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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Starting Ballet In My 40s


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Hi, I'm new here. I'm a parent of a young dancer, but I've recently started an adult beginner class as well. I'm in my 40s... haven't danced since I was 10. Does anyone who has done this want to share tips for me? 

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I started when I was 74 with only a couple of months of ballet in my 20s. It has been a trek. What taken as an art, ballet is hard, no matter what age. My challenges were not addressed in the first school I attended. Am now in an adult program, learning Russian technique and making a lot of progress. Remembering combinations is the hardest part of it for me, but applied focus and repetition helps. I might be the oldest beginning ballet student on this site, so am glad to respond to whatever questions come my way.

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90% of the students in  my adult class are middle-aged women who had some classes as children or teens (some went on pointe, some didn't) then came back to ballet after decades away.  In my case it was 30 years without ballet and now I'm back dancing for the last 4+ years.  I'm 53.

The best "tip" is to keep trying different classes until you find the one (or ones) where you feel you belong.  And of course remembering that classes morph over time.  Mine sure have.  Some will be too easy, some will be too hard, and either of those might be okay if they're supplemental.  Some will have mostly younger adults with a lot of experience and training.  Some will cater to true beginners.  It varies so much.

The other tip is to remember that most of us, as we age, need more warmup and will not heal as quickly from injury, even small ones.

Have fun and congrats on re-starting.  That's the hardest part!

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I started back age 58yrs after a break of 50 years. Tips in no particular order. 

Do not do too much too soon. I did one class a week for the first month, two a week the second month, then added the third the third month. Even with that slow build up I was pushing the limit. 

Do listen to your body. Discomfort is fine, pain is not. I actually welcome the stiffness the day after class as it tells me that I have been working.

 Old injuries come back to haunt you. If my knee was playing up I just advised the teacher and did two demi plies wheneveryone else did a grand plie and avoided the jumps. 

Do warm up thoroughly. The older you get the more you need to. Also cool down properly after class. 

Eat well and keep hydrated. Take a bottle of water to class.

Do not be hard on yourself, it takes time to pick things up and remember things. 

Talk to and listen to the teacher. Do not be afraid to ask questions. 

Above all, have fun.

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I had only 2 years of ballet as a kid and started adult ballet at the age of 38-Remembering combos or gettting through combos were difficult for me. I kept a journal in my bag and wrote out all the combos I had trouble with immediately after class and reviewed them at home later that night or the next day to make sure I could retain it. I did not have the benefit of a having a beginning ballet class- we only have open classes. I also bought Gretchen Ward's book to look up the various steps. I did that faithfully for 3 years.

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, PinkSatin. You've already seen that you are not alone :D

One excellent teacher I go to for regular "tune ups" teaches a wonderful beginner's class where she tells people for whom it's their first class that they need to give it 3 or 4 weeks for some of the muscles to even start to feel at home.

The other thing is to use classes as a way of learning how your body works and what it needs. I have a warm up ritual which I hate being diverted from - I need to stretch out my back in the yoga Plough position, and just breathe. Then I have other things I need to do - my body needs them, but I think my mind also - it's a way of moving from work to the barre.

Things to remember: no-one's watching you except your teacher. Don't feel too embarrassed in class. Also, you don't need to stretch ;like crazy to get splits etc - you only need the flexibility you can hold. Of course, you do need to stretch - but it's not the splits: it's ankles, knees, lower & upper back ...

But the main thing is - find the joy in moving!  

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Welcome! I am 58 and just started beginner classes twice a week. I'm contemplating adding a once-a-month private lesson so I can master the steps that we don't spend a lot of time on in class.

I had two years of ballet/tap as a child and a few months of ballet in my 20s, so I have a lot of (re)learning to do.

Be patient, don't compare yourself to the younger, more agile dancers in class, and focus on the small improvements. They add up.

I tell myself (and others) that ballet is a workout that doesn't feel like work -- because it isn't. It's art!


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Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention, but it's VERY important: observe how you & others use space in the class. There are several threads in here from years ago about space and formations in class, which are still very pertinent. The thing that is often (almost always, in my experience) not taught to adult beginners is the class etiquette which is second nature to any of us trained as children or teens.

You don't come in late, without the teacher's permission. If you are unavoidably late, you stay out of everyone's way, find whatever spot you can, and quietly catch up with some plies. Then join in - silently. Don't interrupt your neighbours by asking about the exercise, and DON'T expect them to move so you can squeeze onto the barre.  But I have to say, if I think I'm going to be so late, I miss plies, well - I tend to miss the class completely. I was at a big city drop in class the other week, and someone arrived 15minutes late. That is just rude. If you need to leave early, again, a glance at the teacher & a quick bob-style curtsey or bow before you leave the studio.

If you lose your way in a combination at the barre, just try to catch up, but avoid kicking your neighbours! If you lose your way in a combination at the centre, it is really important to keep going the way of the rest of the group you're dancing with, or find a way to run out of the combination, but in doing so DO NOT GET IN THE WAY OF THOSE DANCING.

I really can't stress this enough. Those dancing in the centre, actually doing the combination, have RIGHT OF WAY. Always - unless someone's fallen & there's an injury.  In just the last year, I've almost bumped into, or jumped into, at least 3 people - all of whom should have known better. And don't get me started on people who mark out in the centre when others are dancing the combination, or who dilly-dally in starting a travelling combination. Be clear. No-one's watching - unless you get in the way!

In combinations which travel - say, a balancé to each side followed by tombé, pas de bourré, pirouette en dehors (a really standard combination) when you've finished, keep running forward and away down the side of the room opposite to the corner you started from (usually). This way, you either feed back into the line doing the combination, OR you're ready to go from the other side. 

Whatever you do, don't just do it twice, then stop, turn around and walk back to where you came from (I have seen people try to do this).

In the centre, it is usual to line up i rows, which alternate spaces, so that if you have 5 people spaced out evenly across the front row, the 2nd row people stand, NOT directly behind those 5, but in the gaps between them. And so on. This way, you can all pretty much see the teacher & the mirror, the teacher can see you, and if you do travel faster than someone in front of you (say, in a petit allegros exercise of jetés coming forward), you don't bump into the person in front of you.

Some teachers like to move the rows, so you do something once, then the front row goes to the back, and all the other rows move forwards. If your teacher asks you to do this, DO IT. Don't try to "hide" at the back - it means it gets very cramped up there. In most classes I feel comfortable in, I go in the front row, because usually that's where there's the most space. (Sneaky tip: If you need to copy, look in the mirror & follow someone behind you from their reflection!)

Here are some threads about space, and what more experienced adult students would love to say to beginners - but we don't because we try to be friendly & welcoming. But we might be seething slightly inside!

Here's a thread from years ago about space in class ...

Flying in Formation

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Pink satin. If you read flying in formation do not worry. They just needed to vent. Ballet etiquette is just good manners and common sense. The vast majority of ballet dancers are really nice friendly people who will warmly welcome you and make you feel at home. Obviously you are not going to arrive late for class. Be there extra early for your first class and talk to the teacher. She will probably introduce you to some of the class and place you at the barre in between two competent people so you always have someone to copy whichever way you are facing. I remember being both proud and scared after two months being moved from that nice safe position to the front of the barre to make way for a newbie. In centre the teacher will probably place you in a safe place where you can copy someone. When doing diagonals you will probably be placed in the last group so that you can watch and follow everyone else. Just do what everyone else does. They will make allowances for you as long as you are trying to be considerate. If someone does ask you to move across a little obviously you would do so. If you do make a mistake you will learn from it and try not to repeat it.  The venting is aimed at those who do not even try to be considerate but think the world revolves around them. Fortunately in ballet they are few and far between. 

Relax and have fun.

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I will say that, just like every workplace has its own culture, so does every ballet class.  Things you could never do in one are totally okay in another.  Like in mine, people do come late.  As long as the teacher doesn't try to wait for them (a constant problem) it's not a big deal, they just integrate into the class.  Mostly people let the teacher know ahead of time that their schedule may or will make them late.  I'm not talking about people wandering in whenever they feel like, that is rude.

In my adult classes, people who have had at least a couple of classes are very good about positioning themselves so they don't run into other people.  We all can say out loud things like "okay you really drifted left on that last combo, so I'm going to take the side to the right of you this time."

But we have issues that haven't been mentioned much.  My pet peeve is people who decide they need more practice so they go to the back of the line and do the combo again.  Meaning the rest of us have to wait longer for our next scheduled turn (and/or people who get the extra person have less space to dance and less teacher attention).  It got so bad that I just pretended that now our class culture is that we do every combo twice (which we all actually like and instituted).  Then when the main offenders started getting in line for a 3rd or 4th turn, I spoke up.  Did not win any friends doing that but won back my dance time.  It's one thing to ask the teacher to go over something you're having problems with, it's quite another to think your learning is more important than everyone else's so you get to go with every group (or every other).

To pull this away from a vent and back to tips, the idea is to figure out the culture of your class (and it may vary by teacher).  Is there a dress code (even an unspoken one)?  What is the policy on late arrivals or early departures?  Is there chatting between routines or dead silence aside from questions to the teacher?  (we tend to be a chatty bunch but, when waiting for the teacher to start explaining the next routine, I ignore everyone else and stand still expectantly).  How do you end the class? (in ours, we do the final bows and hold our position without saying anything.  Then the teacher says something to end the class and we all clap then head off to the lobby).

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Yes, some adult classes have a more relaxed culture than others, but my overall point is that in adult classes, the 'etiquette' - the principles of spacing at the barre, in the centre & in travelling combinations, respecting the teacher, reverence at the end of a class, and so on, are assumed knowledge.

It might be very useful for a beginner, or beginner-again (as Major Mel used to call them in earlier days of this message board), to have this information.

And the 'venting' others refer to upthread is actually about safety in class. I don't want to be badly injured because someone doesn't understand the basic rules of how we travel across the studio floor. The rules are about safety and enabling space for people to dance!

But I notice that very rarely do teachers of adults go through these practices in detail, or explain them so that beginners can understand why we have such rules. 

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  • 3 years later...

I googled, "Starting ballet in your 40's" and found this forum and this post.  I was looking for encouragement because I'd never heard of someone starting so late in life and didn't know adult ballet classes even existed.  I'd really like you ladies (and gentlemen) to know, especially Hummingbird starting at 74, that you're an incredible inspiration for me.  You're giving me the confidence to follow my dreams ❤️ 

I'm so excited to learn ballet.  I've always admired ballerinas.  When I was young through high school, I danced jazz and lyrical, but I was never very good because I never developed my flexibility.  I never advanced beyond intermediate.  At some point, I got it into my head that flexibility was a genetic quality I simply didn't possess and could never hope to have.  I gave up dancing entirely.  

As I grew older, I missed dancing and would occasionally consider getting back into it.  But I thought beginner dance classes were for kids and assumed I'd missed the bus.  I didn't know anyone my age who was dancing who wasn't a total professional.

By my mid 30's I found myself fantasizing about being a ballerina.  How wonderful it would be if I had pursued it when I was younger and never given up.  How happy I'd be if I had the body, the flexibility, the posture, grace, and dignity of a ballerina...

For fun, at home, I started stretching every day and taking beginner ballet classes online.  To my immense surprise, I unlocked my flexibility!  All my life, I was mystified as to how anyone could bend like that.  Once I started stretching consistently, stretching properly, and stretching my entire body, not just my legs, the flexibility came.  I'm proud to say I almost have my splits in every direction, I can reach well past my toes, and can now hold a backbend.  I'm more flexible after 1 year of dedicated stretching than 6 years of dancing in my youth.  I promised myself by this point I would consider in-person dance classes.  Just need to find some in my state.  

I was nervous to be the oldest person in my class, but by the sound of it, many people take up dancing later in life because they tried it when they were younger and never got over their love for it.

I wish you all well and hope you'll keep me posted on your individual dance journeys.  Remember, if you ever doubt yourself, that you're the reason I'm here.  

(It just occurred to me that this post is 3 years old... so you've all got at least 3 years experience on me 😉... I hope you'll update soon.)


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Welcome Kimberleeoneal,

We’re so glad you found us and you are amongst friends here 😊

There are many of us dancing in our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond! Ballet is wonderful way to feed the souls, the body and the mind.

There is lots of great info on taking classes in our post 20’s years in the Adult Ballet forum.

Happy exploring!

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Welcome to the Adult Ballet Students section of Ballet Talk for Dancers, KImberleeoneal. Glad you found us. There are a lot of us who are older than 40 and still dancing! It becomes a part of life, and one I find is relaxing, centring, and essential. Keep us up to date on your journey.

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