Ballet Basics

Adult Classes

Why Should Adults Dance?

A Chuckle
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."  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?"

Find 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 how to dance rather than one that teaches A dance routine.

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 attack at 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. Taking 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.

Ballet for Adults It’s Different

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.  Maria Dare Style was amazing.  It’s on my list to publish the notes I have from her classes.

Ballet and

Health Issues

Not all adults are a picture of health. Still most are able to do ballet and make progress if 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.

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.
One is healthier
when the body is exercised regularly

Ages Knock on Studio Doors

Above: JoAnne is a lifer.  She grew up dancing at a local studio in Astoria OR, commuting once a week to Ballet House, Portland OR.  As an adult, she moved to greater Portland area and continued classes at Ballet House.  After she retired she moved to Arizona where above pic was taken at a local performance.
Above: Rozanne a decade or 2 after the above chuckle story.  Left: Rebecca caused the Chuckle Story when she was a kid and arranged a ballet demonstration as her school.
Above: Rebecca is a lifer.  She began ballet at age 11.  Now she's an adult with 14 years experience as a licensed Message Therapist in Portland OR, and continues to take ballet classes for her own health and peace of mind.
Above:  It's guess work.  Is the above ballet dancer in her 20s? 30s? 40s? 50s?
Best Time for Dancing
Above: Rozanne of Zandance age 60
Ballet is a great way to stay fit and trim.

Ballet provides many benefits.  The barre is a structured warm-up, most important before using muscles for any reason.  Kids never sit still, so they are always warmed up.  Adults can sit for hours, so adult muscles need warming before running, dancing, etx.

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 stimulates brain in many ways.  Coordinating head, feet, arms is a challenge for most, but easy for experienced dancers.  Steps such as turn, require the brain to fine tune the ability to see and know where the body is in relation to external objects.  Experienced dancers can feel the difference in balance caused by changing a hairdo.  Ever changing combinations of steps improve memory.

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.
While the widened age range of beginners is a good thing, it can leave the dance teachers scrambling. The traditional narrow age range for beginners at age 6-7, meant that intermediate and advanced students were of common age and development. It was easy to organize classes to meet the needs. Now there are 7yr olds with more experience than some adults. If the studio has a large clientele, then this is not a problem. But for smaller studios it can be a headache. To group by age and ability can result in filling the schedule with 2 or 3 students in each class. Not good for students, teachers, or getting the bills paid.

When organizing classes, I think the most important dividers are not age or experience. Family oriented beginner classes work well. Mom and kids can begin together, practice at home together. The family schedule is reduced as well as the gas bill. There should also be beginner classes for adults only. I learned to snow ski when I was 19. I assure you, it is most humbling to flounder about as a 3 yr old zooms past. The goal of ballet is to inspire, not to humble. Many adults use the class as an escape from frenzied routine. The family oriented class echoes the sounds of frenzy. (It is actually childhood excitement, but to weary adults, it sounds like frenzy.) Adults only classes offer peaceful silence.

In the past, traditional ballet started at age 6 or and was completed by age 19. When I began, my mother had to search all of Portland to find a teacher who instruct a 5 year old. In those days there were a few who began ballet as adults and both students and teachers secretly wondered why because we all knew a ballet performance career was over at age 25. Now many teachers do not bat an eye at excepting 2 year olds. Adult beginners are common. Hopefully now we all know that there is more to ballet than a short performance career. Ballet classes spark the health and beauty of life within the soul.

Maria Dare demonstrated that intermediate, and advanced can be taught within the same class. Intermediate is defined as those with enough basic skills that they don't cause the group to stop moving. She taught youth separately from adults. Her secret to combining dancers at various levels was in the combinations she taught. Her combinations permitted two or more levels of execution to the same music. For example, a cross floor combination might include a releve passe for one group, a pirouette for a second group and a fouette turn for a third group. In that way, all moved across the floor together without interfering with each other and all working at their own levels.
Pregnant Ballerinas:
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.)

Ballet During Treatment:
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
Updated: Feb. 21, 2021
© = R. W. Faulkner