-Lynch was recognised by the World Book of Records UK as the ‘World’s Oldest Ballroom Dancer’ in 2018 and Guinness World Records as the ‘World’s Oldest Yoga Teacher’ in 2012. In 2019, the Government of India conferred her with the Padma Shri award the fourth highest civilian honour of India. In 2016, Porchon-Lynch was recognized on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Known for her indefatigable energy and spirit, the diminutive ballroom dancer continued to dance and compete along with other fellow students at the Fred Astaire Studio in New York well into age 101. Tao lived by her personal mantra — There’s nothing that you cannot do.
She took up ballroom dancing at 87 and won more than 750 first-place awards as a competitive dancer. At 96, she appeared with her 26-year-old dance partner Vard Margaryan on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, receiving a standing ovation from the show’s judges.
Ever the style icon, she once scaled Machu Picchu in stilettos. She adored wearing black leather pants with a fur coat draped over. Her nails and lips were always painted in bright colors. At 100, she was a brand ambassador for Athleta, the line of women’s fitness clothes, and also graced the cover of its catalogue.
The longtime Westchester resident worked earlier in her life as a Hollywood actress. Tao Porchon-Lynch rubbed shoulders with Hollywood legends like Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and was good friends with international dance icons Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Bollywood stars Dilip Kumar, Kamini Kaushal, Saira Banu and Dev Anand.
I met Tao when she was 92 and had known her since then. These 10 years were the best ones of my life as I met a woman who inspired me like none other. I was fortunate that whenever she visited India, she stayed with me in my house and blessed me with her love and positive energy. I remember once asking her if she needed rest or was jetlagged as she had just arrived from a long flight to which she had said, “In my head, I am still in my 20s and I have no intentions of ever-growing old. So let’s get to our dance rehearsals.”
I recollect being present for Tao’s 101st birthday. She had then said, “To me, 101 is natural. It doesn’t scare me. I awake with the sun and think of all my many friends and that makes me ready to know that you never put anything off for tomorrow because tomorrow never comes.”
Hearing of her death, people who admired Tao came forward with their messages. “I was thinking of Tao this afternoon when I received the news of her death. I had a spiritual connect with her, she is one young lady who lived an incredibly inspirational life and went away beautifully too. I am sure she is now waltzing with the angels,” said former Miss Universe and Bollywood actress Sushmita Sen.
Dancer, actress and chef Maria Goretti said, “It was such a wonderful experience meeting Tao. She was full of positivity and always had a smile on her face. She exudes peace, calm and had her inner child wonderfully intact.”
Odissi dance exponent and well-known television and theatre actress Jayati Bhatia said, “I was fortunate to host Tao’s World Book of Records certification ceremony as the world’s oldest ballroom dancer. As I was going through last minute detailing of the script for the evening, I heard music playing and looked up to watch this effervescent smiling lady dancing with aplomb and my mouth fell open as I double checked her introduction, she was 99 years then. Then I was in deep worship as the short film on her life was played, her struggles, her contribution to human kind during the World War and her passion for dance, each and every moment lived hundred percent. I realised, although her eyes had that naughty twinkle, she had that calm on her face, of a life truly cherished. Tao, at 102 you danced your way to the other realm and you left a void in our lives.”
Ace designer Rohit Verma, who designed a few of Tao’s dance dresses, said, “When I met Tao, I was mesmerised by her beauty. She was an inspirational person, truly a dancing queen who gave millions a reason to get on the high heels and fly, that is what Tao meant to me.”
Actress dancer Sharbani Mukherji said, “It is heartbreaking to know that Tao is not there with us. I was fortunate that I met Tao at a few occasions, especially for the India launch of her book, The Dancing Light. Age was just a number for Tao, she taught me that never look back in life, always look ahead, her aura was supremely divine, we have for sure lost a jewel, a treasure.”
Actor dancer Amith Dolawaat said, “You look exactly like my dance partner and you dance so well” are Tao’s her words that will stay with me forever, her warmth, twinkle and childlike smile, soft spoken voice and energy. I will remember her forever as a legend, I feel blessed to have met and danced with her.’
Tao Porchon-Lynch was one lady who’s life experiences spanned continents and historical events. At age 12, she joined her uncle, Vital Porchon, who built railroad lines in Asia and Africa, to march alongside Mahatma Gandhi in the Satyagraha (Salt March) of 1930. She later took part in the 1963 March in Washington with Martin Luther King Jr.
Top 10 Tao’s Mantras
If you believe in something, go ahead and do it.
Wake up each day thinking it’s going to be a great day, and it will be.
I never believe in age I believe in energy.
My life is my meditation.
Tomorrow never comes, one minute after midnight is already today.
There is so much to do and so little time to do it.
Wake up with a smile on your face and see how the world will smile back at you.
If we can breathe together, we can be together too.
I dance and live with a sense of fearlessness, do your dance in life whatever that is and don’t give up.
There is nothing you cannot do if you harness the power within you.
Born in 1918 in Pondicherry (now Puducherry) to a French father and an Indian mother who died giving birth to her, Porchon-Lynch was raised by her uncle. It was from him that she learned two of life’s important lessons “Never ask anyone to understand you, try and understand them,” and “Never look down upon anyone.” And that is what Tao lived by all her life.
In 1939, she set sail for France from India to live with her aunt, and would eventually participate in the French Resistance. After the war, she worked as a model in France and England before moving to the United States in 1949. Soon she was working as a Hollywood actress under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, with credits including the films, Show Boat and The Last Time I Saw Paris, and TV shows such as The Bob Hope Show and I Married Joan.
In the 1950s, she trained under some of the biggest names in yoga such as BKS Iyengar, K Pattabhi Jois and Indra Devi and taught yoga to actors in Hollywood, including Clark Gable. Yoga Ratan Award was conferred upon her by the Government of India in 2018.
Forever a student, Porchon-Lynch continued to learn from her ballroom dance teacher and partner Anton Bilozorov, who is more than 70 years her junior. She also participated in four ballroom competitions every year. She was rehearsing and preparing herself to participate in celebrity dance reality show, Dancing with the Stars.
Tao often said, “I’m going to dance my way to the next planet.” She never said goodbyes because she felt goodbye was final. She always said, “I will see you again.”
Today, with this article, all I can say is that my darling Tao lived a wonderful life, inspired millions with her grace, beauty, elegance and her powerful spirit for life, she is not dead she will always keep dancing in our heart forever.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacifica University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder, a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]