If you’re about to jump (sauté!) into adult ballet classes for the first time, you’ll want to go in well equipped. Being that not everyone has the same level of commitment when beginning classes, I’ve organized gear recommendations into categories depending on how firm your interest is, so that you won’t be wasting money should you decide that ballet is not your cuppa.
Just Dipping in a Toe
You are interested in ballet but just want to attend a class or two to see how it goes. Not ready to invest in a full wardrobe.
1. Shoes: if you are attending an adult beginners’ class, and are planning to just watch or to dance minimally, you might be able to simply come to class in thick socks (check with the teacher first. Some will not allow students to wear socks). Make sure that they’re dark, because they will definitely get dirty. However, for maximum safety, you may want to buy a pair of ballet slippers. After all, even if you decide not to pursue ballet, they make a nice pair of slippers to wear around the house.
2. Attire: Supportive bra (if applicable). Form fitting shirt/top–this will let the teacher see your body and give you the proper corrections. You’ll probably see adults in class in loose, billowy t-shirts, but often these are either advanced students or students who are not interested in getting corrections. If you think you’d be more secure with some cover-up, throw on a sweater or tshirt, and then take them off as you become more comfortable in class. Don’t worry; no one is judging your body. Yoga pants or other stretchy, form fitting pair of pants–again, this is important so that the teacher can see your legs. I wouldn’t recommend any bell bottom pants or any pants that obscure your feet and ankles. This is a tripping hazard; it’s best if they end at or above your ankles.
3. Hair tie. A ponytail will do at this stage, since you won’t be doing any turns from the beginning. But do keep your hair out of your face; I’ve seen women in class with long flowing unbound hair, and as romantic and pretty as they may feel it looks, this always gets in the way of the actual dancing.
The Recreational Dancer
Certain that you’ll be attending class at least once a week, but not making it a time-consuming habit.
1. You will definitely want to invest in a pair of ballet slippers (in pink!). Although there are plenty of places to go online to buy them, for your first venture into ballet, it’s best to go to a dance store and have someone find the appropriate size. Dance sizing is strange. They come in canvas or in leather, the latter item being more expensive than the former. The jury’s out on which is the better choice, dance-wise. Supposedly leather is better than canvas because it lets you “feel the floor,” but personally I find that it tends to sag at the arch. I prefer canvas. I would also recommend getting split-sole slippers; it makes the arch look better, and makes the shoe more flexible overall. I wear Bloch split-sole canvas slippers.
2. Leotard: at least one. It will help hold your body in and give a clean silhouette for the teacher to examine. They need not be unsupportive; there are camisole leotards with underwire, although they are not as secure as wearing a regular sports bra with underwire beneath a long-sleeved, higher-necked leotard. I also found that the underwire in the Mirella leotard above tended to pop out after a few washings. I wear Natalie’s 3/4 sleeve leotard in black because it allows me to wear a normal bra underneath.
3. Tights: if you really prefer wearing yoga pants or exercise pants over your leotard, you could do that. Although tights are really wonderful for holding you in and giving the best lines. I’ve heard older adults/people with lots of jiggliness recommend Capezio’s Hold and Stretch tights, but I prefer the far more comfortable Capezio Ultra Soft tights. Hold and Stretch gave me an odd case of the itchiness on my legs, although they work well for a lot of people. Pink tights are classic, but you may be more comfortable with black tights.
4. Coverups and warmups: if you want to progress in ballet, you’ll want as few barriers as possible between the teacher’s eyes and your body. Ideally, you’ll wear what young kids wear to class: leotard, tights, shoes (you’ll notice that dance skirts and shorts don’t usually enter into the picture for kids until they are at an advanced, pre-pro or pro level). But if you’ll be more comfortable, you could invest in a dance skirt or shorts. I do wear a short, sheer black skirt (black helps give a black leotard continuity, I feel…).
Warmups are a slightly different matter. If it’s chill out, you’ll want to come to class as warm as possible so you don’t injure yourself. I wear a sweater or even the occasional sweatshirt with yoga pants over my tights (and legwarmers in winter) when I walk to the studio, so that I’m nicely insulated and warm when I get to class. I tend to shed the layers fairly quickly after pliés and the basic tendus, etc.
5. Hair: do keep it out of your face. If you begin studying turns, you’ll want to learn how to do a ballet bun or other ballet ‘do. See my post on hairdos.
The Serious Adult Student
You want to attend class several times a week (3+).
1. Shoes: More than one pair of ballet slippers so that you can let each pair air out for a day or two after class. Otherwise, you will end up with one stinky, disgusting pair of ballet slippers. Pointe shoes come in a few years, if and when the teacher decides you’re ready.
2. Attire: More than one leotard. I have around 4-5, so that I always have a fresh one ready for class.
3. Tights: no getting away from tights at this point. Pink is best; it gives your musculature the most definition. I like convertible or footed tights best.
4. Coverups and warmps; same as recreational dancer.
5. Hair: definitely a bun or some other up-and-out-of-the-way concoction! There are lots of little devices to assist in this; hairgami, etc.
Necessities for every category: a bottle of water, a towel if you tend to sweat a lot, and a notebook in which to record the new vocabulary you’ll be learning. And if you’re feeling very interested in the overall picture of ballet, or if you’re feeling confused about what you’re doing in class, some recommended reading.
For men: a dance belt. It’s unavoidable, sorry. Solid, form-fitting tshirt (usually white) and black tights and black shoes.