WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE UP BALLET AS AN ADULT
It’s never too late.
Written by Parissa Venturini
Ballet has been back in the spotlight ever since the movie ‘Black Swan’ came out a few years ago, and its success led to a variety of new ballet-inspired fitness workouts, from Barre Core to Ballet Beautiful. Several Victoria’s Secret Angels also claim to use ballet moves regularly to get their bodies show-ready, spurring fitness addicts to flock to the barre. As beneficial as all of the above ‘ballet’ gym classes are, there is a fundamental difference between these and actual ballet, which is more of an art form than a sport. Ballet, aside from working wonders for your body, is also spiritually beneficial, reducing everyday stress and improving concentration
Most girls have been to a ballet class at some point in their childhood; some loved it and stayed with it, but most didn’t. However, returning as an adult to this beautiful discipline is not as hard as it looks and beginner and intermediate classes for adults are available in most cities.
I fell in love with ballet the very first time my mother took me to a class, at the age of four. I remember passionately loving the big bright studio surrounded by barres and mirrors, the concentration that went into each and every exercise and the feeling of ‘performing’ for my fellow classmates and ballet teacher. I remember the smell of my first ever satin pointe shoes, and the stubbornness with which I absolutely refused to take them off for days, to my mother’s dismay. I also vividly remember the incredible sadness I experienced when my ballet teacher retired, and my school closed down. I cried inconsolably for weeks, tried going to other ballet schools and eventually gave up, accepting that no other school could ever compare to my previous one. I took up several other hobbies including hip hop and modern dance, but no other hobby ever made me feel the way ballet used to make me feel. I always wanted to go back, but made excuses for myself: I was too tall, I wasn’t skinny enough, I wouldn’t be able to remember anything, I was too busy studying, and so on. Many years later, upon moving to a new city, I finally decided to overcome my fears of being in a leotard again and just gave it a go.
Ballet schools often offer a variety of adult ballet classes and will suggest which one they think is more suited to you. I was advised to join the intermediate class, which worried me a little (would I even be able to perform a simple plié anymore?) but as soon as I stepped into the room, I felt right at home. I was definitely rusty, but I realised my body hadn’t forgotten any of the movements or the exercises, and it all came back naturally.
What makes an adult ballet class special is that the people who join come for the love of ballet, and not to fight for a spot in a ballet company. There are people of different ages and various body shapes. One of the most beautiful dancers I ever encountered over the years practising ‘adult ballet’ was a tall, elegant lady in her seventies. She had silvery-white hair, neatly pulled back in a bun, and a twinkle in her eyes that gave away how much she loved every second of being there. Although not as flexible as she might have been in her youth, she would transform into a graceful swan as soon as the pianist hit the first notes, and it would be impossible to take your eyes off her.
Another significant difference between children and adult ballet is that in the second one there is no dress code, apart from flat ballet shoes. This takes the embarrassment off from having to squeeze oneself into an unflattering leotard and skin-coloured tights. One can wear anything at all, as long as it allows for movement: yoga pants, black tights and shorts, cotton onesies, ballet skirts and oversized t-shirts are all perfectly acceptable, just to name a few.
I was impressed to learn that while half of the women in my class were returning to ballet after years, just like me, the other half had started as adults and had only recently progressed from the Beginners to the Intermediate class. It’s incredible how much you can achieve as an adult if you have the right teacher, and the right attitude. We all shared a love (or shall I call it an obsession?) for every single instant of those 90 minutes we would spend dancing together every week. The teacher was wonderful, and careful to correct every mistake as we went along, but also to applaud our improvements. Throughout the following months I noticed several changes in my body; I shed some weight, my leg muscles changed shape, becoming longer and leaner, and my friends started commenting that I looked taller because of the way I carried myself. More than anything else though, I was really happy - just the thought of having ballet class later in the evening would keep me buzzing all day, and I would race out of work just to arrive ten minutes early and start stretching – as every other dancer in my class woul do.
Ballet isn’t right for everyone though - it may not be the right hobby if you’re only looking for an easy and effective workout to lose some weight. Ballet is difficult, and requires a lot of discipline and concentration to remember the steps and to keep your posture right while you execute them – which in turn also means that anything else you have on your mind completely disappears for the duration of that class. The feeling of freedom, and of being immersed in a parallel universe are what kept me going back time after time.
In conclusion, should you take up ballet or return to it as an adult? The prejudice is that in order to practice ballet one must be very young, super thin and impossibly flexible, but that is really not the case. If you’re only looking for the physical benefits of it, then chances are any good fitness class will do. If you want to challenge both your body and mind, and want the thrill of discovering a whole new world (and very possibly, falling in love with it) then you should most definitely try taking an adult ballet class!