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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How much is too much?


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Over on Crosstalk there's a big thread on how much class time per day is appropriate and/or effective for serious students. One specific aspect is, how many times a day can you take a technique class (especially, one with a serious barre) before burning out on either physical benefit or mental capacity to learn?


That discussion started with reference to young teenagers, 13 or 14 years old. I've been dancing for not quite 5 years, about the same as kids of that age (though of course I'm an old dog and slower at learning new tricks!). But I'm old enough to be their grandparent, and it's not clear to me how that discussion might apply to my own training. Like the young teens, I feel I have a limited time to learn to dance before bodily deterioration trumps education (I'm 61) - so I am taking as many classes as I can manage right now.


Until recently, I've just added a class whenever I felt I could do so physically, without asking whether there was an upper bound beyond which I would not be getting much more, or might be taking unnecessary risks. But now it's getting to 9 or 10 classes a week, so I'm starting to wonder. I'd appreciate any ideas or experience others might have, especially anyone with experience teaching us older students.

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Adults are quite different from growing teenage bodies, so I say if you can do 9 or 10 classes a week, and you can afford it, go for it!!!!!!!

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Olddude, I don’t think you can take too many classes to be honest with you. Though ballet classes can challenge one mentally and skill wise, I really don’t think they pose much of a physical risk. There is a question of the marginal effectiveness of additional classes—e.g., how much better will you become by say taking 6 classes a week rather than 5 a week? But if you just plain enjoy class, then really who cares.


I’ve read that when we reach our 60s many people actually increase their physical activity as they have more time available (retirement) and more interest in maintaining their health. In my case that has been true.


I no longer do any allegro when I take ballet class. Well, I do relatively few ballet classes period. I find modern much more friendly to we older folk, but have to admit that I’ve always found modern more interesting than ballet, from a class, performing, and viewing perspective.


As far as improvement is concerned, I think you can continue to improve. Once you hit about the 9-10 year mark, you are probably finished improving from a technical standpoint. From an artistic standpoint, you might likely improve beyond then. As I aged, I found allegro more and more difficult. I felt like I was jumping while wearing a 50 pound backpack. My joints would sometimes rebel the next day also. While this was going on, my turns kept improving, however.


As you dance longer, I also think that you come to accept your ability level as it is and then you have to find out if you are dancing for the pure pleasure of it. If so, you’ll continue whether you are improving or not. When the pleasure is no longer there, on to something else.

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I'm a bit younger than you, Olddude, and was only taking 3 classes and a private conditioning lesson a week last year. I'm doing an intensive now where I'm taking about 10 hours of class (and an on-again, off-again private conditioning lesson) a week.


But next year I signed up for about 8 classes - equal to about 12 hours - a week and was wondering if I'm overextending, especially considering the injuries I've sustained over both the lifetime and the last couple of years (broken back, leg, and more recently, ankle). That, plus having full time work, might be an issue.


I would guess it would depend on what the body can handle. I'm going to give the new schedule a try and if it's too much, will give up a couple. If you feel right, I guess going for it is best. I'm in the same position as you - and wondering the same things. I've heard "overtraining" is as bad as "undertraining" but not sure it applies so much to us as it does to teens....


Sorry, just musing...

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Haven’t you heard? – “You don’t stop dancing because you get old, you get old because you stop dancing.”


Actually, your question is one I consider myself from time to time. I’m pretty close to you in years (I consider myself the “new” 39) and while I don’t spend as much time strictly on ballet as you, the total time I spend a week in dance comes very close and with other conditioning, would even exceed your time. But I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no arbitrary upper bound on what might constitute too much, but that it is dependent on the individual and their particular circumstances.


Here’s my list of factors that might determine if anyone is capable of handling a particular level of activity:


1. Current overall physical condition. How good of shape are you in? Generally speaking, does the activity make you feel better or does it make you feel tired too much of the time?


2. Preparation for a level over time. The number of classes a week you take might be far too much for someone just starting out but if you’ve built up to a certain level over time and it’s still reasonably comfortable, it shouldn't be an issue.


3. The intensity and demands of the classes themselves, both physically and mentally. Are they at the appropriate level or is it a struggle to keep up too much of the time?


4. What are your goals and how well are you at being able to pace yourself? Given your goal, can you recognize and balance the desire for progress toward it with the signs of burnout? For a long term goal, are you willing to back off or even take some time off to recover if problems should arise?


5. What other activities are there going on in your life? Does devoting the time and energy to achieving and maintaining a particular level present problems in any other areas of your life?


6. Are you still enjoying it? Do you look forward to it? Do you feel like you’re still making progress, even if it's very incrementally, toward whatever your goal happens to be?


It sounds like your goal is to try to find out just how good you could become at ballet. If the answer to these factors supports your actions toward that goal, then I wouldn’t be very concerned about some arbitrary limit on the number of classes or time spent. And as I hope you noticed, age wasn't on the list!


Good luck and good dancing!

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This subject has recently become very interesting to me again as I have joined in an exercise class sesigned for seniors.

For a long time I avoided adding this class to my schedule on Mondays and Wednesdays because I already has a water exercise class during the day and a ballet class at night. I thought it would overtax my body and I am still in my 40's.


I got into this class having been to it some years ago and having quite forgot that it is not for sissies. I also take note that quite a few of the students in there go from that class right over to the water class and they do not look strained. They are mostly in their 70's.


I am officially put to shame over my own thinking as to 3 classes in a day being too much. I wish I had started it ages ago. It has been hard on my body of course. I have fibromyalgia and it takes my body longer to get used to new "stresses" than it does for others. I would be better off with a schedule that is closer to the same each day, but that is not what I have been able to create in a way I can keep up with from what is offered in my area.


Old dude, I am very impressed with the number of classes you manage to take. I think it must have taken slow deliberate progressing to get up to that many and it is wonderful that you can even find that many.


Obviously it is not making your brain full. I think injuries start to happen when ones brain is full and we get careless as often as when we are overworked in the body. I guess your classes present new things in a planned way.

I am very happy when something (anything) is presented as new material. I am getting some of that this summer. I can have a class at any time without warning that can cause brain fatigue form just trying to keep up with what is going on, but others are fine. I couldn't deal with daily classes above my level like that, but I would dearly love daily classes at my own level. I would probably be satisfied with that and add other activities like my water classes still above that, but you never know. I have only had 5 classes in a week a couple of times.


Is there any such thing as no longer improving on anything????

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Guest specialk

ok, i'm going to respond fully aware that i will be posting in violation of the cardinal rule of reading all posts before posting yourself. so sorry if i repeat what others have said. i just moved into a new house yesterday and, despite the moving chaos, couldn't resist adding my two cents if it can help someone from making my mistake.


so in sum, i think there is a limit. lots of factors to consider of course. but generally i think that more than 12 hours of technique and you're begging for trouble. (i think i recall reading in some medical journal that 12 hours or more of technique correllates to a 95% injury rate.) absolutely no more than two classes per day and at least one full 24 hour period of rest per week. i had no idea myself until i gave myself a stress fracture in my third metatarsal. there was no traumatic event, just lots of class. on wednesdays i scheduled four classes--i'd start at 9:30a and my last class ended at 9p. i was in heaven...that is, until i couldn't go any more on doctor's orders.


i started ballet two years ago. started with one class then soon after added another. six months into it, added 2 more. by month 16, I was doing about 15-22 hours/week. and more if you add pilates, floor barre, gyro, etc. i did it because ballet gives me such joy and i could see myself geting better with each and every class. plus, my teachers and fellow students are extremely supportive and all around wonderful people. i was completely addicted and i still am. i knew, however, i was doing something wrong when i started being evasive about how many hours i was doing. but i just didn't want to hear someone who knew better to tell me to stop taking class. i haven't been able to do a full class for three months now. with a full 8 weeks out of the classroom all together. i probably could have cut the off-time down to 4 weeks if i had better medical advice (e.g., avoid naproxen, which some orthopedic surgeons believe inhibits bone grown) or ceased dancing on it when i thought something might be wrong.


for context and comparison, i've never broken a bone before and have always been an active person (run, swim, snowboard, backpack, etc.) and very healthy. lots of people think it's hilariously ironic that despite all my previous activities, what did me in was ballet. as a ballet enthusiast, you might not think it's so ironic, but for the uninitiated, it's hard to see just how hard we ballet students work and how much ballet demands of the body. as for level of class, i take a mix of beginning and advanced beginning and am obsessed with getting the technique as correct as i'm cabable of processing. i really do believe it was the sheer number of hours that did me in. oh, and adding classes over too short of a period and maybe a few other things like replacing my beloved, but holely slippers with a pair too narrow, not making a habit of stretching after class, not drinking the proper amount of water that week considering the heat wave, and not listening to my body.

Edited by specialk
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I think the position is quite different for an older mature individual, in comparison with a young one, particularly one who may possibly be working towards a career. As people get older they get more measured - I cant imagine that someone older (ie in their 60s) would get so carried away with enthusiasm that they would work through developing injuries to the point where they become serious. Clearly, as people get older they are more aware that the body is destructible and that they have to watch what they do. Its very different for a young person who is carried away by enthusiasm and ambition, who thinks that they are indestructible, and for whom the sky is the limit.


The only thing about 10 or more classes - maybe one's significant other is starting to feel neglected in comparison.


I'll just add something irrelevant to this, because I dont want to start a new thread on it, and the thought is only in its early stages - but I've been reading about the molecular biology of muscle stretching. It seems that as we get older the molecular growth signals in our muscles normally change from a "youthful" pattern to an "old" pattern. I've just read a report (from a researcher with the highest scientific credentials) showing that stretching induces the "youthful" pattern of molecular growth signals in older muscles (for those who want more details, its tension in the pull of titin on the Z-line that does it). I haven't read up enough about it to be sure of what the implications might be, but its an interesting idea. Maybe its why people who do yoga seem youthful (of course it could be the other way round, that you have to be youthful to go to a yoga class). Anyway, once I've read up about it, people may be interested to hear more. And it seems that it is specifically stretching that does it, rather than just exercise as such, supporting the value of acitvities such as yoga and ballet in so far as the latter involves stretching.



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Keep reading Jim. We all want more youthfulness.

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Jim, it sounds like what the article implies is that the more we stretch, the more we CAN stretch - i.e. it brings back suppleness to the ligaments.


I think that's true, because I've spent a good deal of time stretching over the past two weeks and my split has gone down by about 2 inches just in that time.


That said, one day off stretching and it seems I'm back to square one! :sweating:

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How much is too much? Listen to your body. It will tell you when it's had too much.

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Thanks so much to all of you, getting such a variety of thoughtful perspectives has been really valuable for me! Specialk, I especially appreciate your sharing of what nobody else was ready to point out - I think I am geting close to too much. Garyecht, your posts are always useful and this is no exception. (But personally, I find my one modern dance class is quite a bit more strenuous than my ballet classes, where grande allegro is the easiest and most fun for me. People are different!) Dancesmith, thanks for the checklist, it was really helpful and made me stop and think about each parts. And everyone, thanks for the encouragement.


I had added one class when I started this thread which pushed me up to about 12 hours of technique and two of dance-related exercise. The jury is still out on whether my body will accommodate this or object to it - thanks Agnes1022 for reminding me to not let my emotions overrule it!

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I couldn't resist relying to specialk's post re:Naproxen. My mother is having some bone degradation issues, is in a lot of pain, and was prescribed a strong dose of this (it's my first choice for pain management as well).


According to this article, the drugs in question are COX-2 inhibitors (Vioxx and Celebrex). Naproxen is a nonspecific NSAID, and is not linked to inhibiting bone growth in this study.


If there is a link to a science story or a paper about Naproxen and bone growth however, I'd be interested in reading it.

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