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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Retired from ballet


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I now feel confident in saying this—I’m 90% sure my ballet career has ended. And it’s my choice. This fall I dropped ballet completely, moved up to an intermediate Spanish class, and am concentrating on modern (two formal classes and two self-classes a week). Last ballet class was the end of July. Missed it at first, but now I don’t.


I’m not reporting this because it is of any special news or importance to anyone, but I want to share my thinking.


I began dancing late in life and though having no prior dance or even musical training, I did have significant experience in sports, as both a competitor and coach. I knew dance was essentially a skill activity and that as one ages, one’s ability to acquire physical skill diminishes starting at about 20, accelerating in middle age. Consequently, I knew I was never going to be a really good dancer. I knew that before I ever took a lesson or class.


That was something of a problem psychologically, as I had always been pretty good in my physical pursuits. I knew that I was highly likely to become frustrated and quit when my dance abilities failed to meet my standards. I also knew my general approach to most things in life is to not do things I don’t do reasonably well. So what to do about it?


I had some experience in a related question as a coach in track and field. What happens to the sprinter who isn’t that fast? They often become decathathletes (doing 10 events, all except one requiring some aspect of speed). I tried applying that to dance. If I couldn’t do one dance form that well, I would compensate by having as broad an experience as possible. I was imagining myself as an 80 year old guy hanging out with a bunch of other 80 year old professional dancers talking about what we had done in the good old days. Each talked about the great performances he had given. When it was my turn, I talked about my wide range of experience, a range that was wider than anything any one of them had experienced. That seemed feasible to my mind.


Besides the inherent joy that comes in movement, most often with music, which you find in all dance forms, the thing I enjoy most in dance is gaining skill, going from klutz to some semblance of ability as a result of lots of practice. That kind of development is greatest when one first studies a dance form and becomes progressively less and less with time.


So since the beginning, breadth has been my goal. I have always believed that ballet was the best “basic dance training,” as well as an end unto itself. Martha Graham said it takes 10 years to make a dancer and I’ve spent 9 doing ballet. I’m highly unlikely to get noticeably better at ballet. In fact, age is more likely to degrade the skills I have than am I to improve further. Anyway, I always think of myself as a contemporary dancer. Though I’ve taken a modern class for many years now, I’ve never really dedicated myself to developing my modern technique. If I am ever going to do it, now is the time.


Thus far my experience collection includes social, competitive ballroom, ballet, modern, jazz, African, Afro-Cuban, improvisational, contact improv, Spanish and tap. Some of that experience is really minor (tap for only one month), but I’ll put it on the list anyway. Besides modern and Spanish I see folk, historical, and anything else I can learn about in the future.


Won’t stop reading and contributing to Ballet Alert however.

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Guest adancingartistforlife

"Thus far my experience collection includes social, competitive ballroom, ballet, modern, jazz, African, Afro-Cuban, improvisational, contact improv, Spanish and tap. Some of that experience is really minor (tap for only one month), but I’ll put it on the list anyway. Besides modern and Spanish I see folk, historical, and anything else I can learn about in the future"


That means, YOU ARE A DANCER. Once a dancer, always a dancer.


Maybe not nescessarily ballet anymore, because of the physical demands, but I say So What? Dance is dance. There is a lot of stuff in ballet I can't do anymore without risking serious injury. Are ballet dancers "better" than other dancers? I say "Negative, Red Leader"...even though I personally know some ballet people that think ballet is the "better" art form


The important thing is that you dance


And since you have done ballet, why wouldn't you come to Ballet Alert?

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ADAFL, that reminds me of something my swordsmaster once said when I talked about wishing I was a scientist (I am in the middle of my PhD thesis). He said something like: "You know, I spent years wishing I was a swordsman, before I realized I had been one all along; just not a very good one." :D

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I believe there is great value to be had in mastering a discipline in life, and in improving over time --- greater than the value of not mastering many. I have seen a few dancers make great strides in progress in their 20s and 30s, even making it to professional level. I have seen my parents improve steadily at ice dancing after many years of stagnation, and they are over 60 years old! I have also read about people who began studying martial arts (Karate, Tae Kwon Do, etc) as old as in their 70's or 80's, and earned black belts in them.


I have also seen many adult ballet and music students fail to progress beyond the advanced beginner level for many years. There are many and varied reasons for this, I suppose; one of the biggest is the incredible time commitment required to progress in dance --- more than most adult students can put in, given job and family responsibilities. Another biggie is the lack of infrastructure that would enable adult students to make more progress.


I prefer to find something I can sink my teeth into, and for which I can get quality instruction, and then go deeply with it. Because there are so many things about art, music, movement and life that you will never confront until you have gone deeply into a discipline.

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Martha Graham did say that it takes about ten years to train a dancer, but she also wouldn't train anyone under the age of sixteen, and that was pushing it. The Graham company has employed dancers from their 20's to their 60's, and in the words of my modern teacher (a former principal in the Graham company) the sixty-year-olds were "far more beautiful to watch than any of the twenty-year-olds." It really goes to show how much emotional maturity can transcend the physical, and I think it makes sense to pursue contemporary at this point.

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I dance with a few women in their 60's who started in their late 40's. I also know people in their 60's who sit around complaining about getting old. Who would I rather take after? Obviously the 60 year old dancers. It's so inspiring and they are very beautiful dancers...much better and even more flexible than me. I only hope that I am in the studio at 60. Even if I am never a regular performer. Coming from a family of hobby-less people I grew up to belive that you stop being active after highschool. I was always under the impression that to ever be decent at any kind of sport or physical activity you had to start at the age of 3. But now I'm finding many accomplished dancers, skiiers, snowboarders, tennis players, figure skaters, etc etc etc who started their skills not only in their 20's but 30's, 40's, 50's and beyond. And even after I started taking ballet again at the ripe old age of 25 :shrug: I started realizing that I'm physically capable to do alot of things besides ballet that I can actually become quite good at. So no matter what you wind up doing with your dancing I hope that I stay with it, try out other forms of dance, and become a lifelong student....just like you. However, watch out. Ballet is like a ghost. It always comes back to haunt you.

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Guest Dancing Duranie

Well...........29 is around the corner for me and no one can persaude me that my body cannot and will not do what it did at age 19. For me, personally, it's a matter of hard work, lots of practice, patience (not one of my virtues), and regaining strength and flexibility. I've been off for five years, and lost a lot of flexibility. But the strides I have made in two months of being back are amazing everyone, and I didn't even really notice it until last night when I started hitting pirouettes out of the blue (I was like, "wow, it only took two months to get those back! :shrug: ), and tonight when I went clothes shopping. I have absolutely no desire to try to be a professional dancer. I just want to be the BEST dancer I can be and lose myself in it. Ballet is my little escape from the world. :shrug:


*edit* KellyLynn.......we were posting at the same time, but the girls in my studio have said, "you're 28?! omg, I hope I'm still dancing when I'm 28!!!!" :blushing:

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... I always think of myself as a contemporary dancer. ...

OK, I've excerpted what stuck **ME** as the heart of your post. (I'm sure other things resonate with other people!)


Anyhow, I say follow your passion. Easy to say, hard to do - for me at least, mostly because it's hard to know what one's passion really is. It never comes to you through rational analysis!! It was - or seemed to be - a completely irrational impulse for me to take a class in ballet, yet here I am two years later taking four classes a week.


Just so you know, I have already gained some important insights from your posts. Thanks, and I hope you continue to hang around. I'm sure I'm not the only one!

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... But now I'm finding many accomplished dancers, skiiers, snowboarders, tennis players, figure skaters, etc etc etc who started their skills not only in their 20's but 30's, 40's, 50's and beyond.

Wow - looks like I'll make two posts in a row. But this line really struck me. When I started my career (I was an aerospace engineer) I first met Merle McCaig, one of the "old guard". He was the first person to retire from out group, now more than 20 years ago. He was a really good violinist (we had a lunchtime string quartet for a while), and after he retired at 65, he became the conductor of Musicians Emeritus - an orchestra of retired musicians. He also took up skiing - not just sliding downhill, but the showoff, upside down, spinning, looping extreme kind of skiing. I think he broke something pretty much every winter for years.


I can't remember who here signs off with "woohoo - what a ride!", but I couldn't agree more. Merle is still one of my heroes.

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I hope this doesn't mean you're going to stop posting! I've enjoyed and learned from your posts and it would be great to have a perspective here from someone who's doing different types of dance. All the best in your new focus.


I have the same problem with starting dance late and knowing that I'm losing condition at the same time I'm gaining it, and I think about going over to modern, though that rolling on the floor can be hard on the body too. Not yet. A couple of the older ladies I take ballet class with are an inspiration to continue - like someone said above, they can be more interesting to watch than the younger dancers. The ones I'm thinking of, they haven't got the flexibility or extension, but what they do, they do beautifully and musically, and they look like dancers. Their work has paid off.

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Guest adancingartistforlife

"It really goes to show how much emotional maturity can transcend the physical"


Hans -


Great line. :shrug:


I know a lot of times my ego tells me to quit, because I can't do any of the big tricks anymore.


My ego says, "If you can't do (whatever) anymore, and sometimes it hurts, why are you doing this?"


My heart says' "1. Because I love it and I am a dancer, it helps define who and what you are, 2. Because there are a lot of kids out there that can benefit from my experience, and 3. Dance, and especially ballet is not all about doing Big Tricks."


So...suck it up and get back in class, Garyecht! :shrug:

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I don't know how old you are but it sounds like you are feeling much older than your real age. I hope you get past it.

I can't imagine going back to modern class again. It was very demanding when it came to stuff like knee spins and all other sorts of playing on the floor. OUCH! I am not good at getting up again these days. It certainly doesn't look pretty.

I guess you have to go with what you love. Maybe that is simply variety.....



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Well, I’m 61 and know that I’m in better physical condition than 99.9% of people my age. In terms of things like strength and endurance I’m better than most of the 20 year olds, male or female, who dance, so that aspect of conditioning is certainly no problem for me. The physical degradation I notice most with respect to ballet (or any dance form for that matter) is the loss of “quickness,” the ability to do things and react really fast.


But that wasn’t the real point of writing about my thinking. Were I 30, I would do exactly as I am doing. My point was what to do when one’s performance ability does not match one’s standard of performance, regardless of age, ability level, or experience. It seems to me this is an underlying theme in many threads in the adult ballet students section of Ballet Alert. I was fortunate I think in that I had a lot of prior experience, so had a strategy almost from day one rather than waiting until the reality of the situation hit me in the face.


I know many adult ballet students are not interested in broadening their experience. When I think of the adults in the ballet classes I used to take (they were relatively high level and almost always had professionals and teachers in them), I don’t think anyone other than me was involved in a dance form other than ballet. For them clearly ballet was an end unto itself and though I’m sure all wanted to do ballet better, there was little conflict between ability and standard of performance for them. Had there been a bigger conflict, they would not have been in class as often as they were.


With respect to Hans’s comment, let me echo that age does carry benefits, as we older folk have more life experience and, I believe, find it easier to convey things like feeling and emotion. The 20 year olds in one modern class I attend are very good ballet students, but in my opinion, often dance in a mechanical, lifeless way in modern class. That goes double for jazz class when I used to take jazz classes.


Laschwen, you made me chuckle. I’m fine with the falls, doing whatever on the ground, but getting up? I know exactly what you are talking about. Fortunately, most of my modern classes have people over 30 in them, so we don’t go to the floor that much.

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Laschwen, you made me chuckle.  I’m fine with the falls, doing whatever on the ground, but getting up?  I know exactly what you are talking about.  Fortunately, most of my modern classes have people over 30 in them, so we don’t go to the floor that much.




I appreciate your response and chuckled right back.

Of course I don't think I have ever danced up to my own standards.... I am happy with baby steps as long as they are forward ones.

I am one of those who likes a broad experience too.

In fact, about 12 or 13 years ago, I got to do a modern solo in an original play. I had some advice on the choreography from a mostly Jazz dancer friend who was very big on using all the vertical space at ones disposal. I looked at a few of those floor moves and voted "I'll just be doing those kind of things on the mattress over here" and ended up doing the choreography pretty much myself; naturally based around what I could do... I was just a little past 30 at the time.




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For many of us, Garyecht, the fact that we value ballet over other dance forms is not a choice, it is just a fact of life. I, for example, have taken one other form of dance in addition to ballet during all the time I have been in ballet. (Ok, right now I take acrobatics, which is only close to dance... but it's a performing physical art anyway, so maybe it counts still.)


Not one of these other forms has managed to motivate me the same way as ballet does. It is not that I intellectually or esthetically value ballet over all - in fact, I often enjoy watching, say, step pr flamenco or certain "neo-classical contemporary" performances more than I enjoy pure classical ballet. :blink:


It is that so far in my life, after trying out a wide variety of dance forms, martial arts, gym regimes and aerobics varieties, the only physical thing I've found so far that I don't get bored with inside a year or two maximum is - classical ballet. I intend to keep on experimenting, and I agree that people should try out different things, but sometimes you don't get to choose if you like something or not. :)

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