Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers to close ×
Ballet Talk for Dancers

What is my limit for improvement?


Recommended Posts


I'm feeling a bit confused, and to be honest, quite disappointed at the moment. One of my teachers commented tonight that she didn't think that I'd ever get up to the next level and that I'd stay in Intermediate for ever.


Background: I'm 32, been doing ballet for nearly 4 years, and I'm currently doing RAD Intermediate. Being completely honest, I don't have good flexibility, and because of one short achilles tendon my demi-plie is rather pitiful (the other achilles tendon is not very long, but my right one is SHORT). I do 3 classes a week, and I work hard in class, doing half an hour of barre work at home on the days when I don't have class.


I was expecting to stay in Intermediate for at least another year, since I've only been in this level for 6 months. Plus I am still catching up to most of the class because before Febuary this year I was doing grade 5 Cecchetti, so there was a big jump from that level to my current one. I am the only adult in the class (and in fact the only adult dancer in the whole school). Hence this teacher is not used to teaching adults (and she is younger than me).


I am not particularly interested in doing the exams, but is it realistic to expect that one day, maybe a long way in the future, I may make it up to the next level? It is a bit depressing to think that I could be stuck on the same exercises for ever!!!!!


Thanks, Wembley

Link to comment

That certainly does not sound too encouraging...

I am sure our moderators can come up with a better reply. But I just cannot resist to reply :D


Anyway, since you are an adult there will certainly be limits that you will not be able to overcome, and most possibly before the limits of the teenagers. That is why my first thought was that you perhaps should try and find a non-syllabus class? So IF intermediate is your limit (which I certainly hope is not the case :) ) at least you will not be bored with the same excercises.


I don't do syllabus classes and we do different excercies all the time and many girls and ladies in my class have been there for ages and still enjoy it while they might work more on expression when I (as a beginner) work on the step itself.

Link to comment

Wembley, do you want to take the exams or is it just an option for you? If not, I would recommend to go to non-syllabus classes (as it has been suggested before). You probably have much more fun there and you will improve as exercises are changing, hence challenging for you all the time :)

Link to comment
  • Administrators

That's very sensible advice, Suzanne :) I was going to say the same thing in terms of look for a non-syllabus class!


Wembley, everyone has a limit, but there is no way of knowing what that limit is. There are just too many factors involved to be able to determine that. I think one can always improve, but the question is how much, and that is the one that cannot be answered. I do really feel strongly though about an adult being the only adult in a childrens/teens syllabus class. It doesn't make sense to me. Find a school with an adult program!

Link to comment


Taking RAD Intermediate after only 4 years of ballet is pretty good actually. You should be proud that you've made it to that level in such a short span of time. When I was studying RAD, my teacher made it very clear that passing the RAD Intermediate exam may take a couple of years, and very few of the local students even attempted it (only three from my school which had a large "advanced" class) I totally agree a non-syllabus class will be much more fun for you. Are you only taking syllabus right now? That could get VERY boring and I would think one could stagnate simply from boring repetition. Sometimes the same thing presented in a slightly different way or accent can make it all "click". You also need a teacher who is encouraging and who will inspire you. Not everyone can reach a professional level, but it's also hard to say to someone that they'll NEVER attain a high level of technique. I've seen some amazing things happen on not very talented bodies, and some very talented bodies who never seem to improve much. Determination and intelligence go very far in ballet. Every body has some strange quirks and problems. You need a teacher who knows how to deal with these issues. It's also a reality that to reach a high level of ballet technique, three classes a week is not going to do the job. You need to be taking class every day if a high level of achievement in ballet is what you really want.

Link to comment

Thank you for the great suggestions everyone.


The reason why I ended up as the only adult was that there are only a few studios in this city which offer adult classes. The ones that do either only have one or two classes (each an hour long) for my level, or they never rang me back! So I went looking for a studio that offered a high standard of ballet instead. I will also add that my other teacher at this studio has been very supportive.


However, I will go looking for some open classes. That is an excellent suggestion! It was the prospect of doing the same exercises FOR EVER AND EVER that had me so disappointed!


Thanks, Wembley

Link to comment

To add my 0.2 cents, I personally came from France with a good overall level of ballet, but didn't know anything about RAD. The first teacher I encountered (who happened to be a good friend of my 2nd teacher -which didn't make it easy) told me that I didn't have the RAD 'look' and therefore, that it would be difficult to go into the vocational track. At that stage, I had stopped to dance for 2 years, so was in a bad shape physically and in any case, my goal wasn't really to do the exams. Maybe this was what triggered her comment, but I realise now that she should have had a little more faith in me!! Changing from one method to another can take up to (speaking from personal experience) one year at least. There is a whole physical change that is happening (at least from French method to RAD is an enormous gap. As I understand it, Cechetti is not so far fetched from RAD in the 'basic technical requirements') and a mental one too (you have to get rid of the idea that you know best. You must 'bend' your ideas about what constitutes the best method.... And that's hard when someone shakes your world into thinking all you learnt before is not wrong, but not correct either). :yucky:


I therefore studied for a whole trimester with young girls doing their grade 5. I have to emphasise though that the age for me was absolutely no problem. I was an adult with young girls (12-13, while I was in my mid 20s) but the adult class on offer was for beginners (open class) and I did go to that one, but didn't feel challenged at all. I didn't relate to all the stories 13 years old girls had to explain, but it put me in a position where I was 'mum' to all of them in a way. It was sweet and even though it was hard at time to 'act like a teenager' in order to be more understood, I never felt excluded.


While I didn't really enjoy the work in grade 5 (it was too childish and basic for my liking), at least I could work on the RAD 'style'. Soon enough though, I was bored with the same exercises repeated over and over... That must have shown, because my teacher recommended I went to her friend -I think she also 'passed the buck' as I have a feeling she didn't enjoy teaching me or any adult (she claimed that teacher was 'Royal Ballet' trained, so probably not the best for me to pick up the RAD style, but I could try it as older girls were doing grade 6 and I would enjoy it more)... Long story short, the girls weren't all much older (12-15 maybe) but I realised quickly that this new teacher believed in me straight away, and was an absolute gem of a teacher. She was Royal Ballet trained, but she knew enough of the RAD syllabus to know what I was worth!! :P

She encouraged me to do my grade 6 within 3 months, then my grade 7, then my grade 8 in a short period of time after that (almost as soon as I knew the exercises well enough to do the exam and all those within a year).

She then 'invited' me to the intermediate class, and again, shortly after, she said I was ready to take the exam. By that stage, I thought this was an impossible exam to pass (as described by my first teacher) and I didn't have much faith in myself. I did it with distinction, then did adv 1 and 2 (took a little longer, but I passed both with a more than good mark). I don't know why you have been put directly into the intermediate level. Maybe it would be advantageous for you to do the higher grades first (there is no age restriction, and it is marked with a little more 'leniency' on technique skills. You WILL enjoy it -I personally LOVED grade 8- and it could encourage you to dance in the RAD style and have additional classes that will change from your normal routine).


So, my story was to explain to you that having to take classes with young girls may not be such a problem. It has NEVER been a deterrent to me. I prefer the atmosphere of hard work and determination that happens there, and I don't think I'd like to swap to a similar class with adults (I would be ok with an adult class, as long as there is no petty gossips or as long as we start class on time, and work hard during it -something I often witness is a hard thing to combine. I was often advised that teenagers would be speaking behind my back, giggle at my faults etc. I have found on the contrary that they are a very accepting bunch once you know them, and fair enough they are giggly and excited at time for no reason, but they are refreshingly 'themselves' as opposed to adults who -in my experience- get clicky very quickly and can't get the idea that a class is to work, not to vent off after work).


Similarly, some teachers will never believe in you, simply because you're an adult. I can understand that, at present, you feel like you lack strength or technique, but simply saying you won't progress beyond that stage is rubbish! I don't like the idea that you can dismiss the future at the brush of a hand. You don't know and so, she doesn't either. Fair enough, you have to work at it to progress, and maybe her reaction was as a result of your work now, but God knows what will happen in a year or 2, once you have gained both strength and confidence. I have to mention, for your benefit, that after my progress within the RAD exams, I decided it was time to turn to teaching (something I really didn't imagine possible coming from a 'foreign' method). I did it, I now teach, and I'm really happy with the RAD syllabus as it stands. I don't teach only the syllabus exercises throughout the year, as I don't believe it's how the method should be taught. I only go through the 'exams exercises' a few months prior to an exam happening for a student. If it is taught intelligently, the RAD can bring a lot of satisfaction. If you don't fit in the intermediate level and feel like you're in a rut, then you need to get out of it and do something else (hence my suggestion for the higher grades).


I would also encourage you to go to open classes, though, as that would really put some salt and pepper in your daily routine (or not daily, but as advised before, I think you should go to at least 4 classes a week to see a real difference).


I hope I haven't bored you with my story, and that instead, I have encouraged you to seek someone who truly believes in you, because that's already 1/2 the problem solved! :yucky:

Link to comment
Guest beckster

I personally find RAD intermediate to be a very strengthening class. I also do RAD grade 7 and a non-syllabus class, and I find that all three together give me a good week's classes with a nice variety. If there are other places in town why don't you add a non-syllabus class or replace one of your intermediate classes with one? If you already know all the exercises and are keeping up the total number of hours you do, one less syllabus class won't hurt. And you would have the challenge of doing unset work. I think RAD intermediate is worth retaining for one class a week simply because it does cover so many steps and is very good for improving technique. I find we cover more in the syllabus classes but the non-syllabus one is very challenging and gets my brain working.

Link to comment

Yes, Beckster, I would agree that's a good combination, providing that in the interm. class, you do work on 'elements' of intermediate (or a class where you're truly are stopped and corrected on the finer points within the exercises, rather than go through exercises without stopping).

Link to comment

Though not directed toward wembley’s question, I did want to say two things about development of the adult dancer and toss in an opinion.


First, ballet seems to be a skill that if you start later in life, say after age 25, you are never going to be really really good. Perhaps a better way to say that is if you compare the ability of a typical 16 year old with 6-7 years of experience with that of a typical 30+ year old with the same amount of experience, the 16 year old will be much better, assuming all other things equal. Ballet isn’t unique in this respect at all. The same occurs in almost all physical activities where skill is involved.


Knowing that can be both depressing and liberating. If you are an achiever who compares himself or herself to others, it is depressing. You are playing a game you are unlikely to win. Another way of looking at it, however, is that if you know that is the case, you don’t have to play the game. You can concentrate on enjoying the activity for what it is (dance) rather than trying to achieve some external standard of performance.


Second, I believe Martha Graham once said that it takes 10 years to develop a dancer. That conforms to what I’ve seen in sports, which is that essentially you make improvements for about 8-10 years of consistent hard work and then you level off. Improvements still come, but they are slow and minor and compensated for by losses in function brought about by age.


Again, what’s important is how you interpret all of this. My sense is that if you are a true adult dancer and you measure yourself against any external standard, you are highly likely to be disappointed along the way. So disappointed that you are likely to take up some other activity. But if you accept yourself and your abilities and limitations and concentrate on enjoying the activity itself and making small improvements as best you can, you will wind up with more satisfaction about your dancing regardless of what you can or cannot do well.

Link to comment
First, ballet seems to be a skill that if you start later in life, say after age 25, you are never going to be really really good.

I agree with that, and yet, in that context, you will have good adult dancers, and some who (either because they're not willing to give it time and effort, and by lack of natural ability) are never going to be as good.


So, while we agree that it will always be harder for an adult to be at an advanced level (and yes, it's important to realise this), I think too many teachers dismiss them as 'adult=rubbish forever'. As much as you can't put every teenager in the same basket, you can't either with adults. There are 3 groups that I can see:


1- those who have no intention of doing it seriously. They come to ballet for the pure enjoyment of class and that is that. They do not strive to improve very much.

2- those who really want to improve no matter what. They are not ready to 'socialise' in class. They're here to work and they mean business. (this is regardless of any physical natural ability. You find this type of adults in each category, gifted or not).

3- those who are naturally talented. They do not need to work really hard to achieve a good level quickly. If they do work hard, the progress is amazing and quick.


So, of those groups above, a person from group 3 could well see ballet as per group 1 (socialising before everything else). That means they are talented, but because they don't work as hard, they will not progress very fast.

Those from group 3 who are hard workers (those are few and far between. :P Don't ask why, a lot of younger kids are like that too. It seems that the easier it is naturally, the less they take advantage of it)

Finally, those from group 1 and who are not very talented (the 'forever beginners').


And you then have to add the personality of each and every adult (which may 'tweak' the diagnosis into a more intricate group). All this to say, you really can't see any adult as a piece of wood who can't make their way through a carefully designed syllabus. :rolleyes:

Some will, some will not, and that's what creates a challenge for the teacher: determine in what group they belong, push them or not according to their personalities, make them progress to a higher level or make them enjoy that level they'll stay at for a longer time...etc... It's exciting and it's a great gift to be able to 'mould' someone progressively and carefully by showing them how to change their bodies and make it a suitable shape for ballet. I think painting all adults with the same brush is just not fair on them, and that's why I will never understand teachers who don't like teaching adults and claim they are not made to do anything beyond the beginner level (and so, not worth the effort). :pinch:


Wembley from what is written in the OP deserves a much more considerate teacher who is willing to take into account all colours of her/his personality!

Link to comment

What wonderful answers I have got from everyone! Balletowoman, your story is so inspiring.


I guess the problem is that I see myself as Group 2- serious about ballet, not much natural talent but willing to work hard and improve. Previous teachers have been very supportive, whether in adult classes or in mixed classes with teens- they saw that I was a hard worker and they recognised that by helping me. I was lucky enough to have some great teachers, but unfortunately we move a lot, and after each move I have to find a studio that suits me.


My other current teacher has been very supportive- she commented a few weeks ago about how I was improving, but the first teacher I mentioned doesn't seem to take me seriously. For the first few months she rarely even gave me corrections!


I think that if the open classes work out well I will drop her class and just do two Intermediate classes (with my other teacher) per week and some open classes instead!


I feel much better now! Even if I never make it to the next level, I won't be stuck doing the same exercises for ever!

Link to comment

I agree with balletowoman’s characterization of adult dancers. It is a hugely diverse group with respect to motivation, aptitude, and desire.


I can also sympathize with the teachers of adults. As is everyone, they are influenced by their own experiences and all teachers pretty much have more innate talent for ballet than does the typical adult and they learned ballet at an earlier age. And there is the diversity among adults. Toss in the strong opinions of adults and that adults tend to see teachers as equals rather than as authority figures and you have a difficult situation for the teachers.

Link to comment

I agree. Plus you can almost *feel* it from some of the teachers - they have invested effort BEFORE in adult students and they're just either of balletowoman's group 1 (aren't interested in improving), or the adults just give up too soon and don't put in the effort (more difficult than they perhaps expected).


For awhile with one of my teachers, you could see she was actually surprised that we were improving. Now I'm not saying that's the ideal situation, because I still notice that this particular teacher does not teach the class to the same level as when younger students are present (ex: no center adagio because it's "not fun"), but she is a wonderful example and I have learned a lot nevertheless, that I still continue with her classes.


One day she said, "I'll assume you want to get better unless you say otherwise." She said it somewhat surprised-sounding.


I actually enjoy another class I have even more so than that one - this one is taught by a very young teacher who is very enthusiastic with us. She encourages everyone along and seems to ENJOY the teaching process itself.


But taking class regularly with a teacher that you know does not expect you to ever improve can be very demoralizing, even if you're just there to work hard and enjoy yourself. I mean, I have no illusions about being great or even good, I just love the work and enjoy the strength it gives my body - great workout! But also I love to dance and you can enjoy it more by getting better, so it's kind of a conundrum. :wink:

Link to comment
you can almost *feel* it from some of the teachers - they have invested effort BEFORE in adult students and they're just either of balletowoman's group 1 (aren't interested in improving), or the adults just give up too soon and don't put in the effort (more difficult than they perhaps expected).

I personally almost 'expect' adults to move on after a year or 2... Not because they don't enjoy my classes, but because life is such that many will not stay in the same city or will move on to another interest. I don't take this personally (or try not to :D ) and I focus on working for the 'now' and not have a mastermind plan as I would with 6 years old (where I already picture them on pointes, able to do a triple pirouette :D )


I think that's what teachers should expect more: a week to week improvement or learning curve... Otherwise, there will be desillusionned teachers AND adult learners throughout the world! B)

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...