[Warning: this is a relatively long post. I was in the mood.]
“Ballet? Why are you doing ballet now? Isn’t that for little girls?”
Since I started going for beginner’s adult ballet classes at the start of last year, I have heard various iterations of this question, asked in the most patronising and incredulous of tones. It is difficult to explain this, but I will try.
I have always associated sports and physical activities in general with feelings of humiliation and failure. A fast metabolism is the only thing standing between me and morbid obesity. (Thank you, Powers That Be.) Unfortunately, over the years, my appalling lack of physical fitness has become less of a charming oddity and more of a serious health liability. Ballet seemed like a particularly enjoyable way to get started on being fit.
But to be honest, the biggest reason I chose to do ballet is that I have always wanted to do so, but have never thought I was good enough. At the start of last year, I found myself in a bit of a dark place mentally. Ballet was part of my attempt at digging myself out. For about an hour a week, I learnt an art form. I was in a room where there was lovely music and all that mattered was purity and grace of motion. There was no competition and no meanness in the studio I was at (The Dance Workshop, if anyone is interested). It was like medicine.
All this is a very rambling way of saying that it is worthwhile to start learning ballet at any age. I mean, I have seen a 70 year old woman en pointe. Nothing surprises me anymore.
What to wear
For the first few lessons, it should be sufficient to wear close-fitting and comfortable clothes with socks. After that, your teacher may delicately hint that you should some full-sole ballet slippers. I suggest going to a shop and trying them on instead of buying them online. They are supposed to fit like a glove, and there is not much room for error.
What to expect
In any ballet class anywhere in the world, the class will consist of three components: barre work, centre work and a performance section (oh, the horror).
Without going into too much detail, the barre section is where you learn and practice basic steps. For those looking to do ballet as a form of exercise, I find the barre exercises to be especially good for strengthening and toning the lower body. Centre work generally consolidates the steps you have just learnt, without the support of the barre. This is also where the ‘cardio’ component kicks in, with lots of jumps and faster steps. The performance section is where everything comes together. You move across the room in small groups, performing the steps you have just learnt. This is usually followed by a stretching and cooling down section.
If all this sounds intimidating… well, it is, for the first time. At the first ballet class I went to, I was flopping about like a fish out of water. It was quite a sight. For a first-timer, I recommend standing in the middle of the room so there are people both in front and behind you to copy from. (Heh.) But things get dramatically better after the first two lessons, especially if you practise.
How to practise
I found watching YouTube channels with simple demonstration videos to be the most helpful. For example, theballet00 and the Royal Opera House’s Insight Ballet Glossary are excellent. Because I am a very slow learner with poor coordination, being able to pause and rewind was a godsend.
Ballet exercises are also surprisingly easy to incorporate in everyday life. Standing at the kitchen counter? Do some pliés while you’re at it. Watching TV? Practise your developpés. You may not transform into Uliana Lopatkina anytime soon, but every little bit helps with the development of strength and flexibility.
Right now, I may be flexible, but I certainly am not strong. I haven’t been back to The Dance Workshop in a few months (travels), and will probably get my ass kicked by my wonderful teacher. Can’t wait.
Have you started learning something new as an adult? I would love to hear about your experiences!