Updated: Jan 13
✦ Ballet was once seen as something for the elite class. Now it has expanded into all areas of society, and you hear of parents taking not just their kids but also themselves to ballet classes!
Brilliant-Online's content writer Yann Tyng has been taking ballet classes since she was a child and continues to do so at 45! She has been taking ballet classes for adult learners in several schools in Madrid where she is based.
We often read about the benefits of ballet as a form of exercise, but that alone does not get people into the studios. What is it really like to start ballet as an adult, from zero? Maybe hearing it straight from the horse's mouth will inspire you to get started!
Hear from adult learners about what got them started and why they are all so in love with ballet!
Our ballet boys!
Jesús is 54, from Madrid and currently works in the legal profession. He started doing ballet for adult learners in February 2022. He was at an airport in Tenerife watching a video on Youtube of the famous dancer Sergei Polunin when he thought, hey, why not just go ahead and take a class. And he did!
Rafael is 31, from Almería and has been living in Madrid since 2013. A psychologist by profession, he started ballet in September 2022. It was something that had been on his mind and last summer he finally made the decision to sign up thanks to the encouragement from a friend who also started dance classes as an adult!
What was the reaction of your family and friends when they heard you were taking ballet classes?
Jesús: It was a surprise because nobody expected me to do that. I'm a sportsman, I love exercise and running but ballet was not something people imagined I would take up. I've always been fascinated by dance though!
Rafael: People were happy for me, even though they were also really surprised. I've never done anything like this before, so they didn't expect me to take this step.
How do you feel being sometimes the only male in the class?
Jesús: I feel like just another student in the class. When you dance, there is no difference if you are a boy or a girl, you only feel the discipline and the passion.
Rafael: I feel comfortable in class, it has never bothered me being the only boy in class.
Many secretly harbour dreams of taking up ballet, but are too embarrassed to do so because of age or physical limitations. What would you say to people to encourage them to take the same step as you have?
Jesús: Let's not put up internal or external limitations. For someone who is much younger, ballet would demand more effort, more discipline and more tenacity. And for us adult beginners, it's clear that we are not looking to have a professional career in dance. But we can all enjoy ballet just as professionals do, and be just as disciplined as them. Furthermore, it's a great way to stay in shape and achieve a physically harmonious and aesthetic line. What really attracts me about ballet is how it allows me to grow as a person.
Rafael: I'd encourage everyone to try it. Embarrassment has very often been the limiting factor for me when it comes to trying new things. I took the courage to take up ballet and now I'm enjoying every single class!
What is the most gratifying thing for you about ballet classes?
Jesús: The freedom of movement, the ability to focus, and for two hours, my mind and body can just fly to another dimension altogether. After each class I feel tired but also alive! The exercises do tire you out, but it's a wonderful feeling of triumph because I did my best in spite of it being hard. And I feel alive because the music and the dance allow my body to be free and feel so many marvellous things. I always want to keep coming back to each class and improve, to do a step better, to know more about my body and its ability. I love the discipline of ballet and the challenge to improve. And you get to meet new and interesting people and make friends in ballet class!
Rafael: It's a wonderful feeling to see how you can improve bit by bit. Each time you repeat a step you do it better.
"The most gratifying thing is doing something that I love. After each class I feel euphoric, very happy and full of energy. And that's when I'm already looking forward to the next class!" - Rafael, 31, adult ballet learner
Ballet is synonymous with perfection. How do you motivate yourself to keep doing this without sliding into self-criticism?
Jesús: I'm a very positive person. I know who and how I am and why I go to ballet classes. At the beginning I did feel critical about myself, I saw my defects and over time I realised that's not important. The journey is what counts, that I started it, and am on it! I know I have the physical and mental strength to keep improving to achieve my goals i.e. to be myself and to dance.
Rafael: What really motivates me, apart from the art form itself, is the fact that I'm doing something that I didn't dare to before. I'm quite demanding on myself, so I also have to manage the frustration that I feel in classes. However, that hasn't stopped me because my focus is on the enjoyment of the classes. I absolutely love the barre exercises. It's where I can feel my improvement the most.
Favourite dancer, music or ballet?
Jesús: Sergei Polunin, baroque music and Le Corsaire.
Rafael: Swan Lake, both the ballet and the music!
What do you appreciate most about your dance teachers?
Jesús: Their patience. And their way of being and knowing exactly how to be there for us. They know that we are doing this as adults because we love it. It's as simple as that. That's the success of a ballet teacher for adults.
Rafael: Their patience! They often have to repeat exercises or explanations. We are new to this so we need a bit more help there. I also appreciate their kindness when it comes to giving corrections. They create a friendly atmosphere to dance where it's not about doing it well or badly. It's about learning and enjoying.
What is your wish for 2023 in the dance world?
Jesús: That people do not shut themselves off to enjoying dance. It is a necessary part of life. We can't live without beauty around us. Ballet is a great tool to discover a future that is full of hope. Dance is what allows us to know ourselves, and to come together and understand each other.
Rafael: I hope in 2023 the world of ballet continues to expand and become more popular and accessible like other forms of dance!
A final message for those who are almost going to sign up for a ballet class but who haven't yet!
Jesús: Don't be afraid or embarrassed! Dance opens up your mind and spirit. Dance is what gives your soul wings to fly!
Rafael: If you are curious about it, try it! Don't worry about the physical aspects of it, it'll come to you as you work at it each class. We may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about taking this step, but do it anyway. The feeling will pass soon enough, especially when you focus on the joy of it instead of doing it perfect!
And what does a teacher of adult ballet students think?
Mar is a dancer whose professional career took place in Zaragoza and she has been teaching dance for more than 40 years. She taught in a dance conservatory and specialised in teaching children. It was last year that she was offered the opportunity to teach adults. It was a challenge for her to make the change but she absolutely loved the experience of teaching adults who have no experience in ballet.
Benefits of ballet
"Ballet brings many benefits. There's obviously the physical aspects of stretching and alignment, strengthening and toning, but we mustn't forget about the coordination, focus, concentration and memory work which are really good for the brain. You also learn to really listen to the music, which is what makes you have the sensation of 'flying out of yourself' and forgetting about all your problems.
"Yes, you can!" is what adults thinking of starting ballet should tell themselves.
"It's not about doing extreme exercises. Ballet classes for adults are specifically tailored to their needs, we give challenges that are appropriate and relevant. And above all, we know people are here to learn and enjoy! The upside of adults is they are so much more aware of their bodies, limits and goals and they know how to make the most of it. Adult learners are highly appreciative when you as a teacher can help them push past their limits, see they can improve and enjoy dancing. I see myself as someone who teaches people to love dance, rather than teach people how to dance. My challenge as a teacher to adults is to give clear explanations, break down steps, and make the difficult 'easy', know when to push and when to let go. As a teacher to adult learners, I feel very loved, and that makes me want to keep coming back to give more!
Future of ballet
"I am hopeful about the future of ballet. Now I am seeing a greater variety of body types in the ballet world. Technology is also bringing us a lot of benefits in ballet. There is a wealth of resources now on the Internet, and there are lots to follow on Youtube, on Instagram etc. where you can follow dance companies, famous dancers etc. One way to improve is to watch as much ballet as you can. And Spotify has been a godsend for ballet teachers. Now we no longer have to rely on just one precious (and very expensive) CD of class music, or a live pianist (even more expensive). In 2023, I hope Spain's Compañía Nacional de Danza will get more funding to put up more classical works, and that more dance schools could open up and more people will don that leotard and start dancing!
If this is making that itch to dance even stronger, why not get to your nearest local dance school or centre and sign up for a class? If you are in Madrid and want to put on your dancing shoes for a bit, swing by this friendly neighbourhood dance school Tres en Danza, and let your spirit fly! Say hi to Yann Tyng, Jesús and Rafael if you are there! They'll be happy to show you the ropes if you are new to ballet! And we leave you with this beautiful quote from Jesús:
"Los límites lo pongo yo!" - Jesús, 54, adult ballet learner
He sets his own limits. What will yours be?
Read about Brilliant-Online´s CEO Veronica Lind´s visit to Spain last year!
For more inspiration, check these out:
Runqiao Du Ballet Coaching
Ballet with Isabella
Dance for Life Academy
The Australian Ballet
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