As someone who has barely known a time when I didn’t dance, I find those who begin dance as adults (and become hopelessly devoted) fascinating. This is but one reason why I’m always glad to see new posts in my Reader from bloggers, Dave of davetriesballet.com and the woman identified only as the Adult Beginner.
Dave is a 23 year old grad student currently completing his masters degree in Pure Mathematics at Rutgers University. He’s done crew (rowing), cycling and even a triathlon but is new to ballet. He takes classes during the week at Princeton Ballet School and at The Joffrey Ballet School in NYC on weekends. In June, he’ll be heading back home to the UK to start a PhD.
Madame AB is 33 years old and, as you can see, keeps her identity concealed (under a chicken head) to protect the innocent. I’m still figuring out if that’s her or us. We know she works as a costumer and is a sketch pad wielding, doodle-ninja.
We had some fun after the New Year chatting about their close encounters of the ballet kind. And if you are a teacher working with adult beginners, I think you’ll find it splendidly insightful, too.
Nichelle: Okay, you two, exactly how long have you been an adult ballet student?
Dave: I’ve been taking Ballet since September. I started out taking just one 75 minute class for a week but that quickly changed to 2, 3, 4 and now 5 a week (totalling 6.5 hours).
AB: One year, one month, three weeks, and three days.
Call me crazy, but I’ll bet there’s a story there.
AB: Valentine’s Day, 2009, Mr. Adult Beginner took me to a Red Cross Benefit. Red Cross was raising money to fight the Australian bush-fires, the benefit was in a bar, cover was a $20 donation to Red Cross, all drink proceeds were donated, AND there was a silent auction.
One prize being auctioned was a block of classes at a dance fitness studio. I placed a bid for just a hair over the opening bid, thought to myself, “no way will I ever win this,” and forgot all about it. Until the phone call two days later saying I’d won the bid. So I paid the auction price and kind of forgot all about it (again!).
Fast forward six months, finally bothered to go to the studio. Tried Bollywood class, belly dance class, strenuously avoided pole-dancing class, finally tried one called something hilarious like Booty-luscious Ballet Butt Busting Bootcamp. Taught by a pocket-sized dancer who would run us through double-time relevés to Beyonce and a million sit-ups to the Black Eyed Peas. We used barres, used the foot positions, we did things that looked all balletical and stuff, it was awesome . I never tried another, it became all about this class. Until the day the studio just closed. Abruptly. Like, I showed up for Wednesday class and it closed that weekend. Bummer!
But I couldn’t give it up, I mean, all this time I thought I missed the boat on ballet classes, that I was too old to start from scratch and I would never get to take ballet and would have to live vicariously through the occasional Nutcracker performance, but Booty-luscious Ballet Butt Busting Bootcamp totally opened the door!
So I consulted Google and found a studio that had just opened, had a ballet class and most amazing of all- was walking distance from my apartment. So that was it, mid-November of 2009 I had my first ever real ballet class.
I knew there was a story. Dave, how did you become interested in taking ballet classes as an adult?
Dave: I’ve always thought ballet was impressive but never thought I could do it myself. This summer I decided I wanted to take classes, mainly because I wanted to do something outside my comfort zone – something completely different to what I usually do.
AB: Which is impressive because aren’t you in school in a whole new country? Is that not far enough outside your comfort zone? Are you Ironman?!
Ironman, had you ever had any dance or ballet experiences previously?
Dave: None whatsoever! I can remember when I was around 10 we had to do “interpretive dance” as part of our gym class, and the teacher complimented me saying I made a very convincing bird (animal, not woman!) but that is pretty much it. I did have extensive music experience before this though: playing classical guitar, concert percussion and choral singing, which I think has helped me a lot, but no dance.
How about you, AB? May I call you AB?
AB: Took belly dance for four years. A friend is a professional cabaret style belly dancer, she wanted to earn a little extra money and I wanted to learn something, exercise, and have some regularly scheduled girly fun time, so we had a class every Sunday morning.
Was it difficult to find classes for adult beginners?
Dave: I did the easiest thing – consulted The Google. A quick search showed me 3 or 4 dance schools nearby and a quick look on their website told me if they were offering adult classes. I ended up with the choice of either a rec course at my university or I could travel a little farther to a “proper” ballet school at Princeton. I ended up choosing the latter as I liked how professional the school looked, and the teachers had great biographies. As for finding my weekend classes in New York – that was from talking to another student in my weekday classes in Princeton.
AB: It’s pretty easy to find adult open level classes – JFGI as the kids say – but extremely difficult to find an adult absolute beginners class, especially one you can attend on a drop-in basis, which is, of course, the only option for adults with crazy work schedules.
I was super lucky to have been eased into ballet with the Booty-luscious class, and even more super lucky my first real ballet class was underpopulated enough that ‘Sazerac’ had time and was willing to bring me up to speed. But in general, teachers of adult open level ballet classes don’t want to touch absolute beginners with a ten foot pole, you can’t walk in cold, and honestly I don’t know how other beginners get past that hurdle. Private lessons maybe?
Maybe. It IS a challenge, in my experience, from a teaching standpoint because often the enrollment is not high enough for multiple adult levels and mixing absolute beginners with more experienced ones can get a bit frustrating for everyone. I’m teaching a class like that right now. But I actually really love the absolute newbies – just can’t always break it down enough and keep the others from checking out.
Did you do research before jumping into classes?
AB: The truth is, I have been researching ballet for years, but in a kind of surreptitious, alone in the privacy of my room, secret way. And most of this guilty pleasure research was biased toward ballet costume and ballet history. I know almost nothing about what’s currently going on with ballet, but I’m learning on Twitter, of all places. Twitter has been a surprisingly excellent tool for getting up on the ballet haps.
Dave: I did quite a bit – mainly through the web. I spent a lot of time on Ballet For Men listening to podcasts and reading about the dreaded dancebelt! I bought the NYC Ballet workout book and started doing it as often as I could. I also got ABTs Swan Lake on DVD and watched it pretty much on loop for the whole of August!
Do you see ballet becoming the gateway drug to other dance forms, or do you have your hands full with ballet?
AB: Dude! Hands full! It’s more like other dance was the gateway drug to ballet!
Dave: At the moment, I don’t really see myself doing other types of dance. It’s not so much having my hands full, although that is probably true, but I have such an appreciation (and, dare I say, passion) for ballet that I don’t want to spend time on other dance when I can do ballet instead! I think if or when I do other dance in the future it will be something like modern or contemporary rather than tap or ballroom though.
Those definitely share common ground. So Dave, we now know that you’ve entered into the performance zone.
Dave: Yes! I’m taking part in the American Repertory Ballet’s Spring production of Coppelia. They have teachers and staff in common with the Princeton Ballet School and I’ll be dancing the Czardas with other adult ballet students. You are meant to be at Ballet 201 level, taking classes for at least a year, to be in the Czardas but my teacher reckons I’m good enough so I’m expecting it to be reasonably challenging. Although I’ve acted before, this will be my first performance – I’m very excited
Is performance in your future, AB?
AB: Doubtful. My bellydance friend once said she went pro because she needed to be the center of everyone’s attention for at least fifteen minutes a day, which always makes me laugh because I’m the exact opposite, I need to know that absolutely no one is paying attention to me for at least fifteen minutes every day.
This explains the blogging – exhibitionism for the introvert. But seriously, you both have really become online advocates for beginning ballet as an adult – so advocate, already! Why do it?
Dave: Ballet is the perfect mix of the physical and mental. On the physical side, I have lost weight (healthily), built lean muscle, become a lot more flexible (I can now touch my toes), am much more aware of my body and am doing things I never thought I’d be able to do – like tour jetés! Mentally, I have a much better spatial awareness of my body, am much more comfortable with my body image and whatever stress I’ve had during the day, I always leave class feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything life throws at me. And all that in just under 4 months! It doesn’t matter what size, age or sex you are – there is such a mix in my classes and every single person gets some benefit from them. Give it a go!
AB: It’s just so kick-ass to realize that you can do that thing you thought you had missed your chance to do. You know, whatever that thing is for you.
I love taking ballet for the mental and physical puzzle it is, and how it makes you pay attention to every part of your body, no zoning out. Ballet requires you to be really present. And I’m just getting to that point where I’ve got the extreme basics of the barre down, and now I can see there’s much more depth to each exercise and it seems like this process of discovering more and more to work on and master can go on forever, in a fractal way, and that’s exciting. Yay fractals!
Fractals are cool, right Dave? And the part about infinite discovery is so true.
Sorry, kids! Storytime is over for today. Tune in tomorrow for the second installment wherein the fully-grown beginners and I discuss ballet attire, support systems, and scheduling classes. Also find out if learning ballet makes you want to see more of it. Hmmmm.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.