Being a Ballet Lifer has it's moments, like the time I danced with my students. Afterward, we were asked to introduce ourselves to the audience. Down the line the kids said the same thing, "My name is ___ and I've been dancing for __ years." When it was my turn, I followed. "My name is Rozanne, and I've been dancing 4 decades," hoping everyone would hear "for decades" rather than "four decades." The picture above is me a couple of decades later. I often feel I have failed my former students and their parents. Every once in a while I bump into one and the first thing asked is, "Are you still dancing?" I reply, "Am I still breathing?"
Ballet deserves special consideration when selecting a method for staying fit and trim.
Ballet provides a structured warm-up (barre) that, when executed properly, warms & exercises the entire body from toes to head. It provides the gradual warming of muscles that is so strongly recommended.
Ballet is more than the exercise of the circulation system, heart and lungs. It provides a mixture of movements designed to strengthen, and increase flexibility of all muscle groups.
Ballet is gradual steady progress. While this is good for the body, it can be frustrating to those who wish to see fast results. If one attends classes regularly, 3 times per week, he/she may not notice improvement from class to class, yet one day, the person suddenly becomes aware of the fact that he/she is able to do something never done before. It is not that the body suddenly responds. The body responds each time with imperceptible gains which eventually add up to a gain big enough for the person to recognize. This gentle gradual fine tuning is the healthiest way to develop physical abilities.
Ballet demands mental focusing on the task at hand. In doing so, the mind must let go of all other thoughts. When class is over, the mind returns to the daily routine, but from a refreshed perspective. Solutions previously overlooked may jump to the forefront.
INDING THE RIGHT TEACHER
Many teachers are focused on teaching dances for the stage. Find one that is focused on the class. You need a teacher that enjoys teaching THE dance rather than one that teaches A dance.
I received an email from a woman in her twenties. She contacted a ballet teacher and said she wanted to begin ballet lessons. The teacher laughed at her (most likely a Prof. Prep. teacher). My advise to the woman was to contact another teacher, and keep contacting teachers until she found the right teacher. A couple weeks later the woman emailed me again saying that the 2nd teacher she contacted was great and the woman had taken her first ballet class and loved it.
THERE ARE MANY MORE
ADULT BALLET DANCERS
THAN THE PUBLIC THINKS
This is because most do not perform. No performance, no public visibility. Those who do conceal their age. Few Life Long Fitness adults perform because they have chosen a life with other priorities (work, family) and this makes it difficult to find the time to polish up a performance. Older adult dancers face the problem of keeping muscles warmed up well enough to do a great performance. Back stages are drafty places and thin ballerina costumes offer little protection. The warm-up barre taken before climbing into the costume gets lost in the draft. One day I will develop a beautiful flowing costume that fits over something like a surfer's wet suit and then the public will be amazed at how well 80 year olds perform on the stage.
AM I TOO OLD
TO BEGIN BALLET?
No one is too old to begin ballet. Maria Dare was successful in teaching the first steps of ballet to adults in their 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's. One of Maria's students began after a heart age over 60 and went on to get pointe shoes. Research has shown that muscles have the ability to lengthen (increase flexibility) on through age 80. So it is never too late to get back in shape. The older one is, the more frequent, and gradual exercise sessions should be. One class a week of ballet is acceptable but only if the person is active on the other 6 days of the week. Take ballet on Monday and being a couch potato the rest of the week will produce no gains. The older one is the more it takes to warm-up and stay warm. Leggings of some sort are strongly recommended. Teachers should not stop the barre to talk, or explain or muscles will cool off.
IF I BEGIN AS AN ADULT
CAN I GET POINTE SHOES?
Many who begin as adults go on to get pointe shoes. Bones in feet are not easily molded, so as an adult, pointe shoes either work for you or they don't. One still needs to start in ballet shoes, learn the basics, develop the muscles, make good technique a habit, before attempting pointe work. One still needs to take 3 classes per week regularly.
Goals are differen:
Youth see class as preparation for performance. For adults, the performance is the class.
Physical bodies are different.
Youth are always warmed up, because they never stop moving. Short attention spans cause movement. Adults have longer attention spans, seldom move while focused on a task and are usually focused on a task. This results in 2 differences. Kids arrive class warmed up. Adults arrived cold (unless they just finished chasing a kid around a parking lot.) Kids want to do the combination once and move on. Adults want to focus on the exercise, repeat it, improve it.
The key to getting the adult body moving like a teen is in getting muscles warmed up! The older one gets, the longer to warm and the quicker to cool. No time for lengthy chats between exercises. Start moving and keep moving. Over-tights, warm-up pants, help a lot. The adult body is capable of doing anything a young body can do when it is warm.
We all have need to restore balance to life. This restoration creates another difference. Kids often come to ballet class after school. Hopefully they have spent hours in quiet study. It's time to balance the quiet with unbridled chatter. Adults have spent hours being bombarded by kids or workplace frenzy. To restore balance, adults come to class in need of peace and serenity. If in the same class, adults and kids can destroy each other's attempts to restore balance.
Most of all there is a different pace and timing in Adult Ballet. I am convinced that the old style ballet lends itself to adult bodies better than new styles. For more see Maria Dare Style Adult Ballet.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Many teachers will permit sweats to start. Move into ballet cloths as soon as you have the courage to face yourself in the mirror. Good ballet shoes are a must from day one. Leg warmers, warm-ups or a Unitard can provide the extra warmth for leg muscles helps a lot.
(Left) JoAnne a Ballet Lifer:
She shares "Yesterday I was in my first Senior Talent Show in Sierra Vista. I didn't embarrass myself by falling off the stage or anything. Everything actually went well. Believe it or not, I wasn't the oldest dancer. Two ladies in their mid 70s did a Charleston/Tap routine that was darling. I did a Can Can. The audience seemed amazed that I can still do high kicks and the splits. ..."
"I remember Maria telling me the year she died that you should always have one dance prepared that you could do anytime in case an opportunity comes up! Yesterday was my opportunity."
One is healthier when the body is exercised regularly.
Returning to Ballet
After a year +
Bring your favorite slippers and your sense of humor. The brain remembers the last classes taken, but the body isn't there any more. Some things that were easy can't be remembered. Some things that were difficult work like a charm. It just takes time for brain to figure out where this new body is and for the body to get back to where it was. The return should be taken gently. Gradual and persistent effort over time pays off. The body gets back in shape and once again, dancing becomes the renewing pleasure of the week.
While attempting small talk with a fellow, I commented that if I skip a ballet class, I lose it fast. He said he had seen an interview with a professional ballerina who said the same thing. He puzzled a moment and commented that athletes in sports don't seem to have the same problem. This caused me to puzzle. Ballet is precision work. We become aware of changes in movement to the fraction of an inch. Perhaps athletes in sports lose it just as fast as ballet dancers but are not aware of it. Perhaps the fellow just had not talked to the right athletes.
Ballet is a precision sport. Don't expect to learn it over night. Don't expect to keep it without doing it regularly.
It has been said that athletes lose 10% from their peak performance per decade. That's just 1% per year and I'll never notice such a small difference if I keep working out. BUT, if I slack off for a few years, I'm going to notice big time. I'll want to yell, "I'm too old for this." For each time I think this, I must repeat 10 times, "I'm not too old, I'm too out of shape."
If you've been away from class for a year+
take it slow. Go back to the beginner basics. Get the alignment back and body positioning. Then start the gradual advancement. Trying to do advanced steps when the basics are out of place is asking for injury and injury only delays the comeback.
Finding the Time:
Many adult ballet dancers have grown up in dance studios. It has become a way of life. Marriage, children, work, home, reduce time for dancing, but to eliminate dance class all together is a mistake. There is energy and vitality waiting in the dance class, waiting to be unlocked.
For me, when I don't dance, I walk and move slower. As a result, I gain an hour or 2 by skipping class, but I lose several hours from my snail pace. Also, when I don't dance, I am easily irritated. Time is lost by telling those around me “I’m sorry.” Needless to say, my dancing has always found support among my family members. Sooner or later they reach the point my mother did when I was 7 years old. That year Mom told me we were taking the summer off from dancing. I said that was fine by me. But 3 weeks later, Mom looked at me, with tears in her eyes and said, “Rozanne, I can’t stand you. You are going back to ballet.” She never suggested I take time out after that. Other loved ones have supported my dancing for the same reason. I can’t tell the difference between the dancing me and the non-dancing me, but everyone else can. If you are like me, do the world a favor. Get to class.
Ballet & Hip Problems:
Consult your doctor, but when consulting, remember that many doctors don't understand what adult ballet is all about. It is best to describe what you do in class. Is it ok to bend, stretch, jump, turn, etc. I developed instability in my hip, pain in my leg, inability to left one leg to the front above knee level. I went to see a specialist. He informed me that I would need total hip replacement within two years. Meanwhile I should buy a cane, take pain killers and revisit in 6 months. I was devastated. I bought a cane, but refused the pain killers as I wanted to know exactly what I was doing that caused it to hurt. As a result, I realized that at work I was constantly stepping off a mat with the involved leg, in a diagonal direction. At the end of the shift, I could hardly walk. I removed the mat. I changed the step direction (sometimes a pas de basque, sometimes a pas de bourree. I started wearing ergomates (anti-fatigue matting that straps onto shoes.) I continued ballet classes, doing each exercise up to the point of feeling fatigue in the involved leg. The pain began to leave. About 6 months later, the doc told me I was cured. He showed me exercises to do that looked like plies and portabras. It's been about 8 years now and I still have the hip I was given at birth. I plan to keep it a few more years.
Ballet and Health Issues:
Not all adults are a picture of health. Still most are able to do ballet and make progress is careful. Any physical injury should be reported to the instructor. The instructor can advise and modify exercises for the dancer, but the dancer is the one with instantaneous feedback and the dancer must take responsibility for modifying exercises. Be sure to keep muscles twinking at the center not at ends. Never let the energy of the class push you past your limits. It's okay to stop before others.
My doc just told me "don't fall." I came close during my 8th month. While demonstrating a ponche arabesque, baby kicked and shifted position. It caused me to do a strange whip to a front attitude facing the opposite direction. My students attempted to do the same. None (including me) were able to repeat the move. My 9lb 6oz was born healthy. I only had one problem. No matter how hard I tried, no matter what I said to my students, they all stood like they were pregnant. I could not get them to suck in their tummies that year!
Consult your doctor, but when consulting, remember that many doctors don't understand what adult ballet is all about. It is best to describe what you do in class. For example, Is it ok to bend, stretch, jump, turn, etc. Let your ballet teacher know. The only other advise I have is this: If you have been dancing, keep dancing. If you have not, then wait until after the babe is born. (If you are diabetic, be extra careful and ask you doctor a lot of questions before participating in ballet or any form of exercise during pregnancy.)
There are now may illnesses that no longer require hospitalization, yet require extended treatment. Little if any research is available to say if ballet can help maintain strength during treatment. The following is one individuals experiences. It is hoped by sharing this, others will share, and a body of knowledge will develop.
15 years ago, I took a crash course in Chemo-Therapy & Radiation Therapy. There are many types of chemos and reactions to them vary from each individual to the next. For me, it was better to move between chemo therapy treatments than not to move. My chemo was administered once every two weeks. On treatment day and the next, I did nothing. On the fourth day, I did a light barre. By the next week I was back to a mild light full class. Then the cycle started over. I lost a lot of function during the ordeal but not as much as I would have had I done nothing at all. Radiation was different. I just slept. I lost a lot even though it was over in a month. The comeback was difficult because muscles wanted to stretch at the ends rather than the middle - a feeling similar to tennis elbow. SLOW gradual stretching, taking beginning ballet class, rubbing the centers of muscles while stretching did the trick. It seemed I would never get back, then one day I kicked and my foot was over my head effortlessly. What a great feeling!