Our next adult ballet student feature is Laura Thomason…
1. How did you first get involved with ballet and what attracted you to it as an adult?
I started ballet at age 9 and have taken classes on and off ever since. As an adult I see ballet as both meditative and challenging in a way that appeals to me. Every class is broadly the same, yet every time I learn something new, make progress on a difficulty, or become more consistent. I have not yet found a better form of exercise: ballet provides strength training, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness all in one. Plus, I get a lot of compliments on my posture!
2. How many classes are you currently taking per week?
2 ballet classes per week plus a modern class.
3. What do you see as your biggest challenge as an adult ballet student?
To my surprise, I seem to have lost the ability to pick up choreography as quickly as I used to. The teenagers I take class with can pick up a variation after one or two repetitions while it takes me weeks of practice. I am also more physically cautious than a kid would be–I re-started pointe work last fall for the first time in 20+ years and the fear factor gets in my way sometimes. And, of course, dancing around all those younger people brings up the insecurity and competitive instinct that all dancers struggle with.
Fortunately my studio is a very positive environment and no one is allowed to be down on herself for very long. When I first started in my current class, I had trouble keeping up (especially in pointe work) because I had stepped up from a much more basic class. I mentioned to my teacher that I was discouraged and she gave me a good hard reality check, reminding me to be patient with myself till I caught up with the level of the class. It’s been about 6 months and I am glad I hung in there.
4. What brings you the greatest joy as an adult ballet student?
Noticing my own progress is really exciting, as is seeing improvement in areas I thought were beyond improvement. A good example is my turnout, which I grew up thinking of as sort of hereditary and immutable. I have learned that I can improve it as my muscles get stronger and I become more flexible. I am also really excited to be en pointe again. My teachers were really supportive of my trying it and I’m glad I did.
This year I’m dancing with my class in the studio’s annual recital–it will be my first time performing in ballet since I was a teenager. Last week I got to try on my costume and now I can’t wait for the performance! All those things that make me feel like a “real dancer” are my favorite things. I tend to think of ballet as a practice in the way that yoga is talked about as a practice, but I do love to perform, too. I’m pretty introverted in daily life, but I’ve always loved dancing onstage. Go figure!
5. Do you have any advice for other adult ballet students?
Since my studio doesn’t have a full-scale adult division, I have been dancing alongside much younger girls for the past two or three years. I’ve taken a couple of things away from that: one, if you don’t have access to an adult class at your level, take class with the kids (assuming the instructor is okay with it). They will be perfectly nice about it and you will get over feeling silly once you get used to being there.
Two, I think the desire to compare ourselves to other dancers is inevitable even when we recognize how silly it is to compare ourselves to girls 2 and 3 decades younger! But seeing the same girls week in and week out has actually made me realize what great advantages adult dancers have. We are there under our own power, by our own choice. We have the adult powers of concentration, focus, and critical thinking that ballet really requires. Ballet might seem like a chore when you are 13 but to an adult it is a treat. So we may not have extensions up to our ears or be able to do fouettés (at all…*cough*) but we are in the perfect headspace for ballet. That’s something adult dancers should celebrate and talk more about.
BIO: A second-generation Midwesterner, Laura Thomason studied ballet and jazz from grade school through college, began figure skating in her late 20s, and took up ballroom dancing in 2006 when she relocated to Macon, Georgia. She continues to train in ballet and modern dance as well as ballroom. Laura is an English professor at Macon State College, specializing in 18th-century British literature.