Today’s featured adult ballet student is from South London…
1. How did you first get involved with ballet and what attracted you to it as an adult?
Just over 4 years ago, I was going through a period of re-building my life, regaining control over who I was, and trying to fill an emptiness inside of me.
My therapist at the time suggested that I should think about finding an activity that would help me connect with myself and others, he listed off some options, and one of these was ballet. I initially scoffed at the idea knowing how uncoordinated and inelegant I was, coupled with being the owner of 2 left feet, besides, I had never shown an interest in ballet as a child, although in fairness the opportunity had never arisen to try a class back in my youth.
However his suggestion nagged away at me for a number of days, I had always admired and respected dancers, particularly ballet dancers; for their commitment, grace, beauty and ability, they were something to behold. Should I dare to actually venture into this world at my time of life? So I Googled for a local adult ballet class, and sure enough, up popped a studio close to me in Dulwich South London, which offered complete beginner classes, and I duly signed up.
Now I would admit that at the beginning of that very first class, I thought “what on earth am I doing here”, a 36 year old woman out of her depth and out of her comfort zone. But by the end of the class it was like someone had turned on a light switch, it was the most amazing hour of realization and discovery–ballet was the one thing that had been missing from my life. A spark had been ignited within my soul, and it has burned there ever since.
This spark has now grown into a fully raging inferno of burning desire and near obsession to become a better ballet dancer. The last four years have seen my interest steadily grow from one class a week, to two per week, and now up to the point of I would happily dance 8 days a week if such an extra day existed.
The connection of the mind to my body, the flow of energy from the music to my muscles is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Each class is an adventure into my head, my heart and my soul, where passion, precision, poise, balance, strength and grace are my only concerns; nothing else matters for those moments in time.
Not withstanding the incredibly close friendships I have built up along the way, these fellow dancers and teachers around me have enriched my life beyond measure. We share such a special time together, all on a journey through the world of ballet, for some a world they had thought they’d left behind in their younger days, and others like me, experiencing it for the first time.
I often wonder where I would be today if I had discovered this love affair at an earlier time in my life, but longing for those days of “what could have been” is fortunately tempered by the deep sense of “thank god I have the wonders of ballet in my life now”.
As one of my fellow Twitter based “adult ballet sisters” wrote in a tweet to me, life is too short to waste it not dancing!
2. How many classes are you currently taking per week?
So my current weekly class schedule is made up of 6 classes split between Push Studios in Dulwich (where this all originally started for me) and Dance Attic in Fulham West London. These give me a total of 7hrs focused technique classes, 1hr repertoire or pointe work class (these alternate fortnightly) and a 1hr floor barre class.
From mid April onwards this weekly schedule will change as I’ll be starting a adult improvers course at the RAD headquarters in Battersea, and an adult RAD Grade 6 course at Push.
3. What do you see as your biggest challenge as an adult ballet student?
Leaving aside the obvious challenges of managing my time between a career and trying to fit in classes around an already busy life, the biggest challenge has been trying to persuade my body to co-operate with the rigors of ballet training. A lack of natural turnout and various degrees of inflexibility have certainly made this the most frustrating of adventures.
However with patience and commitment I have seen improvements, coupled with daily conditioning exercises and post-class stretching, I’m surprised just what can be overcome from a body that up until four years ago had never placed a foot in first or attempted a plié.
Also for those of us who never experienced ballet at a younger age, the process of learning steps and mastering technical ballet movements as an adult differs greatly to that of a child. I’ve found it takes longer for these to seed themselves into the brain and the muscles. Just watching and following is not enough, continuous repetition and pin-point corrections from my ever patient teachers has been essential.
Practice and more practice, be it at home, in the studio or even just imagining movements in my mind seems to be the only answer.
4. What brings you the greatest joy as an adult ballet student?
It can be the littlest of things, for example being at the barre and hearing the swooshing of everyones feet as we rond de jambe in perfect unison to the music–or just actually the fact of being in class, being involved in the world of ballet, something which I once thought would be out of my reach. These simplest of actions put a smile on my face.
Then there are those more personal times in the centre (or en pointe) where for a brief moment, everything comes together and you nail a combination, where your mind isn’t over-thinking the execution of the moves, you’re on the beat of the music and all of a sudden you feel like a ballet dancer, being set free from the constrains of a physical world. It’s almost ethereal, it’s a feeling of electricity coursing through my veins, a feeling of being alive.
It doesn’t happen that often, but on those occasions when it all falls into place, it has such a positive emotional effect on me, especially since ballet has become such an important part of my life, these fleeting moments of deep joy more than make up for the hours of frustration.
5. Do you have any advice for other adult ballet students?
From a practical point of view, taking corrections from your teacher is so important. As an adult we rarely like being told we’re doing something wrong, and even less so if it’s in front of other people, but corrections in ballet are the key to unlocking your potential to succeed. I have found it useful to write down any corrections that I’ve have received straight after class, practice what I have been shown and refer back to them before the start of the next class.
And go into class with the right attitude, mentally prepared to take in everything around you. You’re there to learn and to grow, and while it’s true that you should never loose sight of the fact that you are also there to have fun, ballet does require some serious commitment, both from the body and the mind. The right attitude will allow both to focus on the job at hand.
And finally don’t forget to smile, right to the end. One of my teachers told me that “ballet isn’t meant to be easy, its only hard work that makes it look easy”. Well we can’t let the outside world know how hard we’re working, so keep smiling or otherwise it would shatter their illusion of the grace and beauty that they have of us mad, obsessive, adult ballet bun-heads!!
BIO: Rebecca Jukes has grown up and lived in South London all of her life. Happily single, she enjoys the richness and diversity that London has to offer, from seeking out world cuisine to dipping into the cultured variety available, all from having a capital city on her doorstep.
When not to be found in a dance studio, Rebecca has a full time career in the retail industry. She has spend the last 20 years in various retail organizations, at many levels including buying & procurement, which afforded her the opportunity to travel to Europe, North America, China and Vietnam.
Currently she works for a large 40 store retailer in control of their product range & store planning, which puts her creative flare together with her previous buying skills, her love of detail, and commercial insight to good use.