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Why do adults take ballet?(formerly: Latest Ballet Alert)

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#1 Giannina


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Posted 11 July 2003 - 11:24 AM

In the latest issue of Ballet Alert! Victoria Leigh wrote an article titled "Facility" which dealt with the progress of dancers in class. She reminds us that some dancers may have talent but will never progress to a professional company. Ms. Leigh says that these students should not necessarily quit dance lessons but could continue as a hobby or a recreational activity.

I would like to hear from students, probably adults, who take dance lessons for the above reasons. I would like to know what they derive from the lessons. Do they see themselves improve or do they stay at the same level? Is it a "downer" to see the young students in the class move to a more advanced level? Do they get tired of the classes? Do they get bored? Does it exhilarate them? It takes so much work; why do they do it? Everything!

I know it increases their appreciation of ballet in general, and brings more insight to the performances they attend.


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Posted 11 July 2003 - 10:07 PM

I foolishly gave up dance at the age of 18. I returned when I was 20 for a short amount of time, then quit again (I was going to "move on with my life"). It was when I was 23 that I discovered within myself what draws me to dance. Laying sleeplessly in bed one night in complete silence wondering why I was so unhappy in life as a wife, mother and with a career...I began to listen to my heart...I mean really listen...to the rhythm of the beat and my mind drifted immediately to how I would dance to that rhythm. Deep within myself my heart was still trying to dance and I had been covering it up with being too busy with "moving on with my life". I decided right then to return, and to never leave again. So here I am, dancing for myself, and also now teaching it as well. Dancing to me is part of who I am, and comes directly from my heart.

Its difficult to describe in words, but I've been told you can see it in me when I dance.

#3 Jaana Heino

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Posted 11 July 2003 - 11:59 PM

I started dance classes at the mature age of 27. It's hard to describe why I do it - it's something so fundamental I don't think I have words for it. It's about me the same way my career of choice is about me - I can imagine doing something else instead, but it feels kind of weird, and I doubt I'd be as happy.

As to why specifically ballet of all dance - ballet is at the same time creative and codified, it's a strict discipline but through that expressive and endlessly varying. It appeals to me the same way advanced University level mathematics (say, something like topology) does - though I doubt that that explains much to most of the readers of this board.

As to how I feel about the advanced dancers - adults or teens - in the classes depends on how the day is. On a normal good day, they are an inspiration; on a bad day, watching them makes me feel like an idiot. I will never, of course, be professional level, but that doesn't matter, because what I love about ballet is learning and practicing it, not so much knowing how to do it. I watch it, yes - but mainly in learning purposes.

During the two years I've danced, 2-4 four classes a week, I've been bored in class twice. It's demanding, but working hard is fun if you really love the work (and not only the results of it).

Edited by Jaana Heino, 12 July 2003 - 12:00 AM.

#4 Cristina



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Posted 12 July 2003 - 05:14 AM

This does not exactly address ballet - but it does speak to the need to dance.

While in Orlando a few weeks ago, we attended an IMAX-type movie. (I can't remember what the type is - it's shown in an 8-story domed theatre). In any case - it was the movie STOMP. The movie starts with the group Stomp, but ties them to cultures from all over the world. It depicts native cultures from the far reaches of every part of the world.

The film shows how we as humans are hard-wired for rhythm, and have a need express that rhythm in dance. It is beautifully done. Whether one is a ballet purist, or not, I think everyone would enjoy the film. It is impossible to leave without happy feet.


#5 citibob


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Posted 12 July 2003 - 06:04 AM

In my observation, the number one reason most students don't make it to a professional level is a lack of total neurotic drive to do so. Watching our teenagers, I can tell the difference between the (very few) kids who are absolutely driven, and the rest of them --- who are truly enjoying the dancing and the social atmosphere, but who will likely never choose to make the sacrifices needed to attain professional level.

It is even harder for adults to make these sacrifices, for two reasons:
1. Most of them who would have done so already did so as children.
2. Adults have other responsibilities in life.

People dance with many goals in mind. For myself, I don't know how I would approach it differently if it were as a "hobby/recreational activity" versus a "career". Either way, the goal is to continue improving as a dancer. It breaks my heart to see professional dancers who have no interest in improving --- especially when those professionals are just a couple of years out of the academy.

In performing arts, you have to put in the time to make the progress. In my observation, the further along you get, the more time you need to put in to make further progress. If you don't put in that (increasing) minimum, you find yourself stagnating, going nowhere, even going backward. For the student in that position --- at a fairly advanced level but not able to put in enough time to advance further --- I could not in good faith suggest that he/she continue "as a hobby" because that would mean being content with stagnation. I rather see the student either put in more time, or put in less time and go do something else in life. Or, I might look for ways that student can make progress in certain areas with a minimal time committment, acknowledging that other (important) areas might stagnate.

As for myself:

> I would like to know what they derive from the lessons.

I derive many things from lessons --- continued progress as a dancer, continued progress in a professional career, and a great intellectual/physical experience of continued study of the shapes and movements of ballet.

> Do they see themselves improve or do they stay at the same level?

I have improved consistently every month, every season, every year.

> Is it a "downer" to see the young students in the class move to a more advanced level?

Actually, I have moved forward a lot faster than the young students. Three years ago, they were ahead of me. I was one of those lifelong dancers who (apparently in hindsight) had the talent but was still a LONG way from professional level and about a decade too old.

Today, I am a professional dancer because I made a decision to do what it takes to get there. I was very lucky. I'm sure that many dance professionals out there would have told me to be content with ballet as a hobby. I probably would have believed them; but in hindsight, I think that would have been patronizing on their part because I have disproven them. Instead of telling me to be content with ballet as a hobby, my artistic director undertook to train me properly --- and that took a LOT of effort on both our parts. I cannot say how glad I am that he was enlightened and creative enough to take me seriously, to not write me off.

That training has been successful. Today I have some of the best form in my company. I know that the further I go, the less important my late-blooming will be in terms of getting a job (until I reach the age I must retire, and then that is as far as I will ever get as a professional dancer).

> Do they get tired of the classes? Do they get bored?

No. Class is liturgy. The founder of modern Karate, on his deathbed, said "my only regret is not enough time. I'm only just now beginning to understand the forward punch [one of the most basic moves]." Ballet is the same way. If you truly delve into it and you have a geeky passion for that kind of stuff, you can never get bored. Do you REALLY understand plier?

> Does it exhilarate them?

Sometimes, I suppose. But I can be pretty grumpy on stage, even if I look like I'm having fun in the moment. That does not detract from my total love of the art.

> It takes so much work; why do they do it?

As I said before, because I have to. Frankly, my life would be a lot easier right now without a dance career. But to have one is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And it changes you. I know that 20 years from now I'll look back on the experience and say "wow, I was a part of that". The fact that the company I dance for has already been nationally recognized but will likely only increase in reputation --- and I can help it do so by improving my dancing and in other ways --- only adds to that sense of accomplishment.

#6 Susanne



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Posted 12 July 2003 - 09:15 AM

Why I do ballet?
First of all: I don't have the body for it = flat feet, bad ankle flexibility, very long toes and my knees tend to point inwards to eachother when standing in parallel, which means I cannot stand in parallel with my feet together even though I'm not hyperextended: I actually have big difficulties not having bent knees and straighten my legs!

So having stated those facts about my body that I cannot change I still love ballet and taking classes. Maybe just because this is something that I don't have any talent for. I have to work really hard and struggle to look half as gracious as most other people.

I started taking ballet 1 1/2 years ago at the age of 21. For the first time in my life I did something that I really wanted to do and that there were no pressure from my envorinment that I should succed.

I guess I had that syndrome as one of the caracters in Center Stage when she stated: "I don't want to do something that I just happend to be good at" and I had done things that I happened to be good at all my life.

At every class I just enjoy myself and learn as much as possible and every progress makes me really happy simply because I don't expect myself to do that :dry: As this other day when I finally after over a year suddenly understood the technique in the feet behind jumps in ballet that makes it look so effortless! I have found that the only time that I'm 100% concentrated for a whole hour is during ballet classes! It seems as you leave the real-world problems outside the studio without getting more frustration adding to your system in the studio. So I guess ballet classes is kind of therapy to me :lol:

This doesn't mean that I realx in class and become lazy, in fact: I have to say that I'm one of the most concentrated students that always tries to improve and pays a lot of attention to teachers corrections and comments to the whole class (I think that's thanks to Ballet Talk :))

It's such fun to learn a lot about something new as an adult when you have had the power to decide all by yourself! It's almost the same thing as those astronomy nerds who wants to learn everything about the universe: I have become a ballet nerd! :D

Edit: I forgot to mention that there are no ambitious young aspiring dancers at my school. Here in Sweden there is really only one school (located in three different cities) for children who wants to become professional classical ballet dancers. That school offers school education in combination with daily ballet training six days a week. So it's pretty off limits for us oldies!

#7 beckster



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Posted 13 July 2003 - 03:34 AM

I've spoken about this before on the adult board. For the past four years I've been doing a PhD which required total absorption in my work. After a few months I found it difficult to stop thinking about my work outside of the lab. In addition, I wasn't getting much exercise. Ballet (once I worked out that was what I wanted to do ... the idea came from the enjoyment I got from the few ballet exercises we did when I was a teenager doing rhythmic gym) solved my problems. When non-ballet people ask me why I do it, I say it's like yoga with brains. It requires such a degree of concentration and uses my brain in such a different way to my everyday work, that it is ideal for me. There's no way I can be in a ballet class and be thinking about what happened that day and what I have to do the next day and whether I need to go to the supermarket and when my visa bill will arrive. It is an escape from everyday life in the way that yoga is for some people - I found yoga very difficult because I just couldn't turn off the real life part of my brain. I also love the fact that I can see improvements. I took my first ballet exam and performed in my first show last year, and both were great experiences.

I have very little facility for ballet. I have poor ankle flexibility and low arches, my turnout is not great, but who cares! Enjoying myself is the important thing, and working to the best of my ability. I am like Suzanne - I found it very easy to get to the place I wanted to be in my career. Ballet is far more of a challenge! Citibob implied in his post that the only thing standing in the way of adults becoming pro is a lack of drive or priority. I think this is not true. Most twenty-year-old beginners simply don't have the physical capability let alone the training to compete with their peers who are just finishing dance college. Most professional companies wouldn't even consider them because by the time they had undertaken the equivalent amount of training they would be over 30. Our goals are different. Perhaps they are smaller, but they are no less valid. Maybe one day we will be in a school show, or part of an amateur adult company, perhaps we will pass an exam or be given the go-ahead for pointe. We won't be aiming to join the royal ballet company, but our goals are still important.

At present I'm not dancing as much as I used to, but I'm seeing a lot more ballet with a greater appreciation of what is involved. I saw Coppelia (ENB) this weekend and loved it - the last time I saw it, a few years before I started ballet, I disliked the lack of decent storyline. Now I appreciate the dancing so much more!

#8 citibob


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Posted 13 July 2003 - 06:06 AM

Citibob implied in his post that the only thing standing in the way of adults becoming pro is a lack of drive or priority.

Actually, I was saying priority seems to be the number one determining factor in EVERYONE, children too. And it's not a bad thing either --- the time commitment required to build and then maintain a professional career is VERY costly. Most people decide they like dance but they don't like it enough to kill themselves over it. Just like I'm interested in reading astronomy results but not interested enough in it to do the research myself.

Experience shows that some amateur adults --- when they put in that kind of time --- can make rapid progress toward a professional career. But that's not possible with 2 or 3 or 4 classes per week; if it's going to happen, it requires a de-stabilizing 6-10 classes per week plus attending rehearsals, all while finding the money to pay for it.

On the other hand, I've observed that many people (again, regardless of age) who pay the price and really make it a priority in their lives eventually make some kind of career out of it. Here's what I mean: eighty percent of Joffrey School graduates go on to a professional career. That is one of the highest retention rates around; much higher than, for example, SAB. It's not because the training or the students at the Joffrey School are better (most would agree they're not). Rather, it's because the Joffrey graduates seem to have more of a desire to dance whatever the cost. In contrast, the SAB graduates tend to take more of an all-or-nothing approach --- if they don't get a good enough entry level position, they move on to another career.

Edited by citibob, 13 July 2003 - 06:07 AM.

#9 koshka


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Posted 14 July 2003 - 06:07 AM

OK, here's my $0.02 and story, which I've probably told elsewhere here.

There is nothing that makes me a "natural" for ballet--I have a long torso,
short arms and legs, no musicality, etc. I do have very "sturdy" feet and
a nice high demi-pointe without any effort.

Took ballet but never particularly seriously (2-4 classes/week) from age
10ish to 17ish at several different studios, the most serious and "best" of
which was bek's. Had to stop halfway through my senior year of high school
because of logistical challenges but it didn't particularly bother me at that

Went to college in Chicago. Attended ballet performances as much as I could
afford, which wasn't much, though I did get to see the Kirov in 1987.
Worked in Minneapolis. No ballet performances.
Moved to Boston for school. Attended as many performances as possible
at Boston Ballet--I had season tickets (ouch-this was expensive for a
student!) and made use of the "student rush" tickets.
Moved to Washington, DC. with a real job, so I now have 2 subscriptions to
the Kennedy Center and one to Washington Ballet.

After 7 years of driving past the local studio, I finally gathered the
courage to try a class. I was prompted by three things:
1. A loss of flexibility due to my only form of exercise being bicycling.
2. Weight gain. I was not yet above the "healthy" range for my height, but
even with the biking, I was getting there and it felt not-right for me.
3. One of the "youngsters" at work, just out of college, was taking classes
and talking about it. Somehow it made me remember how much I missed it,
after 18 (eek) years without a class.

That first class was 2 years ago. It was fun from the beginning. I started
to lose weight quite easily and rapidly. I started with 2 classes / week,
then 4. That was the first year, at the end of which I was well and truly
hooked. I now find it irritating when we have breaks between terms.
This school year I've managed to average about 5 classes per week.

I guess I've gotten better--it's hard to tell. Some things seem easier and
some seem harder. I have certainly gotten muscle definition where there was
none before. The adults don't get annual evaluations as the kids (under 18s) do.

At the place where I take classes, there are separate classes
for kids and adults, so we don't often mix and there's not the issue of
seeing the youngsters advance. Sometimes in the summer the upper-level kids
who are not at SIs come to adult classes, and my feeling then is
that it's just a pleasure to be in class with them.

So, why? It is fun. Yes it is hard work, but so are lots of things that are
fun. We know that exercise is addictive at a biochemical level, and that is
certainly part of it. It is a mental challenge in a way that it wasn't when I was
a kid. It is an escape.

So that's it, I guess. I started for the fitness side and am now addicted.

#10 Garyecht



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Posted 14 July 2003 - 06:11 AM

I didn’t start dancing until age 50. I had competed in sports, often at a very high level, every year since age 10, and I have always enjoyed music, so I found the notion of moving to music very attractive. Started as a competitive ballroom dancer, which is a mixture of sport and dance, and at age 52 took my first ballet class. Took it because I knew I had no talent, and wanted to compensate for that by having as broad based experience in dance as possible.

Clearly I have no professional aspirations. I both admire professionals and at the same time question their judgment. I mean from a long-term financial perspective, being a professional dancer is among the worst occupational choices one can make. Those who make that choice are to be admired for pursuing something they must love, throwing all practicality aside. I know I could not do that even if I were a talented teenager.

With respect to the questions.

>>Do they see themselves improve or do they stay at the same level?

Just as an aside, with respect to developing physical skills, 90% of people have reached their maximum level of technical skill in any physical activity after about 8-10 years. The good thing about dance is that it is not just a physical skill. There is an esthetic side, emotional side, and musical side that I believe continues to develop throughout life.

Personally, the only thing I have ever cared about, whether it be professional, sport, or dance is improvement and development. You cannot do anything about your status relative to other people. The only thing you can do is to try to be better.

Also the dance world is huge. Ballet is just a very very small part of the dance world. There is more to learn about dance as a whole, both from a technical and mental point of view, than any one human can possible learn.

>>I would like to know what they derive from the lessons.

It is never constant and depends on the lesson. If I do unusually well in my mind, it feeds my ego and affirms my progress. Sometimes it is just a very pleasurable experience in itself. Other times, it lets me know what I have to work on. It gives me things I work on outside of class. At times it depresses me. At times I feel good that I leaned some technical or musical thing.

>>Is it a "downer" to see the young students in the class move to a more advanced level?

An advantage of being older is that you don’t compare yourself with those who are younger. In fact, I always go a little out of my way to say some nice things to younger male dancers. They need it a lot more than I do.

>>Do they get tired of the classes?

Tired, no. As I said sometimes depressed (how can I possibly be as bad as I am?), but I’ve learned to deal with that. And I do admit to being rigid—just keep going to class.

>>Do they get bored?

When you are struggling to remember the combinations, you are not bored. Frustrated occasionally, but not bored. And for some reason, ballet combinations are more difficult for me to learn than are jazz or modern combinations. I think that’s because compared with most jazz and modern movements, ballet movements are so unnatural, and I know my mind goes through the step of hearing the (odd because I don’t know French) names of the steps, then translating them into movements rather than simply seeing the steps and doing them.

Fast petite allegro combinations take me about 10 tries to get I’ve learned. Makes no never mind if the combination is easy or difficult.

>>Does it exhilarate them?

Exhilarate, no. A good class just gives me a strong sense of satisfaction.

>>It takes so much work; why do they do it?

Life without challenges is pretty boring I would say. And things that come easy are not very self-satisfying either.

#11 Jaana Heino

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Posted 14 July 2003 - 09:13 AM

I would like to add that like koshka I don't regularly take classes with teens; in the school there's a division to age-departments, and then division inside each age group to six technical levels (except the very youngest kids have only the first 2-3 levels, and the adults don't have the highest level at all - not enough people advanced enough, I think). Teens are allowed to take adult classes, though, and every now and then they do, when they have missed their own classes or during summer. Now I generally like it when they come, but I might feel different about them if I danced every class with them, I don't know. :crying:

#12 psavola



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Posted 15 July 2003 - 01:47 AM

This sounds a bit preposterous and stupid, but for me ballet classes are a way of being (in my own small and humble way) connected with something more beautiful and grand than any single invidual or concept. I'm trying to learn to create beauty and art. Additionally, the abstraction, rules and harmonies of ballet appeal to my engineering mind. :wacko:

I cannot say I ever really get bored in a class. I do feel I'm improving, which gives me a strong motivation to work harder. I have been lucky in finding teachers that care about my improvement, and an abundance of classes that give me room to grow. I do not know if I would be content and satisfied to "just take classes", if at some point I realized that I have come as far as I can, especially if there is no hope of ever being graceful and enjoyable to watch. Maybe I'd go back to painting or piano. But for now, I'm enjoying the ballet journey. :)

In our school the professional track children/teens classes are completely divorced from the adult or recreational children/teen classes, so I have no idea how I would feel seeing teens, let alone professional track teens in class on a regular basis. I have shared a barre with one professional track teen for a short while at a visiting teacher intensive, and I was thoroughly inspired by the experience. I plan on adopting the teen's work attitude. :)

I think people value things they put time and effort in, and conversely, the rewards we get are dependent on what we give. Certainly ballet has become more important to me than some other things, which I intuitively "just knew" how to do and happended very easily and naturally. And yes, I guess one could say that a good class exhilarates me, if I have understood the word correctly. (English is not my native language.)


#13 koshka


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Posted 15 July 2003 - 04:36 AM

To add about being "bored":
It does happen, but for me only in a very specific circumstance,
which is when I am in a class a bit lower than my true level AND at the
same time the level is a bit high for some people in the class, so that
there's lots of "down time".

Except for that circumstance, even a lower-level class provides plenty to
work on, and in fact one of my teachers seems to push me a bit more when I
take a lower-level class. I'm not sure why this is, but might go to a
topic being discussed in the teacher's forum about corrections in adult
classes. In the lower-level classes, maybe there are more students who are
not particularly interested in or receptive to corrections.

If I had my druthers, I'd take a couple of classes a week in the more
correction-intensive kids' classes, but that is apparently Not Done.

#14 mic31



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Posted 22 July 2003 - 02:25 PM

I took up ballet to help excersise my back. What I discovered is something that has become an overwelming passion in my life. I am a former professional athelete. I hold a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and am generally a very driven person.
What I discovered in ballet is almost another martial art. Ballet is codified it has a very traditional training regimen. There are different styles of ballet, and even they are open to endless interpretation. What differentiates ballet from a martial art is, expression.
What ballet means to me is hard to explain. To me it's an exploration, an endless journey where I am learning more and more about myself through movement.
I am very fortunate to have a very gifted teacher. This has made my technique much easier to learn. I think that I push the envelope a bit. I started when I was just turning 31. I'll practise and practise the simplest movement for hours days or weeks until it's just right. Through martial arts and cycling I know what it takes to achieve a high level of profeciency in something. As a martial artist, bike racer or a dancer you must be willing to dig deep into yourself a reach for the next level. Very few people are willing to do that, that's why there are alot of average people in anything in life.
I can't forsee anytime that I'll stop ballet classes, there is just too much to learn. :innocent:

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 05:36 AM

i started dance only for the experience since i am a theater major. But i fell in love. And it is frustrating sometimes because i kick myself for not staying in class when i was younger. I love the beauty of it, i practically stop breathing when i watch a more advanced student or professional dancing. There is something absolutely indescribeable about it. I dance every day of the week, no i do not think i will ever be a professional, do i dream yes... but who doesn't. But that doesn't matter, i just want to dance. Yes i see myself progressing. I was told i have good feet and legs... which is an encouragement, i moved up rather quickly which is also encouraging... but watching girls my age that are auditioningfor ABT or other companies and are amazing dancers, and then seeing where i am and knowing where i SHOULD be if i had started way earlier... that is frustrating. But i in no circumstance want to stop. I love it too much, professional or not.

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