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Ballet Talk for Dancers

If I could turn back time...


Reebs511

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about where I want to go with ballet, and if there is a chance I can still get “there” (wherever “there” is) at the old age of 30. I started dancing when I was young, but my studio was a pseudo Dolly Dinkle academy – not entirely focused on making money and showing off the pretty little dancers, but definitely not focused on technique either (ie, ballet classes were 45 minutes, once a week, and we spent most of the time learning choreography for upcoming recitals). But I loved ballet and wanted to dance professionally, so I went off to college and became a dance major. At the age of 18, I took my first true technique class. I was so far behind the other dancers in my class and worked hard, but always felt like I wasn’t good enough, so was scared to really give it my all – I hid in the back most of the time.

 

By my junior year I had improved a lot and was up to the advanced classes and getting cast in ballet and contemporary pieces. However, I always felt like I was holding myself back and not really going for it because I was constantly comparing myself to the other dancers, the majority of whom were still light years ahead of me. I decided I should give up on ballet because I’d never be good enough. I graduated with my dance degree and went off to grad school for a totally different field.

 

Fast forward a few years. Just about a year ago, I felt the need to dance again and found a nearby professional company with open adult classes. I took one class a week and, earlier this semester, was invited to dance a character role with the company in one of their productions. I upped my classes to twice a week plus rehearsals and found myself improving more than I ever had before. All of a sudden I had the confidence I lacked 10 years ago and I wasn’t scared to try a combination again or go for a double instead of a single. On a few occasions, I took barre or class with the company, and found I could keep up (for the most part). I even turned my first triple pirouette during a company class.

 

The performance ended and I found myself really bummed that I wasn’t dancing as much. I’ve also been questioning what could have been if I didn’t give up on myself and had this much confidence back in college. I still have class twice a week (and recently added a third class at a different studio + a pointe class) but really missed the rehearsals and being a part of something. I asked the AD if there was a place for me in Nutcracker, and he gave me a small character role – I’m the Governess, so I don’t even dance, but will get to be on stage again.

 

Now I’m questioning if I can go where I’d like with this. I would love to be able to dance professionally for a small company (even as an apprentice or trainee) but I’m afraid it’s too late. Most of the other company members with whom I danced in this season’s production were in their early to mid 20’s – the few that were older (my age!) had been professionals for years. I don’t expect to ever be dancing lead roles, but feel that, with a little more practice (especially on pointe), I could do corps again. Is it too late? Will I need to be content with taking my classes, being the best dancer I can in class but returning to my desk job on Monday mornings?

 

Then I also question if maybe I’m better in my head than I am in real life (insecurities kicking in again!). When I took my first class with a new teacher a few weeks ago, he said I was a beautiful dancer, and another dancer in one of my classes asked after class if I had danced professionally, but I don’t know if they’re just saying those things.

 

I guess the bottom line is – is it even possible to START a ballet career at 30? Am I totally kidding myself? And if it’s not impossible, where do I begin? Can I go back in time to 1996 and tell college-age me to grow a pair and not give up?

 

And am I going to get booted out of BT4D for this super-long, self-involved post? :) Thanks to anyone who read this whole thing!

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Gosh, I feel the exact same right now as you do in college. I never realized the ballet classes I had taken for so long weren't really technique classes. I got my first taste of real technique classes a little while ago, and I'm a junior in college. I feel so behind! But I will take what you had to say to heart and I will work hard and if I feel like dancing in any setting (on stage, professionally, who knows) then I won't give up. Thanks for your story, if no one else enjoyed it, at least I did!

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Look - you won't know until you try and if it's really bugging you, then why don't you go for it? You have an opening with this local company - do you think they would allow you to take classes regularly with them? If you are going to succeed you will need classes every day. From what you write it seems that you are talented, and not too far from being on a professional standard. It is certainly worth a shot, if only to stop you regretting it for the rest of your life!

 

I am wondering though if, perhaps, as you seem to have enjoyed the character role they gave you, this sort of role might work for you. It would be a "back-door" way of being involved with the company, so that you can perform and take regular classes etc. You might find as you continue taking classes that you will get yourself up to a high enough standard for them to try you out in the actual corps. Why don't you go and talk to the AD again and see what he can offer you......... :)

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Jakijo - thanks for your kind words! I'm glad someone go something out of this (other than me, I felt better after writing it!). Definitely don't give up - push yourself and who knows where you'll go!

 

I am wondering though if, perhaps, as you seem to have enjoyed the character role they gave you, this sort of role might work for you. It would be a "back-door" way of being involved with the company, so that you can perform and take regular classes etc. You might find as you continue taking classes that you will get yourself up to a high enough standard for them to try you out in the actual corps. Why don't you go and talk to the AD again and see what he can offer you......... :)

 

Hamorah, I've thought about the same thing. Unfortunately the company is small and only does 2 full ballets a year where they would need character dancers. But in the meantime, maybe I'll ask about taking company classes (I'm willing to pay additional tuition for them!) and continue working my rear off in class. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Hi:

I love a long story from the newbies. It helps me get to know you.

 

I have one strange thought. It may be time to start lying about your age; especially to yourself.

My late grandmother always said "Lie UP" so people will be astonished at how good you look for your age, but that isn't the plan here.

Speaking as an admitted oldie here, my Birthday cake always says I am 29. It is really a family joke among 3 sisters in law, but it is also good for my morale.

Tell yourself you are as young as the rest of the adults around you and participate in whatever you want, wherever they let you.

Count yourself lucky that you took the notion to go back to Ballet before you turned 45 or older too. I sure wish I had. Of course that is another story.

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It sounds like you really know the answer to your quandary. You realize that you have the talent and the willingness to work hard enough to have a real shot at making it happen. The way it sounds is that the biggest barrier by far that you must overcome is not your age but your own self-confidence. The real question is not if you are too old but can you overcome your old insecurities to go for it. While clearly only you can answer that question, I believe I can safely say that should you choose to go for it, you would have many anonymous fans here cheering you on, ready to pat you on the back at your successes and offer consolation during the inevitable bumps, and at the same time, honestly being a little envious, wishing we had the same window of opportunity you do.

 

If in the end, that in spite of all your very best efforts, someone finally tells you just aren’t good enough, or someone tells you that you really are too old, then fine, you can feel like you gave it your best and walk away with your head held high. But if instead, as in the past, you allow yourself to be the limiting and defeating factor, the thoughts of “what if only” will never go away, just like they’ve lingered (festered?) for the last 12 years. In my experience, the regret of trying and failing has never ever been as great as the regret of not trying and always wondering.

 

Keep reminding yourself that the thoughts of how good you might be compared to others or how old you are compared to others are only distractions that will only prevent you from focusing on your goal.

 

One other observation – your choice of the subject line “If I could turn back time” is interesting. Consider that it comes from a song by a very successful woman who clearly never has given up on herself, regardless of age, circumstances, and some might even say limited talent! Perhaps somewhere in there is a subliminal lesson for yourself?

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Reebs511,

I didn't read this completely (I promise to tomorrow).

 

I turned 33 today!! Joined a respectable ballet company as an apprentice at 29 after studying for three years with really good teachers. I had a whole lot to learn (and still do)...but it's totally possible with the right work ethic, respect for your health, and some talent.

 

I chose to pursue a broader pursuit for now ( a boyfriend and web design career) , but am still able to freelance as a performing artist. It's *very* hard work, and you have to deal with people being harsh. Maybe doubting you :shrug:

 

But truthfully, after the apprenticeship, I'm getting some paid soloist roles in productions in and around big cities:)It was HARD though, and I still have a way to go.

 

I'll read your post in depth tomorrow. Kind of a bit affected fro my birthday celebrations today:)

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Laschwen, I have to agree with lying down about my age! (Isn't it funny how until Americans turn 21 they lie up, but after 21 lie down?) People tell me I look younger than I am (and I still get carded occasionally). I'll have to start telling myself I'm 25.

 

dancesmith, you are right on that my biggest barrier is my self-confidence. I need to stop thinking I'm too old and comparing myself to the younger dancers around me. Was it Mr. B who said something like, "my goal is to be the best dancer I can be without concern to others"? (I'm probably butchering that quote, but you know what I mean.) I didn't think of my Cher quote as a subliminal message, but you've got a good point!

 

lampwick, Happy Birthday!! It's reassuring to know that someone else beyond the age of 22 is able to find good work - this give me hope. Hope you had a great birthday celebration!

 

I've been trying to think less about what others think and more about my dancing lately. In class the other night, I felt like I was really able to let myself go and just DANCE. I got some good corrections from the teacher and compliments from another student after class.

 

Last night at Nut rehearsal, one of the more principle dancers asked where I trained. I told him an abridged version of my story, and that I'd just come back after a 5 year hiatus. He seemed surprised that I hadn't had as much formal training and told me he'd also taken breaks in training, but always came back. Now he teaches, directs a small contemporary ballet company, and freelances. More hope.

 

But I shouldn't rely on compliments from others to keep me going, right? I need to start complimenting myself (without getting all egotistical!). :shrug:

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I think the hardest thing about being a dancer, is how hard we are on ourselves.

 

While we should admire and encourage the achievements of the other dancers around us, we should not compare and contrast. We are all individuals, and can all bring something unique to our art form.

 

Focus on yourself, but with constructive criticism, not destructive criticism.

 

Most of us carry the what ifs in life for ever, but can get past those things that we at least gave our best shot. :(

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Good point(e), ToThePointe! Yesterday in class I got intimidated because more of the company took class with us. I felt myself holding back and not really "going for it." I need to focus on myself, not on everyone else, and stop worrying about what others might think.

 

On the way to rehearsal tonight I was talking to one of my company friends about these issues and he gave me some good observations/corrections that I can work on the next time I'm in class. Now I just need to get out of my own head!

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Re: focusing on self - that's why I rarely put my glasses on in ballet class. I put them on to see the combination given, then take them off to actually dance it. This way, I am not distracted by what others do. ;-)

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Serendipity - it is possible that if you need classes to see the combination properly, that by not wearing your glasses throughout the class, it could have a negative affect on your ability to balance and turn. I only say this because I never wore glasses all the time (out of vanity I'm embarrassed to say) and after my first year at the Royal Ballet School in London, they made my getting contact lenses an essential demand for my staying on another year, because they said that my poor sight was affecting my technique. Of course you might not have such bad eyesight as I have, but may I suggest that you try doing a class with your glasses on and see if it makes a difference - you might be surprised - or not! :yes:

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I've been dancing without glasses for about 30 years now. That includes doing shows and all (I have to "pace the stage" prior to dancing or acting on it, in order to find out where the edge is). I've adapted pretty well to not being able to see. I think, had I been in your situation at that age, I would probably have HAD to wear the lenses or glasses. I can't wear contacts as my eyes are too sensitive.

 

The real detriment I find is that I can't see mistakes if I'm not wearing glasses so I'll put them on on occasion when I'm targeting something. I've been legally blind since I was 13. I find wearing glasses in class, now, to be quite disconcerting. I lose my balance and my focus more when I am wearing them than when I'm not wearing them.

 

But thanks for the thought. I keep trying them on and off at various times, anyway, just in case. :yes:

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Oh how I can empathise with your having to pace the stage to find the edge! As a child I used to dance in competitions and performances and my worst nightmare was losing my props somewhere on stage! I had one dance with two apples - during the dance I chose one apple to eat and threw the other one away. I could never find that second apple - the next dance would be ready to go on and I'd be desperately searching the stage for my apple!

 

I have minus 8 and a half short-sight, so I'm pretty blind too. Contacts really saved me and I'm so glad they insisted on my getting them and that I was able to wear them. I've worn hard ones - gas permeable now - for 45 years and just pray that I can continue (I still hate wearing glasses all day!). I'll never forget the first day I wore them for a ballet class - someone smiled at me from the barre across the studio and I smiled back! She knew at once that I had contacts in, because I had never reacted before when someone smiled at me! It was a great moment!

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