After a couple of decades away from ballet, I finally made it back into the studio—to dance for myself.
I have 4 kids (1 boy and 3 girls–all 3 dance). My oldest is 17 and has been dancing since she was 5 years old. “At least I have this,” I would say to myself, referring to my new role as “Dance Mom.” And that was enough. Being involved in the world of dance through my daughters has been a blessing. But the desire for me to dance again was always there. Now that I was in my 40’s though, I questioned if I would be able to physically handle ballet again.
Thank goodness for the internet because I was able to find inspiration from many older dancers who did just that. There’s even a company called Dancers Over 40 just to encourage and promote older dancers! A search for adult ballet classes was all I needed to step out of my comfort zone! Besides trying to get my mom body back into a leotard and tights, there were a few other obstacles to overcome. So here are my tips for getting back to the barre as an adult in midlife.
If you’re a complete newbie (or even a veteran coming back) to ballet, welcome! Are you feeling like you’re too old, out of shape, or not flexible enough? STOP right there. You do not have to be in amazing shape to begin! Many have started or returned with the same feelings and apprehensions. While learning the terms and steps may be a challenge, adult beginning ballet will also be fun.
The other mindset challenge, especially for former dancers, is getting over the fact that you cannot dance like you did when you were younger. Especially if you haven’t been active or worked out over the years, it will take time to see progress. But prepared to accept, that even when going to class consistently and often, as an adult you might not be able to do the splits again, or that you can’t pirouette like you used to, or that your grand jetes look more like your jumping over a puddle than flying through the air. There are limitations to our aging bodies, and it will be different for everyone. The good news is that you can still see improvements!
If you are lucky enough to have options for studios and classes, don’t be afraid to try different places or teachers. Every studio and teacher has their methods and rules that may not suit your style of learning. Once you find the one you’re most comfortable with, going to class will be much more enjoyable. Even if you only have one studio in your area, and the only class appropriate for you is a class of 12-year-olds, don’t let that discourage you from joining in. You may even inspire other adults to follow suit!
In any situation, if you’re new to the class introduce yourself to the teacher before or after the class. That way he or she can get a general idea of your level, find out what your intentions are and how they can help you. Let them know that you are open to corrections and feedback.
Most people experience soreness after a new workout right? Well, that will probably be the same after your first class. After all, you are putting your body into positions that aren’t exactly natural. A little rest, a warm shower, and maybe an ibuprofen should help. As with all activities, your muscles will eventually adjust.
For a veteran dancer, you can also expect pains that didn’t exist in your younger years. Be prepared for cramping feet–more times than I thought! You might be discouraged to feel your back aching in arabesque though, looking in the mirror, you discover your leg is only a foot off the ground. A simple releve has you wobbling back and forth, wondering what happened to your balance. To be honest, these issues will be more of a pain to your ego than any real physical problem. Again, it’s the mindset. Let go of your childhood dancing career and accept your new status in life as an “adult dancer.”
Nobody is staring at you
Well hopefully the teacher is, but don’t be so self-conscious about everyone else. The truth is, the dancers that catch your eye are usually the ones who have been taking class for a while or have/had been dancing as a career. If you’re just starting up or getting back no one is judging your body or your technique. Especially in adult classes. Adults are usually focused on learning the combination or perfecting their own technique.
Enjoy dancing as an adult
There are benefits to dancing as an adult.
- Choosing to take class as an adult means you have a desire to dance, and you aren’t simply there because your mom made you. If you have a love of dance, you will enjoy working hard to make progress.
- Adults are more focused. So picking up new steps or corrections is easier. Because of this, it’s not unusual even for a complete newbie to advance through the levels quicker than a younger student who has been dancing for a couple of years.
- You have more self-confidence and awareness. While you may doubt whether you can do a certain step, that doesn’t stop you from trying and practicing until you get it. Younger dancers are quick to become discouraged or scared.
- You can fully enjoy the art without trying to compete with other dancers now. In the world of dance there can be some cut-throat drama depending on what you’re dancing for– a part in a performance or company, first place in a competition, even just for the attention of the teacher. Most new or returning adult dancers won’t have to (or want to) deal with that. If you’re a veteran dancer, you will love just dancing to dance.
A funny thing happens as we get older. We learn to appreciate dreams that we always wanted to fulfill and for those things that once gave us joy.
Age reminds us how fast time flies by. It inspires us to act. It’s those feelings that can actually drive you to be a better dancer than if you were younger. It’s also what makes dancing so much more exciting. So don’t let age stop you from trying your first class or going back for your 100th! Personally, I hope to be doing pirouettes to my grave!
If you’re a dancer who has gone back to the studio after a hiatus, I’d love to hear about your experiences! What advice would you add to the list?