A woman walks into a barre… Adventures in adult ballet

Like many girls, I took dancing from a very early age. I experienced the gamut of beginners ballet, from dressing up in a bunny outfit and hopping around the stage to donning a tutu (handmade by my amazing mum) and taking graded exams. I didn’t suck.

Ballet

Mum-made tutu!

When I was about nine, my teacher handed me a book and told me to learn it. Inside was a collection of terms like battement tendu and port de bras. I took one look at it and decided to hang up my ballet shoes. I wanted to dance, not learn bloody French. (Thinking back, it may have not been the wisest decision. But I was nine, what the heck did I know?)

Many, many, many years later, I started to wonder what it would be like to take lessons again. I figured it would be an amazing strength workout. And I’d kill to have the poise – and legs – of a dancer.

You call this beginners?

My first foray back into ballet was a disaster. Arriving at an alleged “beginners” class, I found a bevy of skinny young things limbering up in pink ballet skirts and cardigans, their hair expertly bunned, their feet perfectly turned out. Beginners in what universe? It was humiliating – and I couldn’t walk properly for a week.

Eighteen months later, having finally gotten over the trauma, and because I am a masochist, I decided to give ballet another shot. I recently started a 10-week adult course in Harvard Square. I thought it would nicely complement my run training.

There are few endeavors in life in which staring at yourself for two hours in a giant mirror is not only perfectly acceptable but encouraged. And there’s nothing like staring at yourself in a giant mirror for two hours to make you realize you now totally and utterly suck.

Ballet

We would be in BIG trouble if we showed up for class with any part of our uniform missing.

A few things I discovered:

1. Toe pointing is A LOT harder than it used to be. In the first two lessons, my feet were so unused to the action that my toes cramped up the minute they hit the ballet shoes, and I looked like a crazy person as I tried to shake them out.

2. I am no longer flexible. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

3. I cannot remember combinations.

4. I am no longer co-ordinated. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

It’s No. 4 that caused me the most consternation. I used to be pretty good at that part. What the heck happened?

The class

There is a weird, not-very-friendly vibe in the group. Maybe we are just all experiencing Nos. 1 through 4 at the same time. We’re definitely not united in our awkwardness. There’s no camaraderie, no laughing at our embarrassment; rather there’s a permanent, stunned silence. We’re either all just concentrating really hard or we’re realizing with silent horror how ridiculous we look. There’s no getting away from it when there’s a giant mirror showcasing every one of your deficiencies.

I am pretty good at the barre work (which is quite fitting). Once I got over my initial cramping craziness, I was able to execute tendus and rond de jambes without too much trouble. Although, if I am asked to put more than three movements together in sequence, I start to come apart.

But it’s when we put the barres away and head out on to the floor that things really go awry.

A few more things I discovered:

1. I land like an elephant.

2. I have no balance.

3. I can’t figure out how to keep my arms from sinking at the elbows. That’s right, I am having trouble holding my arms straight. A very tricky maneuver.

Being watched by the entire class as you fumble your way across the floor is an exercise in mortification. Wait, did the teacher say left, right, left or right, left, left? Am I supposed to start on the sixth count or the eighth? Are my feet supposed to look like this? Why won’t my arms do the same thing twice?

However…

Not my feet!

Despite all this, there’s no doubt ballet is a killer workout. Just ask my calves.

Being strong and graceful at the same time is no mean feat – and for me pretty much impossible. But I certainly build up a crazy sweat trying to achieve it. It’s genius for the core and excellent for strengthening the leg muscles, which can only help me in my running pursuits. Every time I squeeze my butt to do a movement, I like to think that’s another hill I might be able to conquer. So I’m going to keep trying (although my course has been put on ice for a while thanks to my trip back to Australia) in the hopes that mortification might eventually give way to grace, and I’ll have the muscles to show for it.

Oh, and I’m hoping that when I return, the non-beginner who showed up three weeks into the course will have decamped to intermediate, realizing she is in the wrong place. Seriously. What about the word “BEGINNERS” do people not understand?

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4 responses to “A woman walks into a barre… Adventures in adult ballet

  1. I never took dance as a kid but always wanted to. I’ve briefly considered adult ballet myself, but I think I’m about as elephant-y as you – perhaps I should let that one go!

    • The elephanty-ness aside, it had its fun moments. I think a lot of it depends on finding the right teacher and the right group do to it with. I think maybe if I had known someone in the class already, it would have been better! Definitely an amazing workout though. 🙂

  2. I started ballet lessons when I was 30 years old, so a very strange age to start! 😛 But I enjoy it a lot! I bought two portable dance mirrors and I practise every day at home!
    Jane

    • That’s awesome! I would love to get more into it but I think it depends on finding the right group of people and the right teacher. I definitely didn’t have that this time around!