When I started The Dance Barn (now Intune!) in September 2018 it was not my intention to add classes for adults to the timetable for a little while. I wanted to focus on building up my classes for children but when I was contacted by a lady asking if I was offering “Silver Swan” classes for older dancers I felt a sudden spark of energy to go ahead. I got straight on the phone to Warwick Hall in Burford and two weeks later found myself teaching my first class Adult Ballet and Body Conditioning class with 8 enthusiastic participants in front of me. Since then I have expanded to two classes in Burford, added classes in Woodstock and Lechlade and completed my “Silver Swans” qualification with the Royal Academy of Dance, a course designed to train dance teachers to teach ballet to older dancers. I had also led a class at John Lewis in Oxford where we did Ballet for an hour at their rooftop restaurant, followed by a delicious breakfast outside on the terrace.
When people first make contact they ask me questions like “Do you have other people of my age?” or “I’ve never done ballet before, is that a problem?” One of the things I love about my classes is that there is always a complete mix of ages, abilities and experience in the room. They bring people together who have never done dance before with those who did lots when they are younger or those who perhaps want to experience a different style of dance. But the one thing that everyone has in common is a love of movement and a desire to learn more about the art form and the way the body moves.
But why Ballet?
We all know the benefits of exercise at all stages of life and as we get older it is even more important to find a way to keep the body moving. Watching children in their first ballet class or the professionals we see dancing in “The Nutcracker” at Christmas it is easy to discount ballet as something we could take up or continue as we get older. Thankfully organisations like the Royal Academy of Dance are working to dispel this myth and are encouraging more dance teachers to put classes for older learners onto their timetables. If you want to keep fit, of course you can go to something like Zumba or Aerobics, but ballet offers something incredibly unique and special and here are the reasons why I think this is.
History and Tradition - One of my dancers said to me the other week “The reason I prefer ballet as a way to exercise is because it is so thoughtful”. She’s absolutely right! Ballet training has evolved over hundreds of years and each movement and its progression is very carefully considered. There are some aspects that go against the natural movement of the body (eg. turnout - rotation of the legs in the hip sockets and leg extensions) but that’s why we focus so much on technique. Not only does technique improve our ability to do the movement and the quality of the with which we do it, but it also enables us to do so safely.
Thought Provoking - Not only is ballet incredibly thoughtful but it is thought provoking. There is always something to be thinking about: the steps, corrections from the teacher, the musical phrasing, awareness of space. It keeps the mind alert and we never reach a point where there is no longer something to give our attention to. It will be different for everyone from class to class, movement to movement but the constant desire for improvement and perfection is something all dancers strive for, whatever their age. That said, once your body has a good understanding of the movement patterns and the technique you can let go and just enjoy freedom of movement and dance to beautiful music, which I always like to encourage my dancers to do.
Posture and Poise - Posture can be a bit of an afterthought in some other forms of exercise whereas in ballet, this is where we start. We are constantly thinking about alignment and working to lengthen, extend and open out our bodies. You may have come across Amy Cuddy and her TED talk “Your body language may shape who you are”. I am currently reading her book “Presence” which gives and overview of her research into whether we can change the way we feel from the way that we stand. The research seems to suggest that we can and ballet is a great way to help us to become more aware of our bodies, to stand tall and to feel confident to use the space around us. Cuddy suggests you shouldn’t just “fake it til you make it” but “fake it until you become it” and I love the idea that ballet and its sense of poise and extension could change someone’s levels of self confidence and the way they feel about themselves.
Improved Balance - Loss of balance can cause a great deal of concern to us all as we get older and the more we can do to try to stay active and overcome this, the better. Ballet requires us to constantly shift our body weight from one leg to the other and from one direction to another, but all with constant attention to our posture and technique. After a warm up we start practicing our ballet moves with the support of a barre before coming into the centre to test our balance and ability to transfer our weight with centre practice, turns and jumps. I find it is important to give lots of options so that people can join in to a level that suits them and, without exception, everyone is always so incredibly encouraging and supportive of one another
Beautiful Music - There has been a lot of research into the links between music and physical exercise and the wonderful thing about the world of ballet is that is is accompanied by such rich and varied music. Those of us who have also had the privilege of being accompanied by live musicians will also know what a special experience this is, but sadly one that is dying out due to the progression of technology. According to Dr Costas Karageorghis, a leading researcher in this field “Music lowers your perception of effort. It can trick your mind into feeling less tired during a workout, and also encourage positive thoughts. Music can also act as a sedative or a stimulant. Music with a fast tempo can be used to pump you up prior to competition, or slower music can be used to calm your nerves and help you focus.” I love choosing music for my classes and I am always receiving feedback from my dancers about how they love to get lost in the music. I make sure I include sections in my class where I am not giving cues over the music, but allowing everyone to just enjoy the melodies and forget any worries or stresses they may have had before the class began.
It’s sociable - Although a ballet class in itself is quite individual the sense of comradery and community that comes with it is very special. Everyone is so supportive of each other and seeing friendships forming is always such a highlight, whether the dancers are old or young. One of the highlights of my week is being able to talk with the dancers about our shared love of the art form and to exchange stories about our experience of dance and why we love it. Since starting the classes I’ve also found a community that want to come and watch dance with me and so far we’ve been to see cinema screenings of “Don Quixote”, “Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story”, “An American in Paris” and we will be seeing “Romeo and Juliet” in June. Teaching my adult classes is such a highlight of my week and I am loving being able to share my passion for movement and dance with another group of people, and getting to know others who are just as passionate as I am.
How do I find a class?
The first thing to check is that the teacher is a qualified dance teacher. Sadly the dance world is not yet regulated and anyone can start a class which puts participants at risk. They should be qualified with a recognised organisation such as The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), The Imperial Society for Teacher of Dance (ISTD), International Dance Teachers Association (IDTA) or British Ballet Organisation (BBO). If the is not obvious contact some of the organisations and see if they can point you in the direction of a teacher in your area.
Find out if the teacher has any other experience and qualifications as well such as yoga or pilates, physiotherapy or sport massage. Expertise in all of these fields give reassurance that the teacher understands how to use the body and will put together a safe class and be able to offer individual corrections.
Ask questions about the level of the class. If you are new to ballet then a fast paced barre workout class is probably not for you. Find a beginners class where you can learn the fundamentals of the technique and work up to something faster paced when it is safe to do so.
Consider what time of the day is best for you. Personally I love a morning class as I feel I am fresher and it gets my day off to a good start but evening classes are available in the area, especially for those of us working during the day.
Speak to the teacher about the purpose of the class. Some teachers will enter adult learners for exams, include them in school performances or just run the class for fun or exercise. The most important part is to ensure that you feel comfortable with what the teacher is doing and to speak up about what you want to get out of the class or do not feel comfortable with.
We hope to see you at one of our classes very soon!