Reflections on 10 years of adult ballet

In mid-2022, I reached a milestone: 10 years of adult ballet classes.

I started ballet when I was 26, after my gym closed down and I didn’t like any of the alternative gyms on offer. With a 90 minute commute home from work, outdoor sport was out of the question and I thought dancing would hit the spot as an indoor physical activity. I’d always wanted to do tap, but the local adult tap class wasn’t taking new enrolments in the middle of the year because of their concert – and I was terrified at the idea of a concert – and I figured ballet could do some good towards countering my day-job desk posture.

Ten years later, I’m still hooked on this ballet thing.

Here are ten reflections on the ten years I’ve been dancing:

  • Let the teacher know if you’re new to ballet. There’s no shame in starting ballet as an adult and if you’re in a supportive class, which hopefully you are, then you’ll often be put behind an experienced student to follow. If you’re lucky, these experienced students will also call out helpful tips for you when you’re looking lost and confused. If you don’t let your class know you’re new, or, worse, pretend you’ve got more experience than you do, you’re less likely to enjoy the class. Similarly, declare your injuries. If a teacher knows you’re avoiding certain moves or taking them easy and therefore knows not to push you too hard, then you’ll enjoy the class more and not risk injuring yourself.
  • Toxicity is a waste of your time. Don’t engage. I’m looking at you, social media. There’s a lot of really helpful people out there on social media for ballet but there are also a lot of haters and gatekeepers. You’re not lacking dedication because you regularly miss class due to shift work, being on call, or being a caregiver. You are under no obligation to dance for hours and hours every day of the week. Classes cost money. And time. Engage with ballet to the best of your ability to engage with ballet. Even if some weeks that’s little more than doing some calf rises while waiting in line at the supermarket. You will of course be a better dancer if you can go to class regularly, but as adults we know that it’s not always possible and shaming people for that is toxic behaviour.
Christmas fun for the final class of 2022.
  • Cross training is your friend. Following the “you’re in your mid-30s now” talk with my GP, combined with trying to make ballet a substitute for rowing (long story) and discovering The Barbell Ballerina on Instagram, I got into cross training. This has meant going to the gym a few times a week and lifting weights with the motivation of how it was going to transform my ballet when I got into the studio. And it has made a difference. So far, the biggest difference I’ve felt bas been in my turns but I’m also starting to feel it in my jumps. Don’t be afraid of building your strength and check out The Barbell Ballerina for more information about how gym work can help your ballet.
  • Building a relationship with my teachers has made the difference between ballet being something I schedule and something I actively look forward to. Yes, this does depend on the teacher as well and I’ve had teachers where the only reason I was attending class it because it was in my schedule. But establishing a relationship with my teachers where we could laugh about the experience of dancing as an adult has made the entire adult ballet experience more enjoyable. It makes feedback more personalised, not only for my technique but also in delivery, and letting them know your goals means they’re better equipped to help you work towards them.
  • Trying the advanced class when I was still at a beginner level helped me see what I was building towards. I stayed up the back, flopped around all over the place, but I learned a lot about why I was learning those basic moves and how they would help me in the long run. I now attend the advanced class legitimately, but attending the advanced class before I was technically ready helped me to reach that technical level.
  • My first pointe show fitting was a hot mess. I’ve written about it previously. And the first time I wore them in class I felt like I’d never be able to stop clinging to the barre. My goal was to pirouette en pointe and I thought it would take me ten years. It didn’t. One day, a few years later, I just prepared and did it. There was no fanfare. Nothing to stress and panic about. I just felt it was time and smashed one out. My pointe shoes now represent personal growth and I relish in them physically and mentally.
Pointe shoes Round 3, Repetto, Cannes. July 2022.
  • No one is forcing you to be there. If you’ve always wanted to be a dancer as a kid but didn’t have the opportunity and now you do but you’re not loving it after all, that’s ok. Me? As a kid I hated the idea of ballet and was really mean to the ballet teacher who was brought in to my gymnastics class to help up with our port-de-bras. But don’t force yourself to stay at ballet just because of six-year-old you.
  • Your reason for doing ballet is valid. I’ve danced with someone doing ballet as weightlifting cross training. That’s great! If you’re there for an hour a week for some time away from the kids and time for yourself, that’s super cool. I’ve heard dance studio owners on ballet podcasts disparage musical theatre people. That is not OK. No matter why you are there, you are there. And that is what’s important.
  • Had children and you now pee when you jump? You aren’t alone. This isn’t something I’ve experienced myself but it’s something women I’ve danced with experience – the look of relief on their faces the first time someone brought it up! If you’re experiencing it, you aren’t alone. We’re starting to become more away of teenagers and period shame, it’s time we started talking more about what happens to older bodies as well.
  • When I first started going to ballet class I wore footy shorts and a singlet. Specifically, St Joseph’s College, Geelong footy shorts. I didn’t want to dress like a ballerina. That was ridiculous! Clinging to my teenage years as a tomboy was safely within my comfort zone. Until I went past one of Bloch’s warehouse sales in Melbourne and found a marked-down leotard, dance shorts, and tights. And I haven’t looked back since. Not that the footy shorts haven’t made the occasional appearance when my leotards are in the wash or I’ve been in a hurry and I grabbed them first. It’s just that wearing a leotard actually makes me feel like a ballerina.
I was so busy I only had time to change out of my cycling knicks and into my trusty footy shorts. My teacher said the important thing was that I made it to class. (November 2022)

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