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How and when?

Kate B

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Hello! I know these are things we've mentioned and discussed on different fora (is this the plural for forums?;) ) and threads but I thought that as over the summer a lot of people have joined and also because we now have the ABSBB, it might be a nice time to bring this up:


When did you start ballet and for what reasons? And I guess also, how old were you, was it difficult for you, and how have you progressed?


I'll start with this:


When I was 18 I was really ill and when I got better I was very down in the dumps depressed. My doctor said there wasn't anything physically wrong with me but I wouldn't get better until I did something that made me happy! She said, 'What have you always wanted to do?' and I said, 'Oh ballet dancing but you have to start that when you're a kid,' and she said, 'I bet you don't. Try some of the ballet schools around here and see if they do classes for adults.'


So I did. And I found out about a lot of adult beginners classes. I was in a basic one once a week for a term, which whetted my appetite for MORE and I felt much much better!


Then I went into two more general classes a week for the second term and at the end of that I asked the teacher if I could try an exam class. She said yes, so I went into RAD Grade 6 with girls who were 13-15, and I felt strange at first then perfectly at home. At the end of the first term doing that, the teacher said I could go into the elementary class, which had girls my own age in it.


By that time I was doing 5-6 classes a week and absolutely crazy about ballet.


After I did Grade 6 and started Grade 7 I went to a different school to do Elementary there because they had 3 classes a week while the other one did just one Ele class a week (amazingly, people still passed! but I didn't feel I was getting that far.) The new school was a proper dancing school with vocational students aged 16-20 and a few of my university friends went too so it was a good class.


I was in that class until I moved down to London, and as you know I am still trying schools and classes out one year on!


Even though I am less 'obsessed' (is that the right word for it - I would give my eye teeth to be back to 5-6 classes a week again,)ballet will always be a major part of my life; it's not just exercise, it is a means of meditation, something to boost the self-esteem with every triumph it brings, and (occasionally for me) an art form.


As a result of everything, I will always say to anyone who wants to hear it,


if you've always fancied doing ballet, give it a try! It might take a few classes before you understand what's going on, but with the right teacher you will get better and enjoy it very quickly.



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Kate, what a story!


I'm afraid mine is not that interesting. I'm 28 now, and I started ballet a year ago after I figured out from the fact that a friend (Päivi, or psavola, who also writes here) did ballet, that adults actually can. :)


I had always wanted to do it, though, but for some reason never told this to my parents when I was a kid. I cannot figure out why - I would surely have been allowed to, had they only known. I think it might have been because when I realised that I wanted to I was about 11 or 12 years old, and I thought you had to start really small (like 5!) for it to be any use. :) I don't remember for sure, though.


I go three times a week now, and have progressed to the stage where I am more and more realizing how little I know and can. My teacher seems happy with my advance, though. I have hopes of making it to the third level (of five) in my school next year, but unless my balance gets better soonish I don't think so.

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I started ballet at the age of four. My mum decided that it would be good for me and my younger sister. She also sent us to Horse riding lessons. My sister was a sugar plum elephant and i was the elephant in riding. She gave up Ballet and i stuck with it.

At eleven years old i asked to go to full time ballet school, no was the answer, maybe if i was sixteen and still showed determination and interest. Got to the age of fifteen and convinced everyone that i really wanted to dance and then my knee gave me lots of trouble so i had to give up :) . I had lots of physio and stopped for four years. I was then told i could do it for a hobby. I still wanted to dance full time so thought i would give full time studying another try (even though told not to) i auditioned for London Contempory dance school. They had me with the physiotherapist for an hour and a half and she said no, my knee wouldnt hack it. So now i do it as a hobby and doing everything the long way round to get my teaching certificate. I might be sixty by the time i get it, but i am determined. I am a ballet bod through and through.

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I started ballet almost two years ago, at the age of twenty-eight. The reason, like most other adult beginners, is that I always wanted to do it as a child, but didn't have the chance. It's taken me most of that two year period to find a class that I'm happy with, so unfortunately my progress has been fairly limited. I also had knee surgery many years ago that has left one leg much weaker than the other, and that has caused me some difficulty.


By far the greatest difficulties I've encountered, though, have been psychological rather than physical. It's taken most of my life to find the courage to realise my passion for ballet, and I'm still far from comfortable with my identity as a dancer. If you've got a bit of time on your hands, here's my story:


When I was a small child - about five years of age, I think - I became fascinated with ballet, for reasons that I have no recollection of. I was told by my Mum, though, that ballet wasn't really something that boys did and, with nothing providing any evidence to the contrary, this attitude became my own. But my fascination with ballet never went away, and what could have been a source of joy became a source of conflict - it was something I longed to do, but believed that I should not.


Then, a couple of years ago, I had something of a revelation. I was enjoying an extended holiday in Thailand at the time, and was spending a week in a quiet beach hut with only a good book, my camera and my thoughts to occupy me. One day, as I strolled down the beach, I came across a nice-looking restaurant and decided that I'd go back there in the evening for a meal. When I returned, though, the place was deserted except for the staff, and my mind started to race... Why was no-one else there? Was it a bad restaurant? Even if it wasn't, would I feel comfortable as the only person eating in there? Should I find somewhere else?


I decided to keep walking while I considered the situation, maintaining the appearance of a man working up his appetite with a walk - I didn't want to look like I was being indecisive, because that wouldn't be cool. Instead I'd give myself time to decide, and turn round after a suitable distance. As I walked and thought, though, I stooped under a tree that was blocking my path, but wasn't paying enough attention and stood up too soon. I cracked my head violently, and when I put my hand to my head I realised it was gushing blood. My efforts to maintain my cool had utterly backfired!


Racing back to my hut, I dressed the wound as best I could, with toilet paper tied in place with a t-shirt. The next day, worried that the wound would be a magnet for mosquitos and nasty tropical diseases, I went to seek medical help. The island I was staying on was isolated and undeveloped, though, and the sole clinic was fourty miles away around the coast. The only way to get there was by hiring a motorbike, and as I bounced around the dirt track that circled the island, t-shirt flapping around my head, it seemed that no sane person would have got themselves into this ridiculous situation.


Returning from the clinic, I spent the night deep in thought of quite unusual clarity. The bump on my head had evidently done some good! For the first time, I could see that I had spend a completely unnecessary amount of my life considering how it is reasonable to act in any given situation, when instead I should have learned to act on my instincts. I was quite clearly prone to over-intellectualisation of the business of life, and it was quite clearly detrimental to my health as a person. But where had it come from?


Thinking back across my life, I remembered my childhood instinct towards ballet. With the unconditioned mind of a child, I was drawn towards ballet by a powerful force and knew without thought that it was something I should do. But I was educated to believe that it was an instinct that I shouldn't follow, and in the process learned the lesson that reason, based on the wisdom of society, should come before instinct. Furthermore, it dawned on me that this is the principle lesson for all mankind, the dividing line that separates children from adults, and the sane from the insane. Problem is, the children and the insane seem to be better off.


So there and then, I decided that my best - indeed my only - shot at finding genuine happiness in life was to re-educate myself, to put myself back in touch with the instincts that we're born with but lose so fast. And for me, ballet was the way I would do that. Since then, I've found that ballet does hold all the joy for me that was promised in my childhood enthusiasm, I'm glad to say. In class, I feel a freedom and a sense of being alive that - although not exclusive to ballet - is very hard to find otherwise.


I've also found ballet to offer a fascinating metaphor for life in general, reflecting as it does the tendency we have to over-intellectualise. Just as our best experiences in class are when we 'just dance' without excessive thought, our best experiences in life are when we 'just live'. Ballet is about so much more than learning to dance, and for me that's the reason that I do it.

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Oh these are great stories - some of them are so sad! But then, we all have happy endings too. I hope more are posted!

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Like other boys mesmerised by ballet, I learnt to keep my thoughts to myself. From the first time I saw dance on television, I knew this was what I wanted. It was a completely impractical ambition growing up in rural Ireland and I was almost certainly not gifted enough.


In my twenties, I took some Graham classes in Dublin. It wasn't for very long and my work as a journalist meant that I couldn't attend regularly. For most of my work life I have been covering politics and economics; the arts - and certainly dance - were very much in peripheral vision.


I hesitate to admit this, but seeing the film Billy Elliott made me weep: weep for my earlier lack of determination and for the years I had spent on things that I did not care very deeply about. After seeing the film, my wife and I had a coffee and I cried uncontrollably. She had no idea that I felt so deeply about dance. Despite my years, and I sense I am older than most of you, I found a class the next week taught by a remarkable woman, ex Royal Ballet, who was one of Ashton's favourites. It was a very adult ballet class - and age-wise I wasn't out of line. Because I had kept my fitness levels up and had some memory of the earlier Graham classes, I didn't feel completely at sea.


I am trying to make a way in the world as a dance writer and sometimes tell people that to write convincingly about dance, I need to know, at some level, what it means to do it. But that is not really the full story. I just love going to class, love the ritual of it, and love making my brain and body work in a way in which they do not in all my other waking hours. And I love doing something that I've always wanted to do - trying to make my body, at some level, an outward sign of inward grace (very Catholic phrase that).


A final thought: I have found balletalert and this forum incredibly supportive. Adult ballet is rather more widespread than in the U.S than in Britain. As Alexandra said in an email: " I think it's part of the American attitude that we have a RIGHT to do anything we want - even start ballet at 45!" Reading others' stories has certainly given me the courage to go on, when some of my other inner voices whisper differently.

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Guest beckster

I actually can't remember what made me want to do ballet. I know that I was lonely and miserable for the first year of my PhD and I found it very hard. I was living in halls, and I was in an office with people working in a different subject area to me, people I didn't get on with. I felt very isolated, and all I ever did was sit in the silent office, working away on my computer, and go home and sit in my room on my own and watch TV. It's not that I never went out, I had a few friends in halls and in the department, but I got stuck in this inward spiral where even though I hated sitting on my own, it was easier to stay in than go out. Then I decided that I couldn't live like that any more. Something that you have to realise, as an adult, is that school and university are probably your only chance in life to meet a wide variety of people your age. You can actually pick and choose your friends. And you have the opportunity to try so many activities that aren't so easy to do as an adult. You never get that chance again, where things are handed to you on a plate. People don't just come knocking on your door to solve all your problems. If something in your life needs fixing, you have to fix it yourself. If you are lonely on the evenings, you have to get up and find yourself something to do, because no-ones going to do it for you.


I went to my supervisor and asked him to move me into a different office, with people working on the same things as me, which he did. It was so much better, and so much more sociable. And I started looking for something to do in the evenings. I'd done rhythmic gymnastics and been in several orchestras on the flute as a child and I wanted to do something dancey or musical. Originally I wanted to do street dance, and in searching for this sort of class I found out that adults in the US could do ballet. And somehow my search for street dance classes metamorphasised into ballet, and I started posting here. Through my posts here I found Xena, who got me started at my current dance school. And basically, I've not looked back. The two years I've been doing ballet have been the best two years of my life. Not BECAUSE I'm doing ballet, but because I've now got a very full life, which ballet is a part of. The music had to go on the back burner for the moment, but I've got plans. Maybe one day I would like to teach ballet, but my other idea is to get my piano playing back up to scratch and then perhaps I could be a ballet accompanist.

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Billy Elliot actually played quite a large part in me deciding to start ballet, too. I'd heard about the film before I went to Thailand, which had already made me think a bit about my childhood ambitions towards ballet. It was released while I was away, and I went to see it a couple of days after I got back - if my mind wasn't already made up by this point, it was certainly made up as I left the cinema. It was quite an emotional experience for me, too - I recognised so many feelings I'd had as a child. I particularly chuckled at the bit where Billy locks himself in the bathroom with a ballet textbook and makes a lot of noise trying out steps - this was something I did myself as a child!


I'd also like to echo Brendan's thoughts on the support of the 'net, and particularly Balletalert - it played a great part in showing me that there were a good few people in the world who felt like me about ballet! In my experience, it's not easy to feel comfortable about a passion that is not shared, or even understood, by anyone you know - our urge to fit in with the people around is what gives rise to the 'inner whisperings' that hold us back. But a feeling of community can silence those whisperings, and that's the great gift of the 'net for unusual passions like ours. So thanks to all of you here!


And Beckster - totally know where you're coming from... Before ballet, my life was the same spiral of work and sitting in front of the telly getting bored. As you say, no-one's going to fix your life except you, and that's something that most people don't realise. There's hope out there for all of us, but it's not easy to find - we're lucky that we've made the decision to look for it.

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It's interesting that you talk about how no one can do anything for you to make you happy, that you have to go out there and chase the things that make life worth living. It's so true. It's, I think, rule number one about growing up.


And rule number two is probably forgetting about what other people might think about you, that what you like doing might seem weird to others but so long as it makes you happy and you're not hurting anyone, it's a good thing.


Another thing is, I think ballet has made me a nicer person. I've now been following an all-consuming passion for nearly seven years, and it's given me something to think about. I've always had too much energy, and it helps to stop me from being bored or restless. I'm a lot less grumpy and angry than I used to be!


If I was a doctor or psychiatrist, I'd prescribe ballet classes for all sorts of people, for all the reasons people have listed on this thread and elsewhere!

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I agree with Kate. Interestingly there was an obituary in the Telegraph yesterday for a former Oxford psychologist, Professor Michael Argyle. His speciality was the study of human happiness and he found research evidence that dancing was the activity that was most likely to elicit states of happiness. He acted on his own advice and was, according to the obituary, an enthusiastic Scottish country dancer.


I've just come from a ballet class. I struggled, as I usually do. But the class almost always lofts me into another state of mind. I feel incredibly alive afterwards - and there is a beautifully collaborative aspect to the class, that I don't always find in the other things I do.

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Great question! I've really enjoyed all of ya'lls stories.


I started ballet as a little girl, because my mom enrolled me (I'll try to find an old picture to attach). She wanted me to be "well-rounded," so I also took, at various times, gymnastics, piano, baton, cheerleading, art, swimming, etc... The two that I enjoyed and excelled in the most were ballet and gymnastics, so I continued with both until the early teenage years. At that point I had progressed enough in both disciplines that I had to choose one, for logistical reasons. There was just no way I could be a competing gymnast and in the apprentice dance company. And so...I chose gymnastics--unfortunately. I kept competing for awhile, but eventually the weakness of my wrists and ankles prevented me from progressing in the vault and tumbling events (although I was good in the bars and beam). Not to mention that I missed dance classes more than I thought I would.


Fast forward years later, after the rest of high school, college, and early years of career and marriage. I started to gain weight, as most adults do, and so I tried aerobics at the local gym. Aerobics classes are effective at weight management, but boring and entirely uninspiring to the soul. So I decided to go back to ballet for fun and fitness, but I couldn't find a class near me that was challenging enough--most adult classes were geared toward beginners.


It wasn't until I moved to North Carolina that I found a great studio with an owner who encouraged adult dancers and taught challenging adult classes. I started with only one class a week, soon moved to two, then three, and now I dance at least 4 times per week and am part of their jazz company. Next year I hope to become a member of the ballet company, if my pointe work improves. At my age (34), I obviously have no illusions about ever becoming a professional dancer; I dance because it's fun to do something so physical after a day spent teaching. It's tough making rehearsals with a full-time job, but it makes me happy to dance, so it's worth it!


Now, let's hear from some more of you!


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Guest mathiskewl

Great stories. I guess I'll contribute mine -- though it's not as interesting.


I can't remember when I started the first time. My sister took classes at a community center and my mom and I used to go and watch. My mom said that as early as aged two I would be in the back of my sisters' classes and copy her. Who knows if she's right? I loved it and was pretty serious. But I quit for slightly complicated reasons. 13 years later a friend of mine wants to take a tap class. I never was allowed to take tap so I decide to join her. I hadn't gone back to dance because I was over weight, out of shape, etc. But when I went, I couldn't remember having so much fun. Three months later I was back in ballet and haven't stopped since. Though at times it's incredibly frustrating when I think about all the things I used to be able to do. Oh, and then I see a medical Dr. who tells me to take more dance classes to relieve my stress!!! Can I get a prescription? Can I get insurance to pay for it? Please?!

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Guest MountainDancer

What fantastic and inspiring stories!


I started ballet at the age of 9 because my best friend was taking it. I had never heard of it and had no idea what to expect. There was only one studio in town, held in the converted living room of a dear sweet lady. She limped around on damaged knees, but would still attempt to demonstrate a jump combination if we just couldn't get it (she mostly used her hands to demonstrate).


I was put into the same class as my friend. All of the students had a few years' experience and I was told to just "follow along." I spent the entire barre with my elbow on the barre and my eyes glued to the child's feet in front of me.


My friend subsequently quit the following year, but I stayed. To this day I don't know why. Looking back, I guess I found what I was looking for that belonged only to me, that wasn't handed down from my siblings (I was the youngest), and I really, really wanted my own pair of pink satin pointe shoes.


I continued on, eventually moving to another city where there were more studios and more opportunities to learn more. In high school, that was all I did. I was averaging 8 classes a week of nothing but ballet. I loved the control I had over my body in class, and I loved jumps!


When I was 17, I auditioned for a Ballet West summer workshop. I did not get accepted. My mother called to find out the reason, and they told her that if I had been 15 with my technical ability, instead of 17, I would have been accepted.


That one event devastated my life and my dancing. I was too naive to know that rejections come and go, and that there were plenty of other workshops available.


I kept dancing, but with the thought in the back of my mind that I wasn't "good enough." When I was in my early 20s, I was accepted into a local ballet company where I danced in a few Nutcrackers, a few spring shows, but because of a continual run of injuries, I got discouraged and quit. (I'm convinced now that the injuries were directly related to my state of mind.)


For 10 years I tried to forget about ballet. I threw away all my books, my shoes (even my first pair pointe shoes), my leg warmers, everything. I tried aerobics, karate, bodybuilding, anything to keep in shape, but found them all to be, for the most part, empty and mindless. I did learn some positive things in karate, but it was not the lifestyle I wanted to live.


During that time, I got married and had a baby.


Finally, because ballet would not leave me alone, I started taking a couple of classes again. I was surprised at how much my mind forgot, but my body remembered! But, alas, I was not 25 anymore and couldn't regain totally what I once had. That was hard.


I was asked to start teaching at the studio where I was taking class. It was intimidating at first (I wasn't too crazy about teenagers), but I grew to love my girls and it became very important to me to give to them what I knew and then some.


I am very careful to stress to my students that if they're in dance class, then they're there for a reason and that's where they belong. Doesn't matter if they're overweight, underweight, short, tall, black, white - dance to me is the physical embodiment of the heart, and everyone who has the desire to dance SHOULD DANCE. I never compare one dancer to another, I never single one out, and I never show favoritism (all the things I saw on and off in various studios).


I hope I help them find the freedom to be who they are in ballet, and in life.

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Guest Elizabeth R.

This question I had actually thought of asking myself ( I was in the shower the other night thinking about a question to ask, and that was it!)


Anyway, I started my ballet training when I was three years old. My mother would take adult ballet classes and take me along with her. She said I used to sit and watch. Then , one day I started dancing along side with the others. I actually remember standing at the bar and feeling like such an adult. The ballet teacher would get the biggest kick out of seeing me dance.


I fell in love with ballet. My mother always made sure to take me to the best schools. I progressed each year that I danced and became serious around the age of nine or so. That is when I started point work (at age nine). I then went on to dance at an arts high school in Florida named, Palm Beach County School of the Arts. At the same time I danced in the evenings and weekends at a studio named, Ft. Lauderdale Ballet Classique. I also danced at many summer camps. I then graduated High school and was at my prime. I looked great, but I was burnt out on the whole dance lifestyle. I guess I gave up, and have been dancing off and on since then.


I love ballet and I will always have those wonderful memories of my lifelong experience with ballet.

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