Well, no. I’m not. Not exactly. Not, actually, remotely.
But I have taken ballet classes as a child and as a teen and as an adult, and I have ballet barre tapes at home, and the NYC Ballet Workout tapes too. I have pink tights and wrap skirts, technique shoes and leg warmers, hip warmers and shrugs so I FEEL like a ballerina when I take and retake Beginning Ballet for Adults in the tiny Midwestern town where I live.
I’ve danced fat and I’ve danced thin, and as long as I’m focused on how I feel and not how I look, I have to say dancing feels nearly the same at any weight.It’s harder work with an extra 100 lbs. on your frame, but then everything is.
Mmmm. There’s nothing quite like ballet sweat to make a girl feel all girly.
Nothing quite like overstretching your hamstrings and straining your calves to feel pretty and tough at the same time.
I’m not being ironic, here, although it would be easy to assume so. Ballet barre exercises and stretches are uniquely designed to make your legs especially, along with your entire body feel longer, stronger, more graceful, more elegant. Ballet classes two or three times per week quickly develop your leg muscles, and encourage great balance and posture, spinal alignment and core strength.
Dancers are the strongest, toughest endurance athletes I have known because the work they do to train their bodies every day works every part, every muscle and ligament toward the end of defying gravity. They become lean and light and birdlike. Strong, pliable, and indestructible.
If you’ve never studied dance, much less ballet, in your whole life, you may be living with an unfortunate notion that as an adult, it’s too late to start now.
Oh but that’s wrong. It’s never too late to learn to dance.
And ballet is a far more forgiving dance form for beginners than most.
For one thing, it’s very structured. The musical counts are usually unambiguous. The positions and steps in a beginning class are very limited. And there is no end to the number of times you can take introductory ballet.
Ballet is a great activity as we gain age. It helps us build and maintain balance. It forces us to remember combinations, clear our brains to focus on music and counts and body work. It keeps us learning. It forces those of us who have gotten too big for our britches back into an apprentice role. A nice little ego check.
I encourage you to grab a friend and give it a try. Just a few hints for you:
I will acknowledge that walking into a ballet class for the first time can be daunting. It’s good to call around first to find a class with other people of your age and experience level. Look for the classes taught by area arts organizations or community dance schools with outreach classes.
Ask to observe the class first.
Find out what the dress code is (the published code and the actual dress are often different, and if you’re over a certain age and a certain weight, you don’t want to be stuck with pink tights and live to regret it. Basic black is almost always the way to go. Except in shoes. Pink or nude technique shoes are right.
The black Capezio chiffon wrap skirt is a great friend to older women.
Stretch. Before class. During class. After class. Between classes. You will place great demand on your entire body. Stretch it all over often.
Please remember that turnout develops from your hips down, not from your ankles up. Do not force turn out by pulling apart the toes, but by squeezing your bottom to rotate your legbones outward. The difference will save your knees.
Reverence, the closing exercise of most classes, is a great tradition. Together with your teachers and classmates you take a moment to bow to yourselves and one another and the gods of dance and your imagined audience (the invisible audience who is with you during every class.) It’s quiet, and graceful, and makes you feel like Pavlova. Hell, for that moment, you are Pavlova. Unless you’re Barishnikov.
Acknowledge that ballet is a grand tradition with a deep history. You can learn a lot by reading about it, but ultimately it’s a tradition passed along from teacher to student. This is not your aerobics instructor. This teacher has likely spent a lifetime in study. Accord him or her all due respect. It is polite to applaud the instructor at the end of class.
Just a little light applause.
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