Ballet for the Older Dancer… prologue

Ballet for the Older Dancer… prologue

Today, I decided I am going to get back in shape, not to be a professional dancer again, but to lose the weight I have put on from stress eating. I am also having those gay, turning 30 nerves. So, I got up early and decided to go to 9:00 AM class at Ballet Arizona… This isn’t the first time I have taken adult class, but this is the first time I have felt like a real adult. My body hurt, I am ridiculously out of shape, and haven’t taken class in months… So… here is what was in my dance bag:

Bio Freeze, Foot Roller, Foot Stretcher, Apolla Performance Socks with Traction, Grishko canvas flats, back support brace, leg warmers, warm-ups, ibuprofen and a broken theraband.

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Typically, I hate Russian based classes. This was no different, but I have do have a point to this so bear with me. My body was exhausted by dégagés, and I decided to give up by adagio. On the way home I was thinking, “Wow you are out of shape” and “You must have looked ridiculous” and “Don’t embarrass yourself” but then I thought, “No, good for you. At this point in your life, ballet is something you should enjoy. You should just go with it, and help those around you.”

This is when I talked to Bethanne, and realized how limited adult ballet classes are.

So, as I was going home, I realized that the class I had just participated in was not designed for adults at all. Russian based classes are not designed for adults, and it just hurts your body. My hips were on fire and my back was shot. My feet were crampy but that was because I’m out of shape. Anyways, I am straying from what I actually want to talk about…

Okay, here is what you need to find for adult class… Someone who actually teaches and just doesn’t give class. Unfortunately, the teacher who was teaching class was teaching class as if it was company class. I actually don’t think a correction was given at barre. Second, you shouldn’t find a Russian class or go looking for a crazy ballet class… You should be looking for a teacher who is familiar with the somatic approach to ballet. You need to be able to attack the technique without constraining your body or hurting yourself. Thirdly, you need to have all of the tools and support to help you get through class.

Mentally, you have to take ballet class completely different. Normally, when I would take ballet class I would be pushing my turnout, and stretching the heck out of my feet and giving combinations 110%. This time around, my body was so against me dancing this early that I had to really pace myself. Pliés became about the music, tendus became about just articulating my feet and so on. Different combinations I had to think of different things… It was quite different.

Then came center… we did tendus and pirouettes first and then adagio. Adagio was super brutal. Normally, it is my favorite, but this time around in promenade attitude derriere my back started to pinch, and by the elongé my back was completely shot. It could be that the weight gain on the front of my body was pulling and putting more pressure on my knee, and the weight on the back side was causing my leg to not go up… You can’t get your leg up to the back with a back roll pressing down lol… It was pretty intense…

So, now I was just in pain… But, I could have listened to my body early on… I mean at fondus my body was already telling me that my pelvis and lower back were not in a bendy mood. I have gained so much weight this new year that cambré forward is almost impossible.  It was really depressing.

Now, onto the positive… So, I have decided to also start writing for the adult dancer… 

If you want to join me on this, feel free to follow along.

So, to get in shape I am going to start kind of dieting… I love food, sooooo, it isn’t going to really be about dieting, but more like portion control.

This evening, to prepare myself for the next ballet class I will write the alphabet with my ankle and foot, do theraband exercises, stretch and do some core work. This will be followed by 32 relevés in first and second. Sur le coup de pied exercises. Hip flexor stretches and some turnout exercises. You will probably want to get a pair of appolla performance socks as I do barre in them. If you are following along. They offer all the support of a ballet shoe but lets you feel the floor.

Then I am going to Epsom and lavender oil bath and rub some essential oils on.

stay tuned…

19 responses to “Ballet for the Older Dancer… prologue”

  1. I loved your blog. Thank you for pointing out about how an adult ballet class should be taught. I am a ballet teacher that only now teaches adults ; in particular adult beginners. I have changed my methodology to make the class about technique, and ballet knowledge. Students are surprised how hard ballet is, but my aim is to make it a positive time with increments of improvement class by class. I myself have gone back to ballet class in the last few weeks because I love it, it’s my preferred exercise method and I need to get A LOT fitter. I have taken classes with a few teachers over the (many) years and I agree that corrections are few and far between in adult ballet classe. The class is usually one size fits. I’ve seen the joy of ballet sapped from the newbies and the failure on their faces. Hell, most times I feel failure as well. This time I’m doin’ it for myself and even allowed myself to look in the mirror the other night. It’s going to be a slower journey this time but at least I have prior experience about what to expect and accept the reality that I may never be as good as I was but just enjoy the journey (- and perhaps some body shape changes!). Enjoy your bath!

  2. As a retired professional, we multiple injuries and now having to have foot surgeryI feel your pain!!! I now am an adjunct as well as teaching in Continuing education and the one thing I have learned is that most adults are in class to have fun and get some exercise and feel good about themselves. It is no longer about training to become a professional, it’s about motivating yourself and them to keep coming back and challenging them in a positive way. Ballet offers so much to so many in so many different area’s of life, keep it up, you’ll see how fast your body bounces back into it. Merde!!!

  3. My 2 cents: I am an adult ballet dancer who is now 59 and has been at it since I was 20. Here’s the easiest thing that works for me: DON’T WAIT until after class for that hot bath. Before class spend 15-20 minutes in the hottest bath you can stand. The hot water will warm up your muscles passively and you will be able to stretch without feeling constrained. You will get a much better workout from what you can do. Easy peasy.

    • Love that advice about the hot bath! I live – and teach ballet to adults – in the tropics. I think the ambient temperature would do the same trick. Maybe. I should try the hot shower (No bath in my flat 🙁 ) and see!

  4. I’ve been teaching ballet to adults for a year and a half now, and did (still do) research as much as I can about teaching to adults. (Frustratingly, there’s very little out there about it, so much so I’ve started working on a book about it in the hopes it will provide other teachers with a useful resource.)

    One of the big things I’ve found is important is managing expectations. For a complete beginner it’s common to assume the class is basically an exercise class – ok to do whenever they have the time, like a gym class. I think the popularity of ‘Barre fitness’ classes feeds into that expectation. It can be offputting to realise ballet is more akin to learning a musical instrument – it takes time, dedication and practise. If I can inspire them to keep coming back, I find it’s about 6 weeks/lessons of feeling confused and overwhelmed, before they start ‘getting’ it. Then they suddenly start working harder too, because they are beginning understand how ballet works. The satisfaction levels really climbs, too. Explaining this to them helps!

    For students like you with extensive experience of ballet as a professional (or generally for my students, pre-professional) the gulf between expectations and the reality of what you can now reasonably achieve can be painful, not just physically but emotionally. I strive to help them find a new, more do-able experience of ballet, something beyond what a professional or pre-professional has experienced so far.

    As for the physical, I’ve found that it takes about 6 months of really careful, gentle coaxing of the body, with strong focus on great technique, for the body to really respond and feel like your old dance friend again. (Pilates helps too!) It does come back.

    I’ll be reading along with great interest.

  5. Started ballet at the tender age of 46 and am still at it 7 years later. Have a lot to say about the topic. Yes, to your point about teachers who actually teach, although there is some merit to going to a class without explicit instruction: I tend to think of the non-teaching teachers as providing a ‘lab’ to either work on technique or get me out of my comfort zone for combinations. It’s not just the physical aspect: for people like me who did not do ballet as a young person, it is very much a mental exercise. 3 pet peeves: teachers who do not demonstrate. I learn visually, so it doesn’t help to only say the combination. Teachers who say, “do you have it?” after saying or marking it only once. Teachers who do not mark with music. The music is the matrix, so I have no idea of the timing if there is no marking with music.
    As for the physical aspect, I have no complaints, actually. Since I didn’t do it earlier in life, I have no golden adolescent period of ease and power to compare to.
    Very much looking forward to hearing of your experiences!

    • Understand where you are coming from!!! But to defend a remark about music, as a ballet teacher in general: Rarely in ballet class will you ever mark with music. The goal is to catch the beat within the prep and count the music accordingly. With only an hour and a half if you mark with music you lose a lot of time especially when using an accompanist. A great exercise I make all my students do is listen to ballet class cds and count in and count the music. A good pianist will also put the phrasing in the prep. Also, I’m taking advanced class, so it is also rare to have demonstrations…. but for lower levels usually a teacher will demonstrate.

      • Gotcha, re: marking and music. It really helps me, though, if the combos are said or ‘sung’ in rhythm; then I get it. I don’t take anything higher than slow intermediate, and I daresay I’ll ever get past that level, which is okay by me. I see a lot of adult dancers taking levels way beyond their capabilities, and I don’t want to be that gal!

      • This! As a muso as well as ballet teacher, this is one of my pet peevs! The need to get the timing and phrasing from the prep, and then learning how to do it is something that needs to be taught to beginners, (unless they’re a well-trained musician, who will then do it automatically).

        On the other hand, the teacher needs to do the right thing too, and count in in the correct time. Not so much with ballet but with other styles of dance I’ve had teachers who count in much slower than the music and it would drive me completely barmy! (Although probably very good practise at getting the temp on the run I guess…!)

  6. If 30 feels old, wait till 50 and post injury. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to become a concert pianist on a constantly deteriorating piano. I am blessed to have a supportive community but it is really hard to manage my expectations and desires with my physical realities. Thank you for expressing the challenges so well.

  7. David I hope you’ll come visit NyC And guest in my classes

    Yes you are a dance celebrity And we all love your writings , blog, drawings Etc

    I’m now especially happy you are writing about the Older dancers. As I’ve been teaching them throughout my career (40++). I’ve shared your stuff generous pas de Chauvel , Arrg sp ck and. Lack of adult lesson plans. Lol With them (as we have weekly lessons goals)

    Any ways enuff of me. I adore you Just saying

    My best wishes, Sent from Kat’s iPhone ^..^

    kat@katwildish.com Artistic Director, Performing in NYC Experience http://www.katwildishshowcase.com Adjunct Professor Pace University NYC/Commercial Dance, Classical Ballet >> http://performingarts.pace.edu/faculty/kat-wildish >> https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Wildish

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  8. I always enjoy your blog and this topic is no exception. I am a contemporary dance teacher but have been taking adult ballet classes for many years. Now 64, I intend keeping up with them. They keep you supple, toned, aligned and most importantly challenge your brain. When I turned 40 I thought I could no longer jump. Not true! Grand allegro is still my favourite part of the class.
    However I recently moved to a new city and a new gym. The Ballet Barre offered is so badly taught, even injurious and done to country and western music! It is so important to teach the basics of ballet well to those who are out of training or beginners, unfamiliar with the technique. A gym instructor without the expertise required makes such a mockery of this dance form and completely annihilates any benefits ballet provides.