When I started back to college pursuing a second degree, one of my classmates was the mother of a boy who takes classes at the same ballet school where I dance. She recognized me from our school performance in the spring.
She’s interested in taking classes, but didn’t know where to begin. It prompted me to come up with tips for those who are crazy enough to take the plunge later in life, or in my case, retake the plunge.
Here is my advice, for what it’s worth:
1. How to find a class: I danced when I was a teenager and re-caught the fever standing in the lobby of the studio where my daughter was taking class. But it really wasn’t an adult-friendly studio, much less an adult man friendly-studio.
The smartest thing I did was search on the Internet. I found a couple of places in the area and shot emails inquiring about the classes. To be honest, if you’re an adult, your best bet might be a pre-pro school (or a reputable school) with a performing company that offers either adult classes or open classes (open to all… so you might be in there with some kids).
If you live in smaller community and there isn’t a pre-pro school in a nearby larger town, I wouldn’t entirely give up. It probably wouldn’t hurt to just call the local studio to see if they actually do offer classes to adult, and if you happen to be a guy, you can probably gage whether or you’d be welcome right off the bat.
If you’ve found a school or studio that is adult-friendly and you’ve never taken ballet, you may need to plunge into an actual beginner class if you’ve never taken a class before. Ballet is an art form where you build your skills over time. It’s usually better to start at the beginning of the school year, but I wouldn’t let it stop you from giving it a try. Most teachers I know welcome new students no matter the time of year. And even if the class isn’t strictly a beginner, if they give you the option of trying the class, take them up on it. You may find you love it even if you’re completely stumbling around.
2. What to wear? Adult beginners usually fall into two camps. There is a group that wants to try, but as adults, our bodies aren’t what they used to be, and the notion of squeezing into tights or leotards can be frightening.
Schools that offer actual adult or open classes usually have relaxed dress codes. Sweat pants, shorts, yoga pants, jazz pants, warm up pants, t-shirts and tank tops are all usually perfectly acceptable. Most teachers I know want adult students to be comfortable in their own skin.
While wearing clothes closer to code is beneficial the further you go along your dance journey, in the beginning, the most important thing is to get the positions, facings and the basic steps down. Working on the perfect ballet line is a little bit further down the line, no pun intended.
There is also a group of adults who start off gung-ho and go all out in dance attire. Nothing wrong with that. But dancewear can be somewhat expensive. Before you put the money down, make sure ballet is something you really want to do. I’ve known people who went in full-guns blazing, then found out ballet wasn’t what they thought it would be. They were gone by the third or fourth class.
I will say this, most adults who stick with it usually end up eventually wearing more traditional dance attire, albeit with wrap around skirts, sweaters, ect.
No matter which camp you fall into, you will need to get ballet shoes if you end up sticking with it. Socks or jazz shoes are ok for the first couple of classes, but ballet shoes are pretty much a must-have.
One thing that probably would not hurt would be to ask someone at the studio what their adults do wear to class. That way you can avoid being the one wearing too relaxed clothes if everyone else is wearing dancer attire, or you’re not the only one gung-ho in leotards and tights while everyone else is decked out in shorts, warmups or yoga pants.
And guys, if you’re going to wear tights, get a dance belt (sort of a dancer’s version of an athletic supporter). It helps keep things in place, not to mention spare you embarrassment. And to be quite honest, seek out a pair of tights that are as opaque as possible (Sanshas are a little more opaque and more durable than Capezios, but that’s just my opinion).
3. Don’t carry in any pre-conceived notions into that first class: Classes differ from school-to-school, and teacher-to-teacher. What you think ballet is going to be like, and what it turns out to be may be quite different.
Generally, if you’ve never taken ballet before, you’ll sometimes find those first “beginner” classes to be a little too basic, that you’re not really getting to dance. Ballet is all about getting the fundamentals down before progressing to the next step. But the longer you stick with it, the more funner it becomes. There’s nothing like doing a tour jete in a grand allegro combination. But you won’t be working on something like that in your first year. It may take that first year before you can actually do a pirouette.
But that’s only if the class you take is purely a beginner class.
Sometimes classes are combined levels. If it’s a beginner-intermediate class, it might be taught at a little faster pace (and some beginner classes are taught at different pace if students pick up things faster than a teacher expects). If you’re in a class like that, and you feel overwhelmed, my advice is to stick with it and try not to get too discouraged. You’d be amazed how much you can pick up if you keep at it. Some of the harder steps in the beginning I never thought I’d get are now my favorite steps.
4. Don’t compare yourselves to others: We all learn at our own pace. Some of us pick things up rather easily. Others have to work really hard before getting things down (that’s me). And some are just naturally gifted.
And one thing I found in a beginner class is that some of the students aren’t always beginners. Sometimes, they’re former company dancers who are returning to ballet. Sometimes, more experienced dancers take beginner classes to brush up on the fundamentals. Don’t base how you’re doing on whether or not you can do the things on what the person ahead of you at the barre can do.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: You’ll find many teachers want you to learn, and are more than helpful if they see you truly want to get the steps down they’re trying to teach.
6. Just relax, have fun: If you’ve never taken ballet before, a ton of information is being thrown at you (and in a different language). Don’t be discouraged. Ballet is a marathon, not a sprint.