What little girl doesn’t dream of a frilly pink tutu and satin pointe shoes? Maybe you took ballet for a while as a child but dropped it in favor of other pursuits as you got older. Maybe you never got a chance to study ballet due to financial or other reasons. If your heart still flutters at the opening bars of the Nutcracker, consider starting now.
Even before the movie Black Swan, adult ballet classes had been gaining popularity across the country as women flock to alternate forms of fitness and strive to attain the ballerina body. Although the work is difficult, don’t expect to drop weight overnight - at the beginner level, ballet is less of a workout and more of a hobby. But as you continue to practice and perfect your technique, your body will change for the better.
Am I Too Old/Fat/Out of Shape?
The short answer is no. Unlike classes for children and teens, who potentially have a future in ballet, adult classes are geared toward fun instead of perfection. Teachers are aware that adult students may have physical issues that prevent them from executing certain moves, and they will work with you to keep you injury-free. Adult ballet classes include students of all shapes and sizes, from their early 20s to their 70s and beyond. Some students are fitness mavens, others have never exercised before. It takes all kinds.
Where Do I Go?
Start with your local ballet company - many offer open classes that allow you to drop in when you can and pay per session. Local dance studios may have an adult class or two, and community centers sometimes offer low-cost classes. Community colleges are another option, especially if you qualify for free or reduced tuition - otherwise, these can get expensive. Wherever you choose, ask to observe a class before you sign up. This allows you to make sure you’re comfortable with the environment, classmates and level of instruction.
What Do I Wear?
Have no fear - very few studios require adults to wear pink tights and a black leotard. It’s always allowed, of course, but yoga pants and a fitted top are generally fine if you don’t feel comfortable being so exposed. Wear your hair in a bun, because ponytails tend to whip you in the face during turns.
You’ll have to invest in a pair of ballet slippers, but these can be as cheap as $15.00 at dance supply stores. Get fitted for your first pair in person - choosing the right shoe and size for your foot is extremely important - but once you find a pair you like, order them online when it’s time to replace them.
What Will We Do?
Class will begin with barre work, where the teacher leads you through a series of steps and exercises that hone your balance and technique. Next you’ll move to the center, where you’ll practice the same things you did at the barre, only this time without the barre’s support.
You’ll move on to combinations, where the teacher will put together a series of steps that move across the floor. Students practice the combination in groups of two or three - this is when you really start to feel like you’re dancing. Some combinations may be slow, some may be fast, but they all qualify as "real" ballet - on your first day!
Afterwards, your teacher may choose to work on turns or jumps. This is more common in advanced beginner classes and above, but some absolute beginner classes may teach basic pirouette work if the class is advancing quickly.
Many classes end with reverence, a short sequence of fluid, graceful movements that serve both as a cool-down and a show of thanks and respect to the dance form itself. If class is running over, reverence is usually the first thing to be cut.
Ballet classes are only about 90 minutes long, and there’s a lot to do in those 90 minutes. Most teachers expect students to be stretched and ready to go when class begins, because you’re paying to learn ballet, not stretching. Arrive at the studio about 15 minutes early to warm up.
What About the Pointe Shoes?
It’s possible, but don’t hold your breath. Graduating to pointe shoes is a rite of passage that happens when the dancer’s abilities say she’s ready. Two years of ballet at least three days per week is the general standard, although students with special talent may move on sooner. Your muscles must be very strong, and your balance must be unflappable - if you cannot hold a demi-pointe passe in the center for at least two minutes, you’re not ready.
Besides technical ability, your body plays a part in pointe-readiness as well. If you are carrying extra weight, pointe work could be dangerous for you. There’s a reason ballerinas are thin, and it’s not all about aesthetics. Forcing the tip of your toes to not only carry all of your weight but also withstand the impact of jumps is a tremendous undertaking, and doing so too soon can result in broken bones and torn ligaments.
But pointe work is not the be-all end-all of ballet. You can still be graceful and fairy-like in flat shoes, and dance is dance. If it’s in your heart, it will show no matter what shoes you’re wearing.