So you were brave enough to start ballet as an adult! Hats off. Or maybe you are still contemplating the idea of getting started. Or you are possibly a good chunk on your way already, with pointe work, more intermediate classes, and some performances under your belt. Hi there and welcome! I am Patricia, and I am happy to have you here. I am excited about kicking off this blog that has been on my mind for so long. I hope it will be a good companion to you. Shoot me an email if you would like to read about specific topics - I will do my best to cover them!
The core assumption about adult ballet
It’s interesting how much of a big deal it is to start ballet later in life. More than in any other sports and activities, I find.
Mostly, the challenge of learning ballet as an adult is ascribed to physical abilities (or lack of them) and what kind of body you bring to the party. Adult bodies are seen as not as pliable, so that gets the blame for why adults can’t achieve as much or progress as fast when it comes to ballet. For some, this might be in the way of getting even started.
I want to challenge that belief for a moment. What if the hurdle to starting and progressing in ballet wasn’t so much about physical qualities?
There might be more to it - my story
I believe that there is this one underlying fear that hits you when you take up and start learning ballet, and that fear might impact the way you move and even how fast you learn ballet. It has specifically to do with ballet being more than just a sport, but rather a discipline of grace and beauty.
Let me explain by exemplifying my own ballet story.
It was by pure accident that I ended up in my first ballet class. All my life, I was the kinda girl who was involved in all sort of sports - always getting pretty good at it, but never specializing too much. Badminton, tennis, volleyball, basketball, sailing, skiing, running, weightlifting, ice hockey….you name it. Mostly activities with high power, intensity, impact, contact. I didn’t consider myself good at any ‘artsy’ activities that required elegance and coordination. Even a simple aerobics class was somewhat beyond me.
But there came a point in my life, around my early thirties, where all that heavy, rough, high-intensity stuff didn’t grab me as much any more. It was as if I had explored my brute-force-lactic-acid boundaries enough, and it was time for other things.
No, not ballet yet, though. That would’ve been a bit too much of a leap.
So after I quit playing ice hockey, I decided to start taking hiphop classes. It was a lot about coordination, so a nice challenge, while still quite athletic and cool like hockey.
The studio I was dancing at also offered ballet classes. But it took me a few more years. Finally, I started to feel that urge for change again. For pushing my boundaries even more. Mostly, though, I thought that ballet would help me get better at hip hop dancing. So I finally set out to take my first ballet class.
Enter the Fear.
I call it the Fear of Gracefulness.
It’s the fear of engaging in something so delicate and graceful as ballet. After a sports life full of swag, dripping sweat (little did I know what was ahead haha), and the informality/casualness of most athletic activities - this was a lot to handle.
I think that this fear rooted in an insecurity about that feminine side of myself, not being sure if I had that tenderness that ballet required of me - and if I did have it, if I could let it out.
The loss of toughening up
And maybe it’s not just in comparison to other physical activites. Maybe the Fear of Gracefulness is also a metaphor for life. As women, we have often grown up to be a bit cautious of that vulnerability and tenderness that gracefulness entails. We have had to toughen up in so many areas: Building careers in male-dominated environments; managing our families; dealing with annoying mobile phone providers, unwilling landlords, noisy neighbors; trying to not be sexually harrassed; and making it through countless Christmas seasons without breaking down.
Maybe that toughening up, that fear of letting the gracefulness guard down, is why so many of us don’t even consider starting ballet, or don’t expect to ever look like a true ballerina.
Back to my story. I utterly and wholeheartedly loved my first class, from the first minute. Somehow, I knew this was it, that my body was meant to do this, although I did not have the typical ballerina body (I was way too tall and not very flexible).
But to this day, the Fear of Gracefulness is a constant companion. I can feel it when I get too respectful of a combination, or when I feel my body hold back in particular steps. When I look down instead of straight ahead. When I tense up in class. When I secretly envy the elegance of those that are more advanced or just get a particular step faster than me. When I rather not want to see what I see in the mirror, or when I do not want to be seen by others.
But despair not, my dear (I tell myself).
The gift of late ballet
Because maybe ballet, taken up late, with all the scars you have gathered, is just what we all need. A chance to rediscover that tender gracefulness, and bring it to life.
As for me, I am inviting gracefulness back in little steps. When I remind myself to be as tall as I am. When I allow myself to enjoy an exercise so much that it makes me smile a bit, even when I have the steps wrong and the leg not fully extended. When I accept that learning a particular step might take me longer, but that I will eventually get it, and let myself indulge the unfinished version of it. When I see that I have something unique to bring to the ballet party, just like everyone else does.
Facing the Fear of Gracefulness is huge. It will give your balances more ease, it will make you travel more, and help you maintain your posture longer, even without thinking about it. And it will make other people notice that there is something different about you, something determined and captivating.
And who knows, maybe that mobile phone provider, landlord or neighbor will be easier to tackle, too. Because once you face your fear, let your guard down, and let gracefulness give you a hand, there is a little bit less to struggle with and maybe some unexpected help around the corner.
So next time in class, say hi to your fear, and throughly and brazenly enjoy that first plie - with all the gracefulness you’ve got.
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Big topic for me! What about you? Do you ever feel fearful and contracted in class? Or afraid to let yourself be elegant and graceful? What’s your way of dealing with it? Comment here, or on FB/Insta, or feel free to shoot an email!