1. How did you first get involved with ballet and what attracted you to it as an adult?
I started ballet classes as a 9 year old (considered a late starter for a child, I guess!) because I was always dancing around the house whenever music was playing, and it took a few years for mum to convince my conservative dad to allow me to take up ballet. For many years, ballet was my greatest passion but I slowly lost my passion for it when I moved overseas for studies in my late teens, not finding the same type of support I had from the teachers I grew up with.
After I completed my RAD Intermediate level I hung up my ballet shoes, thinking that maybe ballet was too technical and that there was nothing more I would gain from it. I looked to other forms of dance such as Lyrical and Contemporary to continue fueling my passion for dance. While I enjoyed them, I noticed that many teachers seem to view adult dancers as seeking recreation only, rather than continuous improvement.
One year ago, when I turned 40, I was persuaded to join a ballet class ‘just for fun’. I thought I’d give it a go for a week or two – I didn’t expect to be hooked again before the first class was over. In a large part, it was because the teacher, Tibor, who taught that class paid a lot of attention to technique, pushed us to our individual limits, worked us very hard but also took time to acknowledge it when we did something well. In that short time, I was reminded of how addictive the quest for perfection and the thrill of achievement can be.
2. How many classes are you currently taking per week?
Although I started out with 1, then 2 classes a week, I have been taking 5 classes a week for more than 10 months now. I decided that to regain my strength and technique, I’d need at least 3 classes a week. The thing about ballet is that it’s so addictive – unlike the gym, I never have to talk myself into going to ballet classes. In fact, I count down the days and hours to each class. We work very hard from the moment we start our first exercise to the moment we do our reverence, but it’s never a chore.
3. What do you see as your biggest challenge as an adult ballet student?
I’ll answer this in a round-about way…
Technically, I feel that the challenges are no different whether we are young or adult dancers. I have a mindset that my flexibility range can be as good as dancers half my age if I work at it, and that I can be just as strong; so in this aspect, I do not find that being an adult dancer in any way impedes me. (OK, I may be in denial, but this way of thinking has certainly helped me push through some barriers! J )
For many adults, the biggest challenge is often finding a teacher who takes our dancing as seriously as we want them to. I have been very lucky to have a teacher who inspires each of us to achieve things we never thought we could, and who believes that he should demand the same level of perfection and technical competence that he would demand of his full-time students (within reason, of course), so thankfully this isn’t a challenge for me either.
Having said all that, perhaps my biggest challenge as an adult dancer is having the performance opportunities to look forward to. We have much fewer school concerts (if any), Eisteddfods or competitions to work towards as adults. And while I have come to realise that just being able to dance in classes gives me great joy, I would jump at chances to perform.
4. What brings you the greatest joy as an adult ballet student?
So many things do. Being able to express myself through dancing well to beautiful music makes the heart soar. Dancing from the heart, in unison with other dancers is exhilarating. The comradeship I’ve found with other dancers through ballet classes has been really wonderful; it’s heart-warming to feel the support from those around us, as there is little sense of threat or competition amongst us at our age. Achieving something that I’ve worked hard at always gives me a high too – and getting a “Yes! Good!!” or a “Beautiful!!!” from a very demanding teacher is the icing on the cake.
5. Do you have any advice for other adult ballet students?
Be patient – we often underestimate what we can achieve in a year, and overestimate what we can achieve in a week.
Unless you’re in it purely for exercise and to experience it as an art form, ballet is best enjoyed when you strive for technical correctness. Look for classes where the teacher cares and corrects and encourages (or pushes, if you’re like many adult dancers I know!), and be wary of the teachers who allow everyone to get away with just about anything.
Believe you can. I have seen many adults who take their first ballet class in their 30s and 40s achieve significant proficiency within 2 – 3 years. If you consider that a young dancer can turn professional with 10 – 12 years of serious training, there is a lot we too can achieve with consistent practice and classes over the 10, 20 or 30 years of dancing we may still have ahead of us.
Dance for yourself. We may not have dance careers or certifications ahead of us, but it is one of the most beautiful things we can do for ourselves. I find dancing ballet soothes and nurtures my soul, and I now can’t imagine life without it.
Bio: Jean Kyle is an adult ballet dancer from Sydney, Australia, who rediscovered her passion for ballet a year ago, at the age of 40. Like many of her classmates, she believes that being back in the ballet studio has been life-changing and helps her be a better person in all other aspects of her life; and she now wonders what she would do without ballet. Jean set herself a 52-week challenge to regain her strength, technique and artistry and has been blogging about her journey at www.52weeksofballet.com where she hopes to capture and share the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the frustrations, the lessons and anything else that come her way. In the process, she hopes to make some new friends who share in the passion.