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


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#16 BW

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 06:01 AM

Welcome to Ballet Alert's Ballet Talk, meliss83!

I've taken the liberty of moving one of your posts about starting pointe to the Young Dancer's forum for ages 16-22 board.

Be sure to look around at all of the forums and read the "About This Site" forum for some helpful hints, too. And if you haven't checked out Ballet Alert's main page, please do as it will give you a great overview of the site and all the different things that are available from "blogs" to subscriptions to two dance magazines, etc.

I'm sure you'll find your way quickly and later on in the day you'll get some helpful responses! :thumbsup:

You also ought to check in and introduce yourself on the Welcome thread, as well. :wink:

#17 Guest_stacymckenna_*

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Posted 17 December 2003 - 11:31 AM

I'm a gymnast, not a dancer. My mother and sister are also gymnasts. I donít remember NOT doing gym. Form and toe point and knee angle are noticed and critiqued in my house. I was never particularly GOOD (gym is EXPENSIVE and we were not flush) but I have good form. I competed on my high school team, as did my sister (who was a tumbler, unlike me). My favorite was beam - the apparatus most requiring of good demi, straight and tall body alignment, tight glutes, and a slight turnout helped to "feel" or "grip" the edge of the beam for stopping turns and landings. One of my coaches when I was very young (primarily worked beam in a large gym where kids rotated while coaches stuck to their strongest event) taught us much about ballet for the dance elements use don floor and beam. We were taught the leg positions, leaps, turns - all so that choreography later would be easier to teach. But the body alignment was always gym - shoulders back, back arched, weight largely in your heels, elbows straight, fingers/hands straight. She required our arms in second the entire time we were on beam - sometimes 10 minutes at a go. It was brutal, but highly effective.

In high school my coach bemoaned how balletic I was, as opposed to athletic. She whined that all I wanted to do was make things float, that I never punched anything. My scale was a developpe a la premier, rond de jambe en air a arabesque, releve a demi (pardon the lack of accents...). My routines were emphasis on flexibility and balance, not strength or power moves.

In college I lost gym time due to cost and availability, and it was after seeing a performance of Quidam by Cirque that I decided to get back into it. I found a coach who specialized in adults and relearned some things in more body friendly ways (walkovers should be in my SHOULDERS instead of lower back? Fascinating!) but again - insurance for gyms is expensive and they have to pass that on to you. So again I gave it up.

A few years later (about age 27) a friend mentioned her studio was starting a new class for beginners and asked if anyone wanted to go with her (she was going to use it for pointe work). I had always been curious and wanted to do ballet, and it couldn't be as destructive to my body as gym, right? Within 5 minutes of seeing me STRETCH the instructor said "gymnast?". Very red eared, me. It has been an eye opening experience learning how differently my body moves than an early-trained dancer. For months my chest felt totally collapsed, my head felt bowed, my back felt constricted, and turn-out! Mine is abysmal (90 deg max) but I've had one or two people do manual assists of certain positions and say I have incredible potential for turnout, I just lack muscle development in the right places (my quads are overdeveloped in parallel compared to the development of the obliques that provide turnout). My knees hyperextend noticeably, so sliding into fifth often requires a little "cheat" of the front leg.

I've been dancing now for about 3 years, once a week. Being so focused on form as my family is, I've adapted largely to the ballet aesthetic and it no longer looks so foreign and awkward to me (plie with good turnout, especially a la second, to a gymnast's training? Ugly as sin!). It's always wonderful to hear my instructor compliment head alignment, shoulder position, hip placement/tilt now since these things were so hard to comprehend at first. I still find my turnout disappearing if either leg leaves the floor, especially in fully airborne steps. I notice a lot of pronation on the feet due to my turnout not coming sufficiently from my hips, especially with leaps and jumps. Turning in BOTH directions?! My brain may never get past that concept! Picking up a pattern after hearing/seeing it once, and then translating to the mirror for the return pass? So not a skill required in the strictly choreographed world of gym!

What do I get out of it? An incredible sense of satisfaction. I have enough natural grace and musicality to flow fairly nicely with music. I'm learning exactly how difficult those simple-seeming bits of choreography actually ARE and just realizing I appreciate a piece more now because I've TRIED that step and EGADS! is wonderful. I work with other adults and late teens. I don't do pointe (at only one session a week? I'm not self-destructive!). And my instructor is incredibly good at highlighting each dancer for their strengths in class, using those with the most desirable X for an example. Sometimes she needs flexibility. Sometimes strength. Sometimes alignment, and so we all get our turns in the spotlight in class. I don't particularly feel upstaged by the younger girls.

I have improved. I feel I would improve a great deal more if I stretched at home or danced more frequently. I don't feel discouraged about my progress or the other girls' progress because I know I haven't committed to it yet. I do it for fun and an occasional shot of endorphins from the exercise, and to insure I don't lose ALL of my flexibility! I often come home tired, or frustrated (pitfall of being a perfectionist), or sore (my arch often falls some if we do a lot of leaps/jumps, which I often over-practice). But finally getting a fairly decent looking fouette? Wow! It's the same in gym - you can work for months at a plateau in gym, and then boom! in one month you master 4 new tricks after months of nothing. Ballet is the same - I'm used to the plateaus and sudden bursts of progress as your body passes some invisible capability crest or comprehension.

Do I get bored? Never! I'm always too busy trying to think about "another degree of elevation, another degree of turnout, stabilizing the hip (donít turn, don't lift), weight on the TOES, yes, TOES, 'Soft Hands, please', pelvic tilt back farther, neck taller, shoulders soft, don't drag the elbows" - who has time to be bored?! And if it's not that, it's trying to remember the latest combination we were asked to do fast enough to keep up with the music.

I have been dancing in front of the blank TV to imaginary music since I was 3. You might as well ask about breathing...

#18 Amy Reusch

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Posted 17 December 2003 - 08:02 PM

I dance simply because I love to dance.

I actually enjoy it more now than when I was young and more competent. When I was a young serious student, I cared desperately whether I was improving, whether it was right, whether I had a chance, how I measured up, etc. Now I don't have the anxiety and can just enjoy the music. Who cares if I look like an idiot at times? Who cares if the pirouettes didn't come off well? Admittedly, I don't get the pleasure of seeing beautiful line realized in the mirror very often. Arabesque is generally not something to dwell on. One must have a sense of humor and not take oneself too seriously, be willing to laugh, and the class can still be exhilirating. And when I pull something off well, it's such a surprise pleasure. Somehow I managed to go directly from being a wannabe to a has been. It amuses me no end when people ask me what company I danced with. If you can't laugh or at least smile, you're going to have a hell of a time getting through class as an adult.

I do, however, prefer to take a class with lots of adults. One can get that kind of self conscious "she must be from Mars!" feeling when mixed in with mostly serious teenagers.... or "what, does she really think she has a chance of being a dancer at her age?" But, honestly, I find many of the youngsters are so ignorant of the dynamic possibilties of the steps, that I figure I'm giving them a good example of the rhythms involved even if no one would want to imitate my technique. I do love to have some good ambitious young dancers in class though, they're inspiring to watch... reminds us of what we're reaching for... if it's just us oldsters, we sometimes miss out on that contageous energy that sometimes makes turns and jumps work just out of mass hypnosis.

Also, I think, when it's not making you limp like an invalid, that dance keeps you young. Truly, I think there might be some hormones activated just from the effort of dancing... I don't think it's the exercise alone... probably there's something involved in competitive exercise as well, but those are probably different hormones than dance hormones. When I think of how young many the dance teachers in their sixties look and move... even though I now think they were probably extroadinary specimens in their 20s, I still think the dancing has kept them young...

Come to think of it, there's also that Alzheimers connection... perhaps you've read of that study last year? Dance was the only exercise that had a positive correlation with Alzheimers.

Do I ever improve? Sometimes, depending on how often I get to class... I generally can't maintain a level because I can't get to class regularly and often enough... but sometimes things do improve for a time or so. Of course I never reach that level I was at when I was 16... besides the youth issue, I never can put anywhere near that much time into it.

Is it a downer to see younger students advance? No. I enjoy it. We kind of feel like distant relatives when we see them improve... we're proud of them. Of course, they don't leave our class for another... they're generally only in our class to supplement their age-appropriate training... the more advanced class that they would go to isn't open to adults. Perhaps if I were stuck in a smaller school, it would be different... or if I hadn't reached a certain level myself. But no, it's not like the feeling of being left out such as I felt when my friends were getting into companies and having professional careers. It only bothers me if it's my own generation. Regarding Citibob's observation about neurotically driven students succeeding... I'm not sure that's 100 percent the case... I think I was neurotic enough to increase my risk of injury, and ultimately that plus height issues made the major difference.

Do I ever get bored?
No. There's just too much to work on. I think the more you know, the more there is to work on. If a combination is too simple, I sometimes find it difficult to remember, but there's always so much to feel and work on in the steps themselves. The only time I get frustrated is when a teacher seems to have designed the class way beyond the facility of the students... any of the students. You need to pull something off at some point in the class, or it's too depressing.

It takes so much work why do they do it?
Well, if the class is totally focused on technique and never on choreography, then it's not much fun. I guess I don't notice how much work it is. I don't have the discipline I had when I was young and ambitious, to stretch every night, etc... so I don't go to that level of work... but the class itself? I don't know... I was taught to "work hard" in class at such an early age, that I can't imagine not approaching it that way. The "work" part of it is transparent.

#19 scoop

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Posted 18 December 2003 - 07:28 AM

Thanks to everyone for your fascinating stories. :wink: I must have missed this thread when it started, so to add my late two cents...

Of all the many reasons I take ballet, right now the one that comes first to mind is the way it connects me to things and people I never otherwise would encounter. Paivi, I love what you said about ballet connecting you to something larger and more beautiful. So many of us work in non-artistic professions, and studying ballet makes us less the spectator and more the participant.

I also love the connection to other people who feel the same way as I do about ballet. My job requires a lot of traveling (I'm in Santa Fe now) and taking a class in a strange city makes me in a small way less the stranger. It's great to interact with people in a way that isn't a business transaction. I really think someday I have to write a book or something about "Travels with Ballet" -- it's quite heartening to find so many teachers and students across the country who believe ballet can be part of an adult's life even if they never perform or "do" anything with it. To simply do it is the point! :)

#20 2 Left Feet

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Posted 18 December 2003 - 10:36 AM

I "discovered" ballet a little less than three years ago. I took to it with an immediate and ovewhelming passion, partly making up for a buried desire to do it for so long as a child. At 35, walking into a studio was as terrifying as it has become rewarding. I now dread the days I cannot get to the studio because of my work commitments.

Has it been hard for me? Yes and no. I guess I have a natural facility for it and my drive to learn and improve has made me progress much faster than some of the people I started taking classes with three years ago.

Is it hard to see younger students move on? It was at first. I think it's only natural to feel something when you see gifted young ones progress into something you wanted but couldn't have. But in time I've dealt with that issue. Now I'm morstly pleased to see my own progress. My initial reaction to this was to stop going to classes that mixed adults and kids. Eventually I got over that getting to the point where I'm not only fine with kids being in my classes, I actually enjoy seeing them now. I find watching them helps with my own technique. But I do have to allow myself one vanity. There was one school I went to for some time. They had this boy in his late teens, their fledgling "star." At first he intimidated me because he was so much better than I was and he was not very friendly. I went back recently and he was in the same class I was taking. I realized I had progressed so much that I was able to do things he still couldn't. I was surprised and more than a little pleased to see how much my technique had grown.

Why do I keep going? Many reasons. One, I want to improve. I see no reason why I can't learn as much as possible. I may never do perfect double tours but I can do fairly descent singles. As long I as can strive to make those better I'll be taking classes. The other reason is it is a great escape from my adult world worries. For 1 1/2 hours I forget about alll my pressures and concentrate solely on the task in front of me, a well executed tendu, holding my turnout, etc. This relaxes me and helps keep me sane.

#21 manchester

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 08:07 PM

> 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.




At what are did you start and how often did you practice?

#22 keguri

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Posted 02 June 2010 - 01:22 AM

I started taking ballet in my late 20s: I have very little natural aptitude, and am not one of those naturally athletically-gifted people. I had, and have, no aspirations whatsoever of being a professional dancer. When I started taking classes, I had been fascinated with ballet for a very long time, but had almost no knowledge of it, and don't think I had ever even seen a full-length production. My elder sisters, growing up, had briefly taken classes, but soon lost interest. I had a vivid memory of glimpsing inside the studio, and feeling a powerful, mysterious energy. But I also had the stupid prejudices of most young boys.
What attracted me most to the ballet is still this feeling that it at once does and does not belong to this world; that it transcends the world while being part of the world. This is true, perhaps, of all art forms, which all use prosaic means to achieve magical effects. But it is more true, or at least true in a different sense, for dance. We are our bodies, and ballet allows our bodies to become otherwise than we are; for a new system of movements, a new life even, to inhabit us from within. Once I started taking ballet class, I would feel the possibility of these new movements within me. Even though aware of far I was from the grace of a professional dancer, I would feel a trace of this grace even in the midst of ordinary life.
I imagine, though, that I could have waited forever to begin. What finally compelled me to start taking classes was an extreme feeling of alienation from my physical self. At the time, I was a Ph.D. student in the humanities, and had spent practically my entire adult life engaged in entirely "cerebral" pursuits. The summer before I started ballet class, I had underwent a small surgery on my hand to repair some minor nerve damage. During the next two weeks after the operation, most of which I spent inside shielding myself from the stifling summer heat, my feeling of detachment from my body became acute. I realized I had to do something. While I had always wanted to study ballet, and while it satisfied a desire far deeper than any of the pragmatic considerations I might give, I also could now "justify" it: I needed some form of physical activity, and I knew that my hyperactive and easily distracted mind could not bear the tedium of most forms of exercise. I needed something that simultaneously occupied my mind and my body.
I was lucky to go to a studio that trained very serious pre-professional dancers, but also took its adult students very seriously. Even though it was intimidating at times to see the gifted teenage dancers, I never found it discouraging.

#23 little-junkie

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 10:04 AM

I can't help but to post a reply for this topic.
Frankly, to take classes as an adult, is to feed my inner needs. Ballet is soul food for me, even if it starts to sound cheesy. Simply having the passion for dance alone wasn't enough to become a professional dancer, and that's my case, unfortunately. I wasn't born with the dancer body, didn't start the training early enough (age 11), didn't have the proper training (age 14) even when I managed to convince my parents to switch to a better established ballet school (was told to turn out but never advised on how to do it properly, was told to get a pair of pointe shoes with no instructions on how the fitting should be done etc.), and was often encouraged to give up the training (age 16) because no one saw any future for me as a dancer.
But somehow it's not something that as a youth I would get bored with. I got over stamp collection, painting lessons, piano lessons, local children choir group, but ballet never left. Giving up the training was probably the inevitable, but the drive to dance has been always there to this day. Each class when it starts from the first position, I start to listen to my body, to feel every inch and piece of muscle stretch, to clear my mind and focus, and to dance even just to move my finger tips, my concentration is most serious and intense at this time.
To watch a ballet or to read about it on books and articles is not enough sometimes. The dance itself is more liberating than anything else.

#24 Amy Reusch

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 07:37 PM

We dance for the joy of it.

When I was very young, I would dance for hours given the chance. Then I became serious and strived for perfect line, mulitple rotations, high extensions, impossible weight, and I strove for a professional level many hours a day, but honestly I was too tall for my generation of dancers, and not quite good enough to make up for the height. Eventually I "retired" my ambition and danced solely for recreation. At that point, honestly, I rediscovered the joy of dancing. In my serious study I had never lost the love of ballet, but the unfettered joy was hampered by concerns about shortcomings. Now that imperfection was a "who really cares, I'm dancing for my own pleasure" and no longer a flaw in professional quality... I dance about the dancing and about the music, not the perfect technique. The older I get the less I can do, but I think I'd enjoy it if even if I were in a wheelchair and just doing the port de bras.

#25 kozi

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Posted 14 November 2011 - 02:53 PM

Hi citibob, I have a question. at what age did you start ballet ? and were you very active in the past ? martial arts dance. ? Me personnaly I have always hesitated between visual arts and dance or theatre I choosed visual art and realised I lost the drive and I want to dance now. I have done lost of martial arts on and off with some latin dance. on and off because visual arts required a lot of sacrifice. Now i decided ok. What do i want to do as a career ? i dont know exactly i just know its in art. but I know I love movement and ballet is the basics. I am 23 years old. I believe i can do everything if i find the right things and the odds is with me. i would like to do some type of very physical performance or artistic type of think between ballet, modern and circus acrobatics.

But i know i do capoeira cuz I love it. I cant breath without it and I am very frustrated of sacrificing capoeira for visual arts and I will switch now to capoeira+dance at a more serious level and hoepefully it might be something i want a career in.

#26 carbro

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Posted 14 November 2011 - 04:55 PM

Hi, kozi, and welcome to BalletAlert!
Your question is better asked on our sister site, BalletTalk for Dancers. You'll find a special forum there for adult ballet students. This site, BalletAlert!, is oriented to the interests of the audience, the viewers. BalletTalk for Dancers is for doers!

You might also notice that this thread was started way back in 2003, and many who contributed to it are no longer active on BalletAlert!

In order to post on the Dancers' board, you'll have to register separately. We ask, but do not require, that members of both boards use the same name from one to the other.

Please come back here when you want to discuss performances or videos you've seen or some aspect of ballet history or repertoire, etc. :shake:

#27 Stage Right

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 08:46 AM

I teach ballet at the university level. Every semester I teach at least one beginner level ballet course, where most of the students are either starting ballet for the first time, or coming back to it after many years away. In my 23 years of teaching, only one student who started ballet for the first time in a beginning class eventually made dance her professional career, and there is one other who could do so, should he desire to and have the necessary drive (which he may not). But the feedback I got from the vast majority of those students was enormously positive. For many, they took the class because they had wanted ballet lessons as a child, but for whatever reason, could not have them, so this was a chance to experience a long-deferred dream. Others loved it as a more artistic form of physical exercise. And more than a few expressed to me that it was their favorite class in their university career, and, as several said, "it feeds my soul". I taught their class as I taught my advanced classes, with the same rigor and expectations, and I hope I never condescended to them.

#28 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 06:15 AM

From my own, personal experence-(and to respond the OP queston)...

To mess up wth your knees when fantasizing about having a ballet dancer turnout, just to discover that you have none and you're just dangerously rotating your knees out. Posted Image

#29 Bonnette

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 07:10 AM

I was on track to become a professional dancer when a chronic illness pulled a switch. But I continued to take classes whenever possible all through my 50s, just in order to "touch the hem of [its] garment" - ballet is that sacred an art, and an atmosphere, to me. I suspect that many adults take classes for that reason.

#30 sandik

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 12:16 PM

I teach ballet at the university level. Every semester I teach at least one beginner level ballet course, where most of the students are either starting ballet for the first time, or coming back to it after many years away.


I was in a similar position for several years, and had many of the same responses. They would take ballet classes in the way that may adults take music lessons, visual art lessons or acting classes -- they enjoyed participating in the art form.


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