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Ballet Talk for Dancers
Valmont

What to expect with aging

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Valmont   
Valmont

Hello gentlemen! I have been following this forum anonymously for the last 3 years and finally created an account after having benefited from all the wonderful advice here.

 

Before I pose my question a little about me: I am 48 and I started taking ballet classes 3 years ago starting from zero, although I already had a consistent post-college "athletic" background of running, weights, swimming, and yoga since my early 20s.

 

Ballet was a revelation to me and I quickly became addicted. I have been very devoted to my practice. The first 2 years I took class about 200 days per year, and this third year I have been taking class 6 days a week, in the summer sometimes taking 2 classes a day (I consider myself so lucky to live in NYC where this is possible due to the abundance of classes and classes being offered late into the evening).

 

I mainly take classes in three levels within what my studio calls "Beginner" with one wonderful teacher who is strict about technique and great about building strength. At this point I am finally able to hold a passe releve on balance, I am able to execute a single pirouette 75% of the time and a clean double once in a while; I can developpe a la seconde at 90 degrees, developpe arabesque perhaps 75 degrees. I have no knee issues when jumping and I have not had injuries or pain other than the normal soreness. My front splits are perhaps 5" off the floor but I am working on them and I am confident eventually I will be able to achieve them.

 

Of course all of this has come with enormous work and effort - at the beginning my developpe a la seconde was not even 45 degrees, and I started with incredibly tight hamstrings. Obviously I still have a million things to work on. I do not consider myself a talented dancer but this is something that I selfishly do for me and no one else as I don't have any interest in performance.

 

Ok, so my question is this: what can I expect to happen physically in the years to come? I have made such great advances in the last 3 years but I dread the moment when I will start declining especially since I started at such a late age. I regret not having discovered ballet much earlier, I think it would have made an enormous difference in my development as an adult (and yet sometimes things come to us right at the time when we need them in our lives, no?), so it pains me to think that I would be able to enjoy ballet just for a limited time in my life.

 

I realize every body is different, but I would love to hear from those of you who have been dancing for a long time and started late in life: how did your body change? What did you have to give up but what did you gain? How did you deal with your body's decline? Is there any advice you would give to yourself if you could go back?

 

I tell myself that it's the trip that matters, not the destination, but that existential angst is still in there :glare:

 

Thank you all!

 

 

 

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vrsfanatic   
vrsfanatic

I know a 90 year old woman who takes class twice a week. She is amazing.

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Willimus   
Willimus

So I am 55, and started to feel the "decline" in the past few years. I teach at numerous schools in NYC, including one "Big Famous School", perhaps our paths have crossed. I can still do two intermediate/advanced classes at Steps in one day. What can't I do?: Triple pirouettes, double tours, jumping very high (but I still do all the jumping) and I still LOVE to dance, teach and take class. My extension, especially to the front is pretty low (less than 90 degrees)..but it doesn't really bother me, because other things are still getting better. Musicality, port de bras, phrasing, expression...all keep growing. But it will never be perfect; it will never be good enough. There will always be something to improve. And that is the beauty, and that is the challenge. The study of ballet is the relentless pursuit of an unachievable perfection. When the student finds the joy in the process, a dancer is born.

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dansair   
dansair

Willimus,

This is golden. Thank you.

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Valmont   
Valmont

Thank you for the inspiring reply Willimus. It is the process that I find fascinating indeed, to the point that I normally prefer to watch a ballet company in rehearsal rather than in performance - like those YouTube videos of the Royal Ballet taking class...

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Over 50 dancer   
Over 50 dancer

So I stared at 55 - I'm 61 now and still taking class and, I think, improving. I know I will never be an accomplished dancer but I love what I am doing and striving for the next milestone keeps me going, and keeps me young for my age. Keep up the good work!

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MJ   
MJ

They say the Dancer dies twice.

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trogoz   
trogoz

I started when I was 37 and I'm 59 now, doing two or three classes a week and three gym sessions. I've been watching ballet since I was at university, but I never thought about doing it. I didn't start going to the gym until I was 35. Looking back, I must have been so unfit then. The only exercise I got was when I went to the beach. Since taking up gym and ballet, I am definitely fitter and a great deal stronger. I'm addicted to both - I feel really guilty if I miss a gym session and downright depressed if I can't do a ballet class.

 

Pirouettes have always eluded me, although it's not unknown for me to get fairly decent ones. These have improved over the last few weeks and I put this down to a change in squats. I used to squat 90kgs with knee wraps, going to thighs parallel to the ground (people always say my gym form is spot on). I'd do 4 sets of 6-8. I'm now squatting 35kgs, no wraps, full depth (aka hindu squat with heels on the ground). My knees are much more pulled up in ballet and pirouttes more stable. My knees have never been the best - too many motorbike accidents when I was in my 20's left them pretty wrecked, (I used to have to walk with a stick) but after all that ballet, they are OK and the stick as long gone.

 

I can't jump as high as I used too, but I still jump. I can do the saute exercises longer than most of the young'ens in class - more willpower and maybe more stamina. Along with the aforementioned change in squats, I've taken up skipping bewteen my sets of weights. This has sped my feet up considerably, while helping to maintain the aerobic fitness. I don't run any more - I used to love running on the treadmill - brain out and plod along for 30mins or so. I never liked running outside. If skipping is good enough for boxers, it's certainly good for pretend ballet dancers.

 

I can't develope anywhere near as high as you, I have really short hamstrings - I can barely touch my toes (and no I don't have a beer belly!) but I keep plugging away. If I didn't do ballet, I'd dread to think how unflexible I'd be.

 

One of my long time ballet teachers retired a few weeks ago. She's in her early 70s. She said that she had to give it up as her legs couldn't cope any more. She was heart-broken as she really enjoyed teaching. Well, once ballet is in your blood, there it stays and she is taking class. She is in the one that runs before mine. She says she's struggling, but she still looks fab watching her through the window. She started taking class whem she was 16 and she had been teaching for 50+ years. She is a real inspiration to me and I hope that I can keep going for many years yet, as does she (for both of us).

 

One thing that has happened over the 20+ years of ballet, is that I can feel the dance and improvise if necessary. Sometimes, halfway through a grand allegro I'll forget what comes next. Luckily, this doesn't happen too often. When I first started ballet and this happened, I'd just walk off the floor. Now I'll dance of the floor and put some steps together which make some vague sense.

 

If I had my time around again, I definitely would have started ballet sooner, and I'll continue to take class as long as I am vaguely able.

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silvergreydancer   
silvergreydancer

Mr. Valmont,

 

I started at 52, I'll be 65 in March. At this point, I can still keep up with the 16 year old students unless they are really advanced. Stamina has become an issue because of two ruptured disks in my back. I can't quite push as much as I used to without pain. That being said, I still have pretty good jumps and occasional triple pirouettes. Not so bad for an old guy! LOL Hardest thing is holding a combination!

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BarreTalk   
BarreTalk

.

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jimpickles   
jimpickles

Well, I started at 52 as an absolute beginner and am now 70. I was getting along fine, but I always had out of shape feet, pronating badly on one, and a succession of jumps in ballet led to an escalation which led to a ligament rupturing. So now I cant do a rise on that foot, and as well have to be very careful in the centre because the foot is unstable. So now I just do the barre and porte a bras, choosing a teacher who teaches with a particularly long and complex barre. Yes I do miss the fun and movement of centre work. The lesson is that as we get older, things do go wrong, and we have to work around and accommodate them as well as we can, and do as much as we can. Often the alternative is just as pleasurable, even if you have to go in an unexpected direction (and I have put my energies into a different type of performance).

 

Jim.

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Garyecht   
Garyecht

I began dancing on my 50th birthday after a lifetime of being in the sporting world. I had zero talent and was looking at doing something completely different, something where I could learn and do as I got older. I was unbelievably ignorant about dance. Thought my choices were either ballroom or square dancing. I picked ballroom because it was a sport and I felt comfortable in the sports world. As I learned more about dance, I morphed into a theatrical dancer, beginning with ballet, but also doing jazz, modern and flamenco/Spanish.

 

I'm 72 now and only do modern, which I find is great for us old foggies. Stopped doing ballet in my early 60s because my bad knee felt unhappy doing all the jumping in allegro. Didn't want to do a class leaving just as allegro began so simply quit ballet. Jazz was always a for fun activity that I quit when a great teacher stopped teaching. Spanish/flamenco teacher retired which ended that. That left only modern for me. Not so much jumping, interesting movements, and an opportunity to become a real artist in movement. It was made for me.

 

Three years ago I decided to lose some weight. I'm by no means overweight. 5-6 years ago I did go on a little diet, which like most diets worked in the short term, but not in the long term. This time I would do the same diet and add more physical activity to go with it. One of the sports I did well as a young man and again as a middle aged man was Olympic weightlifting. I decided to do that again as an old man. It has all worked out perfectly. Lost weight, gained muscle, and lost a lot of fat. An added bonus is that I don't think I have danced better. Yes my jumping is terrible in terms of height and quickness, but I can do a high volume of jumping without making my bad knee unhappy.

 

Right now I do weightlifting on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday and go to dance class on Wednesday and Thursday. My flexibility has remained pretty much the same or perhaps slightly better. Haven't done a ballet pirouette since the last time I took a ballet class so I can't make an evaluation there (decent doubles were always my pride and joy).

 

Weightlifting is a sport of numbers. Everything you do is a number. You always know where you stand. Of course at the beginning I made rapid progress, but in the last year I think I've pretty much maxed out my PRs. I've been told that in your 70s you lose about 2% of your strength each year no matter what you do. I believe that. Staying the same is progress. I love doing the weights--snatch, clean and jerk and squats. When I walk into the gym, my spirit lifts, all the aches and pains stop for the moment. That's exactly how I feel when going to dance class.

 

As a dancer ages I think he or she has to dance from the inside. It's not how high you can lift your leg, how many pirouettes you can turn, or how high you can jump. The artistry comes from inside--how you connect with the music, create a feeling, a role, or an intuition. That's the good thing about getting older. Us older folk have more life experience, more colors to use to make a picture.

 

The Butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata supposedly once said that one should be able to dance with only the eyes. Whether true or not I love that idea.

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