Monthly Archives: February 2014

So you’re an adult who wants to take ballet?

I had dinner with a friend the other night who mentioned she might want to take ballet, but really didn’t know where to begin.

And truly, finding out how to begin, I think, might be the hardest part.

Step 1: Find a class.

It’s not as easy as one might think. It often depends on where you live, and how far you are willing to drive to take class. If you live in a big metropolitan area, you may have plenty of options. If you live in a rural area in a region of the U.S. like the South, maybe not.

The first thing I would do would be to check online. If a school in your area has a website, then the second part is really easy: Send them an email asking about adult ballet classes.

As hard as it is to believe in the 21st century, some schools in my area don’t have websites. If that is the case for you, go to the phone book, get up enough courage to call about classes. But don’t be fooled. Just because a school advertises that it offers instruction for adults, that’s not always the case.

What kind of school to look for? I’d look to see if there are any pre-pro schools with a performing company in the area before I would try the “Little Miss Susie” type of studios. Pre-pro school schools tend to be more adult-friendly (and more open to male students), have better trained faculty and usually offer more adult or open classes (as in open to all, you might get a mixture of ages). And pre-pro schools usually give you the option of paying by the class if you want to just try it out (some have been known to allow free try out classes).

That doesn’t mean “Little Miss Susie” studios should be ruled out, especially if you don’t have a pre-pro school around. You can probably get a good idea about their attitudes about adult students from the phone call or email.

Step 2: Find the right level of class

Your choices might be limited, depending on the school. But if they offer a strictly beginning class and you’ve never danced before, start there. In a perfect world, you should start at the beginning of the school year. But that shouldn’t stop you if you’re itching to start classes now. The school where I take classes accepts new adult students year-round in the open classes. But if you start mid-year, you may find yourself trying to catch up to where the rest of the class is now.

Step 3: Find the right clothes for you

I know some adults who have this “romanticized” version of what they think ballet class is like, and go all out to find clothes that “fit the code.” I also know people who are scared to death of taking a class because of the dress code.

My advice to the first group? Don’t go all out on dance attire until you know for sure ballet is indeed for you. Dance clothes can be a little expensive. I’ve seen people dressed like proper ballerinas who are gone by the third or fourth class of the year, never to be seen again.

If you’re in the second group, guess what? You’re in luck! Most schools that have adult or open classes do not have a dress code for adult dancers. You can come and dance in clothes that allow you to move comfortably. They allow clothes that fit your comfort zone and are forgiving to non-perfect bodies.

Most adult dancers I know where close to dancer attire, but warm up pants, yoga pants, tank top, loose fitting T-shirts and baggy shorts are perfectly acceptable at the school where I take class.

Step 4: Throw out any preconceived notions of what you think class is going to be like

If you never taken ballet before, there’s a chance it may not be what you thought.

A strictly beginner class, for example, may be really slow to you, depending on the teacher. Or, it may be a lot more advanced. I’ve been in classes advertised as beginner-intermediate that leaned more toward the intermediate side that it chased away a lot of the new people in class. And I’ve been in classes where the opposite was true.

Step 5: Be patient, don’t judge yourself by how others do

This is especially true if you end up in a class where there is a mixed, or if it moves at a faster pace. Chances are, even in a beginning class, you’re going to be in a class with people who have danced before. They’re good to follow and learn from, but not to judge yourself against.

We all learn at our own pace. Some people pick things up really quickly and look graceful and beautiful. The rest of us have to work really hard at it. If you take a class that isn’t really a beginner class, chances are it’s going to be really overwhelming. There’s a lot to observe, the positions, the steps, arm movements, head movements.

Don’t be afraid to jump in and look foolish. I’ve found that I’m the type who learns as much by trying a difficult step or combination and analyzing as I go rather that purely sitting back and watching. That may not be the case with you … but I can tell you, things that overwhelmed me a couple of years ago, I really enjoy doing now.

Ballet is hard to do. Even the better dancers are still chasing perfection.

But the more I’ve learned in ballet, the more funner it becomes.

In a strictly beginner class, chances are you’re not immediately going to be dancing across the room. But if you stick with it, you will reach that point, and that’s my favorite part of class.

Why do they quit dancing?

I have to admit I find myself a little bit envious of the company kids I’m performing with in Cinderella.

I enjoy watching them perform steps and combinations I wish I could halfway do. They have really cool dancing parts and I always crave to do more.

Of course, there is always the reality that reminds me that I’m not one of the kids, but an adult. I’ve got physical challenges that come with aging. I can’t jump as high as I want. I can’t move as quick. I have coordination issues that were there even when I was young to do what they do. And I have this thing called work that limits the time I would probably need to rehearse for more difficult parts I dream about.

I have been really blessed since Phil and Rachel Otto arrived in Huntsville. When we take the stage for Cinderella, I’ll be performing in my sixth ballet. There aren’t many “adult recreational dancers” who can say that. And I’ve had some really cool parts, Friar Lawrence, Chinese Lion and the guy who died twice in Billy the Kid (and actually was in a dance at the beginning).

The Ottos have truly inspired me, and I’m grateful for every role they have given me.

And while I crave at times to do more than I should, I’ve also feel a little bit sad for those company kids I sometimes envy, but really admire.

That hit home for me during Nutcracker production week. I have been “crashing” company warmups for a few years in the performances that I’m in. And a couple of company girls who are seniors got really emotional during warmups with the realization that it was their final Nutcracker with Huntsville Ballet (at least for now).

I don’t know where their personal dance journeys will end. But I know for some of the company kids I dance with, that journey ends when they graduate from high school.

Unlike a lot of “adult recreational dancers,” ballet is not just a form of glorified exercise for me. It’s become somewhat of a passion for me that at times borderlines on obsession.

I love it. I can’t fully understand why people who love dance give it up once they become adults, especially if their dreams of a professional career doesn’t come to pass.

Very few golfers make the PGA tour, but people in their 70s fill up golf courses. Very few people make the major leagues in baseball, but yet recreational softball leagues are full of people older than me who are still swinging for the fences. High school band members end up in community orchestras.

Why is dance so different?

I’m blessed to be Facebook friends with a few former Huntsville Ballet dancers. One is about to graduate from nursing school.

Another is a valet in California with dreams of going to medical school. Another is a teacher who is about to go out of the country. Another has just started her college career.

All were beautiful dancers. All of them are amazingly bright young adults with bright futures in whatever they choose to do. But yet I’m sad for many of the ones I know who no longer dance on a regular basis.

I do understand the burnout factor. If I danced from the age of three through 18, I could see the need for a break. Or if the realities of not advancing further professionally makes you want to get away from the studio for a while. A good friend of mine in California has had that love-hate relationship with ballet.

I told him once I hoped the joy of dancing would return when he was not dancing professionally.

And I can also understand the injuries piling up fir a company kid or someone who has danced professionally. And I’ve been blessed not to have any nagging injuries (the one benefit of waiting until your late 30s to really get serious about dancing).

But still, I have to wonder, five to 10 years down the road, how many of those company kids that I was in rehearsal with tonight or in class with during the week will still be dancing.

As for me, I’ve come to realize when its come to ballet, or dance in general, I’m not normal.

It frustrates me at times when I struggle with things I believe I can do. But it brings me joy.

Five, 10 years down the line, I still see myself still being Don Quixote tilting at windmills when it comes to ballet, still chasing goals like doing double pirouettes on a consistent basis despite my inability to spot, or to be in a complicated choreographed dance despite my many spacial issues … or doing that elusive second pas de deux.

Ballet is my escape from the office cubicle and the college classroom, the dance studio, my refuge.

I love it.

And don’t intend to give it up until perhaps when I need a hip replacement.

That moment when you nail your music cues and your dance steps

It happened tonight during Cinderella rehearsal.

I pretty much figured out my music cues during rehearsals earlier in the week, but my dance steps and timing on a couple of my character duties had been a little hit and miss.

I was spot on tonight.

I really feel good about how I’m doing in my role. I probably haven’t been as much of a “Diva” as the hairdresser as I need to be in a comedic role. I’ve been perhaps playing it a little too straight (no pun intended), but Mr. O says he’s pleased with what I’ve done.

We’ve about have Act I put together. I’ve had rehearsal seven of the last 10 days, which is the most for me at the start of rehearsal. Usually it’s once a week until tech. But we’ve already put in a lot of work and the performances are still a way off, on April 12th.

Part of the reason things have been intense this early is that Mr. O is helping a professional company in Texas stage The Firebird in a couple of weeks, and he wanted to get enough put together before he left.

There is still Act II to put together, which I’m sure will take priority when he returns. I’m not scheduled to be in the second act, but things are really still fluid, so who knows?

Class-wise, I think I had one of my better ones tonight, It was not one of my regular classes, but since I took off work for rehearsal, I dropped in on the company class right before rehearsal.

My turns finally seem to be coming back. And I think my inside turns were much better. Petite allegro was a bit tricky, and my feet still look awful during brises, but for the most part, it was a good, solid, fun class.