Adult Ballet: Restarting as an older, wiser dancer

Did you dance ballet as a wee one or teenager? Have you gone on a long voyage away from ballet and are finding that your thoughts are returning to thoughts of pink slippers, marley floors and pirouettes? Here are a few things that you’ll want to consider if you’re pondering starting ballet (again) as an adult.

1. Get your head in the right place.
This is the most important thing. If you go into class without adjusting your expectations, managing your fears, or knowing what will happen, you risk being unpleasantly surprised, and then dropping out before you really give ballet a chance. Here are some common thoughts:

  • Am I too old?No, you are not too old. I can’t stress this enough. I have seen dancers probably well into their 80s–both male and female–in my classes. If they are especially elderly, it’s true that they will usually make some adjustments (i.e. plies instead of grand plies, opting out of jumps), but there is always a full range of ages. And if it comforts you, know that almost every adult beginner or restarter has had this thought, given that the professional ballet world is so intensely focused on youth. But whether you are in your late teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond–don’t let your age stop you.
  • What should I expect? Happily, ballet classes are as set in stone as an art can be; adult ballet classes will mirror the format of your old childhood classes. Do expect that teachers might feel free to be a little more flexible or creative with adult students; you may have a longer barre, for example. If you need a refresher, check out this summary or the Joffrey ballet’s ballet-fit, which has a complete walkthrough of a typical ballet class.
  • What if I’ve forgotten everything and am worried that I’ll look silly? I promise: you have not forgotten everything, and you will look silly. That’s ok; everyone looks silly when they start, and it’s ok to laugh and enjoy this period of awkwardness. With practice, you will improve, but you should give yourself permission to not be amazing when restarting (even if you were once an astounding dancer in your childhood or teens)! Try and enjoy the process–it’s not a competition, and you’re doing this for your own pleasure. So be silly and relax (and keep going).

2. Assemble your gear!

  • The information in this post will probably be useful.
  • If you are serious about starting and continuing, I’d recommend going to your local dance store to try things on rather than purchasing online. Trying on shoes in person is a must. Getting the advice of an experienced salesperson can also be very helpful. If all you’re buying are shoes, that’s only $20 or so; a full get up including shoes, leotard, tights, skirt, and possibly hair accessories can easily land around $100.
  • You won’t look like you did when you were a child or teenager. That’s natural and totally fine. No unfair comparisons!

3. Find a studio

  • Do your homework! See my list of studios for adult ballet (not complete; this list is built on suggestions from y’all!) as a start. Alternatively, do some creative googling and also check out reviews on yelp.
  • Call the prospective studios and see if they’ll let you observe a class. This might give you a good sense of what class level or teacher will suit you best.

4. Attend class

  • Aim LOW. By that I mean try dancing a level below what you think you really can do. Since you danced before, you may have memories of being able to do certain steps or dance at a certain level. However, mental memory and muscle memory are not the same thing! I recommend dancing a level below because this will 1) help you avoid unnecessary injury and confusion and 2) if you kick butt, give you a nice little ego boost! You can always move up a level or two. But start low. Taking the “absolute beginner” class is not a mark of shame, even if you have danced before.
  • Do let your age inform what you can do. When you are in class, it’s OK to stop or modify if a movement is painful. This goes for all dancers, but if you had danced as a child or teen, you may try to put the same intensity back into your current dancing. Be careful, especially in your first few weeks, and tell your teachers ahead of time if you have a particular physical concern (a bad knee or any other limitations). They can give you modifications or watch out for you.
  • Relearning is a slow process, but faster than learning for the first time. Because you have danced before, you will recall many of the terms and steps. However, it may be frustrating to you that you can’t execute exactly what you can remember in your mind. That’s normal. On the bright side, muscle memory is a wonderful thing and you’ll find that you’ll progress much faster than someone who’s a total newbie. But if it’s going slower than you expect, give yourself a break–with effort, you will improve, and you’re now getting to experience dance in a different way than you did as a kid. That’s a wonderful thing.

I’m something of a serial re-starter. Everytime I move (and I’ve moved, oh, 7 times in the last 10 years) or change jobs, I have to adjust my schedule or switch studios. And if I happen to be doing a lot of job-travel or falling in love or being distracted by other things, I neglect my ballet classes. I imagine that once I have children, I will have to stop taking classes for a little while; and I’m actually in a bit of a lull right now, where I’m only taking an intermediate class once a week (barely enough to maintain!). That’s ok, I have other life goals that I’m working on. For the recreational adult dancer, these things are inevitable and OK.

In your own personal case, you may have had lots of reasons for having stopped ballet–college, travel, work, family. Those are all important and valid things to have in your life. Do know that if you get the urge, ballet is always there, and that it will always be OK to start, over and over again, and I promise that you’ll find something valuable each time that you do.

If you are a re-starter, I would love to hear your story in the comments!

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16 thoughts on “Adult Ballet: Restarting as an older, wiser dancer

  1. satsumaart

    I’ve been thinking of taking up some dance again (modern, or even something new to me like belly dancing) because hey, I miss it! There’s nothing quite like dance. This post is a wonderful reminder that it’s never too late to give it another shot — and I shouldn’t expect to dance the way I did as a 22-year-old who went to studio every day!

    Reply
    1. apricot Post author

      Oh you should!! Would love to hear what classes are like in Canada/Scotland/etc!!!

      I too have been pondering belly dancing, so long as it does not entail public exposure of said belly πŸ˜›

      Reply
      1. satsumaart

        I will definitely let you know about my experience, if I do end up taking classes. πŸ™‚

        My idea is that belly dancing would result in greater willingness to publicly expose the belly. πŸ˜‰

  2. Catherine

    This post came at a perfect time for me! I have missed ballet so much and am trying to make it a consistent part of my life again. For reasons you have brought up, this can be a challenge but I will do my best. I work as a substitute teacher right now and this month was slow, so I found myself in ballet class. I quickly remembered there’s nothing like it. I’m 23 so I’m not old by any means, but I have not danced intensively in years. I went to a performing arts high school and danced at a fantastic ballet school — I was GREAT! Now… I stand out in the beginner classes… but I’ve lost a lot of things. My middle split has gone out the window and my turnout when doing extensions, right with it! That’s the part of going back that’s frustrating. I was the dancer who everything came easy for and now, I’m like “Oh… this is what stretching feels like?! I have to work at this?!” πŸ˜‰

    Reply
  3. jesshhiikka

    Hi there. I was searching “ballet at twenty years old” and thats how i got to your site. I know im not that old but for ballet i was kind of thinking that i might be to
    o old to do ballet again. I did ballet for almost 7 years and had training in modern and jazz dance as well. I was about to go en pointe when i got ran over by a car. I never tried ballet since then, my parents werent really supportive about it either. And i always regret having stopped dancing. Anyhoo on my next day off im going to try an adult beginner class. Im not as flexible as before and my right foot is really really stiff because of the car accident so i know its gonna be tough. Nonetheless i really really miss dancing.

    Reply
  4. Tamara

    I’m a re-starter! I’ve been out of ballet shoes for nearly twice as long as I was in them originally. Your blog has been very helpful. Thanks for the great resource! I attended my first adult ballet class this week, and in a word…. foot cramps! Time to work on my arches πŸ™‚

    Reply
  5. Tina

    Hi! I stumbled on to this site while searching for information about ballet for overweight dancers. I started tap dancing at age 7, ballet at 10 and although I really hated it then (it was a required class if I wanted to continue with advanced tap classes) ballet eventually became my favorite class! By the age of 15 I got my first pointe shoes and I LOVED them, no matter how terribly painful they were. I continued dancing en pointe until my dance studio suddenly closed when I was 17. I felt so sad and lost until I finally got back in to ballet though a junior college class 2 years later. I took every ballet class they offered but sadly could not get back en point right away as I had been out of practice for so long. I finally convinced my teacher to let me use my pointe shoes for just the first 15min of the barre portion of the class but she was reluctant to let me go on the floor with them, my ankles were still not strong enough. Just about that time I got engaged and took “a little time off” to plan the wedding….and never went back to class! I immediately got pregnat, had 3 kids in the first 7 years of marriage and gained over 90 lbs. A sit down job only added to the problem and now, 22 years later and more than 100lbs heavier, I find myself obessing about getting back into those toe shoes!! I’ve got so much going against me, not only my age and weight but I also have always had knee problems even when I was young and thin. Plus just recently I seem to have developed arthritis in one of my ankles. It seems hopeless but I feel like I’ll really regret it if I don’t at least try! I’m going to keep peeking in on this site for encouragement! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. bluiyz

      Tina- do it- I just wrote a post on here as well- I am suffering from some issues after restarting dance about 5 years ago. See my post here under ballet for overweight dancers- but let it be an encouragement. If I can provide advice, etc- just let me know- rcubitt76@aol.com!

      Reply
  6. Trish

    I just found this post when searching about getting back into ballet. I’m 30, and I’ve been away from dance for 8 years. I studied in NYC, and then once I graduated and began auditioning, realized I didn’t have the passion required to make it a career. I’ve realized that I miss the challenge and fun of dancing and taking class, so next week I’m taking the adult open level class the local ballet company offers. Company members take the class from time to time, so I’m a little nervous, but it should be fun! (I’m chronicling my adventure at backtoballet.tumblr.com.)

    Reply
  7. leahklein

    I’m about to start again… this time much older and much much heavier. I’m a lot terrified but also looking forward to it. Heading to get my shoes this afternoon . Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  8. Hollie Martin

    Im only 14 and i haven’t danced since i was around 5/6 i miss ballet and was wondering if i would have to restart my grades or i just carry on from my grades i got. Also Im not as flexible anymore so it be alot of Work! But Im willing to try

    Reply
  9. Pingback: The Journey Begins – Class 1 | wellies and pearls and ballet shoes

  10. Tami

    I took ballet for years as a kid, stopped 18 when I graduated high school, and had a break of over 12 years from ballet before I returned to classes at age 30. During my first couple of classes after returning I had a noticeable lack of endurance, and had to stop in the middle petit allegro combinations to rest and catch my breath. Over time I became fitter, and my teacher commented how how I’d become stronger. Now, a couple of years later, I think I may be a better dancer than I was when I was a teenager, because I put more effort into improving and growing as a dancer.

    Reply
  11. bianca

    im an 18 year old who quit about four or five years ago, every year since i quit i said i want to start again and every year i make up a reason not to, simply because im too proud too admit that i quit for all the wrong reasons. so here i am, enrolled into a fashion design course and taking a gap year after high school. i am now ready to stop making excuses for myself, dig out my leotard an shoes and just take a leap of faith. i know i will hate it at first because im unfit, my back is messed up my ancles are weak and my kneegot hurt playing impact sports for no reason. any suggestions to get back into it? ill admit that im terrified and theyll call me fat now which is depressing i let myself go, size 6 is just tooo much. im going to make a fool of myself arent I? one more question, do i go back to my old dance school? can i face the fact that the class i was with are now doing advanced classes and ill be back in level 5?

    Reply
  12. Simona Serbanescu

    I used to study ballet and latino dance in high school and took a break for a few years. Then I rediscovered salsa and bachata and after reaching an intermediate/advanced level and growing expectations, I realised I had to do something with my flexibility, my posture, my arches etc. So I started attenting ballet classes for beginners at a local studio in Bucharest, and I was surprised how much I like it, and how much intense latino dance classes prepared me for the regular challenges. Of course, also having studyed ballet in high school is a good thing because it only took a few classes for my body to readjust to the positions and so on. Of course I don’t expect to be able to do splits again in only one month, but I’m giving it time, attend classes, practce at home and enjoy the process!

    Reply

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