Adult ballet: basic gear

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.

Happy dancing!

6 thoughts on “Adult ballet: basic gear

  1. satsumaart

    This was great fun to read! Reminded me of my dance days. When I first started dancing, I got by with one leotard and one pair of tights, which I would wash by hand every day after class. It was a daily class, so occasionally the garments wouldn’t be completely dry by the next morning, and I’d go to class a little damp around the chest and ankles — probably not so healthy, but I had a shortish walk to the studio. At Christmas one of my good friends took pity on me and bought me a second leotard. 😉 I later added another leotard and a second pair of tights to the rotation… but still, I was able to get by for quite a while on the bare minimum.

    I used to get all my dancewear from Discount Dance Supply. Their prices are way lower than retail shops, and they have a very decent selection of leotards, tights, warmups, shoes, and accessories.

    My favorite tights were my Danskin NYCB capri tights. Sooo comfy and cute. I also used to wear them underneath regular clothes as an extra layer, when it was really cold outside. 🙂

    At our classes, even though we were doing modern, we were absolutely not permitted to wear anything except leotard and tights. Students would actually be told to return to the dressing area to take off their shorts; pants were not even to be thought of. Leotards and tights are so much more freeing, and everyone’s movements are so much more visible. I’m now kind of sad when I go to dance classes and see everyone in their yoga pants and sweatshirts.

  2. apricot Post author

    Ooh! Yes, I order everything from discount dance. I also find that Dance Distributors ( has some things that discount dance doesn’t, but I rely mainly on Discount Dance.

    Glad to hear you second leotard and tights as the ideal dance outfit. Honestly, no one cares if you look lumpy. Ironically, dance class is one of the less body conscious venues I’ve been in…or perhaps body conscious in a completely different way.

    One more major thing to add to the list: a big ole TOTE BAG to store everything in.

  3. Bookbag

    This brings me back to my second year of college, when I took Modern Dance I and the guys in the class freaked when they heard the class dress code. I made do with stuff I already had — running tights and sports bra tank tops — and that worked fine for the intro stuff.

  4. Pingback: ooh, got my first link love and more of the dance blogs i’ve been reading | ballet, you say?

  5. Pingback: Adult Ballet: Restarting as an older, wiser dancer « wandering apricot

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