Starting Ballet as an Adult or Older Teen

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    With the release of the film “Black Swan” and a growing presence of classical ballet in the media (at last!), I thought it would be time to write up a few articles on adult ballet. I started ballet when I was only 19 years old, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions on starting ballet as an adult.
    I hope these guides will inspire you to dance. Remember - you will never know if you don’t try!

Starting Ballet as an Adult or Older Teen

Ballet can be practiced and enjoyed at any age!

    As long as you are reasonably fit and have no major problems in your back, feet, or knees, it is absolutely possible to become a ballet dancer. It is also possible to learn to dance in pointe shoes. You will improve your flexibility, strength, musicality, and grace more than you could imagine, and well as develop a body awareness that will aid any other physical sport you may engage in. There are some limits to a late-starting ballet dancer, and it may be more difficult to find a studio, but the rewards will be boundless!

    Finding a Studio
    This step may be one of the hardest, but don’t give up! You may have to do some serious searching, but the studio makes or breaks the dancer. A good studio will offer appropriate classes, good instruction, and maybe even performance opportunities.
    Begin by consulting your yellow-pages. Not all studios in your area may have website or be listed on or google, but be sure to try to locate a number of studios instead of just focusing on one or two. Collect numbers and homepages (if they have one) and begin your search. Not all studios are going to offer adult classes, and not all adult classes are created equal. Call around and ask if you can watch a class.

What to look for in a quality studio (coming soon!)

    Many studios will offer the first class free, so take advantage of this and give it a try! Your first class may seem daunting, but try to remind yourself that you are learning a completely new skill that is unlike anything else - you will get better!
    If at all possible, try to take classes at your very own college, and don’t overlook the benefits of community college. I took my very first (and some of the best) classes at my community college. You usually get more instruction, and the studios can be rather nice. Plus, there can also be performance opportunities. Classes at a community college can also be much, much cheaper than at a private studio.

Here are a few of the most common questions I have heard from people looking to start ballet:
    “How many classes should I be taking per week?”
    This will all depend on what you hope to achieve from ballet. Ideally, if you want to see yourself progressing and learning rapidly, you will want to take at least two classes per week, and if you ever want to dance en pointe, you will need to take at least three classes. You can certainly progress with only one class per week, but you will find that your body may not have the strength and muscle memory to function to the fullest, and you may find yourself frustrated. Over time, you will find that your knowledge on ballet will increase, but your body will not be able to get up to what your mind has learned. Top dancers will dance everyday for hours, since ballet requires a great deal of repetition. The more hours and classes you take, the faster and more dramatic your progression will be.

    “But I’m not flexible! I won’t be able to do anything!”
    You’re talking to one of the least flexible girls on the planet here! You can have a great deal of fun in ballet even if you can’t do the splits or even achieve a 90 degree arabesque. You’ll find that not everything is about flexibility - and you will also discover your strengths in other areas, such as jumping, fluidity, or turns. Don’t let flexibility keep you from trying ballet!
    You will certainly see yourself gaining flexibility as you begin to train. By stretching before and after class, as well as stretching at home, you will surprise yourself with how much natural flexibility you may actually have!

    “Can I do pointe?”
    With the proper training and conditioning, yes! Be aware that it will not be easy, and it could take years to achieve. It is safe to say that one needs to be dancing regularly at least 2-3 times a week for at least two years before starting basic pointe work. In most cases, it may take you longer than that. If you continue to train seriously, stretch and strengthen at least every other day, and educate yourself outside of your classes, there is a very good chance that you can become a successful and happy pointe dancer.
    While you don’t need to be super flexible to dance en pointe, you will need to have excellent technique and strong feet. If pointe is your dream, look for a studio that focuses more on technique than on “tricks”. The barre part of class should not be rushed in a hurry to get to the center, and the instructor should also stress that dancers strengthen themselves safely and often. Make sure there are other adults en pointe already, and that pointe classes are already in place for adults. Some studios may not teach adult pointe, so do your research.

    “I don’t want to ruin my feet.”
    Ballet is going to give you the strongest feet of your life! Over time, you are going to become very well acquainted with every nuance of your feet and toes. Many of the exercises at the barre are focused on creating strong, articulate, supple, and responsive feet.
    Can your feet be ruined by taking ballet? Well, yes - if you are 8 years old and wearing ill fitting pointe shoes. Many of the “bad feet” stories in ballet result from a young child (whose bones have not finished developing) being put in pointe shoes too early. The shoes can squish and deform young feet. An adult need not worry about that happening! However, there will always be pain from badly-fitted pointe shoes, regardless of your age. This is why it is crucial that you and your first shoe fitter be very knowledgeable on foot anatomy and pointe fitting techniques.
    “I’m clumsy and I can’t dance!”
    THAT’S WHY YOU TAKE DANCE CLASSES. Do you think classes are just for amazing dancers with natural talent? No! If you feel that you “can’t dance”, what you really mean is that you do not have control over your body, have poor body awareness, and lack musicality. Ballet will fix this. You will discover muscles and control that you never knew you could have, and you will develop the confidence and musical ear needed for dancing. Plus, you will develop poise and grace. I used to be pretty clumsy and gangly myself, but now people comment on my elegance. You will love your new you!

    “I really want to perform. Will this ever be possible?”
    YES! You need to do some serious hunting for a studio that offers performance opportunities for adults, but it’s completely possible. I have been lucky enough to dance at a studio that caters primarily to adults, and I have already been in two performances. It’s such a rewarding experience, and I highly recommend it. Also be on the lookout for auditions and performances by other studios in the area. You don’t have to perform just at your home studio!

    “Do I really have to wear a leotard and tights?”
    Do you want to excel? Do you want to receive more advanced corrections? Do you want to avoid injury? If you answered “Yes”, than you absolutely need to wear a leo and tights - and nothing else. The black leotard and pink tights are the standard uniform of ballet for a reason - you can actually see your body. You and your instructor are able to see every nuance, muscle, and bone, and this is crucial for correct technique. Your instructor can’t give you many corrections if she can’t see you. Developing correct turnout requires that your knees and hips (and the muscles around them) are visible - if you are turning out incorrectly, you can get terrible injuries in your knees. 
    A leotard and tights are also “no fuss” clothing. No socks to pull up, no shirt to pull down, no pants to pull up, and nothing to adjust. Nothing is going to pop or slip with a leo. You can leap, slide, jump, roll, stretch, bend over, bend backwards, and turn without having to worry about your clothes. 
    I have also found that teachers will tend to give a little more attention to students who show they are devoted to studying ballet - and those students generally are wearing the correct attire even if the class does not have a dress code. I will oftentimes be the only student in a class in just a leo and tights, and I find that I tend to get more corrections and attention - because the teacher can actually see my body.

    I will have more information on choosing a leotard, tights, slippers, and accessories in a future article.

    “I’m really self-conscious. I’m afraid everyone will be staring at me!”
    Don’t worry about it. Most people will be too busy concentrating in class to be looking at other students. I’ve never heard ladies gossiping about other students in the class or complaining about their looks. Most dancers are too busy worrying about themselves and their own technique to worry about someone else.
    Plus, if you are a teenager, realize that teens are still dealing with an “imaginary audience” - an overwhelming feeling that EVERYBODY is always looking at them, even when no one really is. This is natural part of teenage development, and you will eventually grow out of it.

    I hope that this article has given you the confidence and information needed to start taking ballet! If you have any more questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will try to answer them!

Additional Articles about Adult Ballet by Miss Etherington:

-Adult Ballet Students: You are Not the Problem
Dancers are the athletes of God. ~Albert Einstein

26 thoughts:

Delano said...

This is really helpful to me-
I've been wanting to start ballet but I really thought that classes for like highschoolers and a little up didn't exist! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I love this post! It was very well-written and informative, and it made me really excited about looking around for a teenage or adult ballet studio. Please write more :)

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm a lurker at EGL, and I saw your post there.

I found this article interesting but I have a question. You say that your feet won't suffer because our bones are "finished" as if were, but I've read about dancers whose toenails fell off when dancing in pointe. I'm not all that interested about en pointe, but I was wondering if you had heard of that happening.

Nami said...

This is really helpful! Unfortunately it pretty much stopped at the "if you don't have back, feet, etc problems, you can do ballet" for me. It makes me really sad, I have a crooked kind of back, you don't really see it on the outside but it causes pain and I cannot bend my back as much. I'm currently under treatment for it and it's definitely getting better and I hope with some stretching to regain flexibility especially in my lower back, but the bones will never be as straight as a normal person. I'm really afraid I'll never be able to take ballet at all. But I hope perhaps if I can improve my body, work on my posture, my entire body will slowly regain flexibility and will straighten out a little. I promised myself to at least try ballet when it comes to that point, even if just as a reward for the pain and hard work haha.

E. Etherington said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your predicament. :(
While back flexibility is something that is needed for ballet, there are also a lot of exercises at the bar that require a straight, aligned back while the feet and legs do most of the work. Watch this video here: and see if you feel you would be able to do any of the exercises. Also, many teachers of adult classes will allow adults to do only what they are capable of - allowing you to modify to or completely skip exercises or movements that your body is not ready for.
Because so much of ballet is about correct alignment, you may actually get a good deal of benefit from some classes. If you like, try to find a studio that offers a first class for free, or private lessons, so you can give it a try. :)

Manda said...

This is so helpful!

Nami said...

Thank you so much for the advise. I think I could do pretty much all the exercises at the bar. I actually had a little course of ballet exercises last year. I also did a little ballet class when I was a little child (but I think that was before my fall that caused my back to grow weirdly.) but I don't think it was anything technical hahaha. I'm not flexible as a whole but I think most things will improve with more stretching. I think it's most importantly my lower back that doesn't really bend haha *working on it*. So I guess when I have time I could look into ballet. Thanks again, I really needed someone with experience to tell me what my chances were haha.

Catmint said...

Thank you so much for all of this information! I took ballet a couple of years ago and have really been wanting to get back into it since I moved to a new state. I only took beginner classes, but I wore stuff like yoga pants. I'd really like to dance en pointe some day, so I'm definitely going to do some studio research and buy a black leotard and pink tights!

Meghan said...

Hi, thank you for your advice! I'm a 14 year old and I absolutely love ballet. I've enrolled in adult classes but the only problem is that there is only one class per week that I can attend (week days don't really work). I realize I need to do more than one lesson if I want to go en pointe (which I REALLY want to!) so I'm considering taking lessons at two studios, could learning from different people be problematic? Thank you!

E. Etherington said...


I have also had multiple teachers at once. While there are some differences between the major schools of technique (Vaganova vs. Cecchetti for instance), good technique is stil good technique. Taking as many classes as you can is crucial towards developing as a dancer, and you're still at a prime age to learn how to dance. :)

Paula said...

Hi,I´m from Argentina,and never went to a ballet class until 3 months ago with 39 years old,I allways knew this was for me,but when i was i child i never be able to tell my parents to take me there,(sorry about my poor english)and now i have an escoliosis ,and this classes are fantastic at any level,i can feel every muscle i never though i had so many :)!I have a little sorrow only because i´m guessing this could be the vocation i´ve allways longing..but is the most complete exercise i´ve ever tried,in only 2 classes a week,in 2 months!! i have improving noticeably my posture,and i feel lighter and taller!!In my class there are people to start at 60 years,there´s no age to start,even though we have a extremelly professional teacher who adjust the level of exercise to every person.Thank you for your delightfull blog.Paula

Kesya said...

Hello...I am 16 year old girl and I love ballet since I was only 12 but unfortunately I never had a chance to take a class because my parents didn't allow me. Actually, I'm planning to take ballet class when I graduate high school which when I already 18/19, and I'm so glad when I knew you started ballet at age 19. But unfortunately, when I discussed my plan with my parents, they said ballet is not my thing, and they keep telling me I should just focus on my school in order I want to be a doctor. know...I really want to learn ballet. I really really really want...what should I do to make my parents allow me to try a ballet class? :( should I take it without permission from them?

Thank you and have a good day

E. Etherington said...

Hello Kesya - sorry for the late reply.
Many, many people don't fully understand ballet. Many still don't understand the importance of the arts in our lives.
I would take a two pronged approach - show them that you are seriously interested in ballet (as opposed to a passing fancy), and frame ballet as fitness. Isn't fitness a major key to health (play into the doctor thing)?
Watch ballet online and rent ballet DVDs from Netflix. Watch them in public. Let your parents see you watching them. Consider renting some of the heavier ballets, like MacMillan works, so they can see that ballet is not just sparkly fairies and fantasy stuff. Listen to ballet music and borrow some ballet books from the library.

Educate yourself on the immense health and fitness aspects of ballet, as well as the "myths". Make sure you know -why' ballet dancers are thin, for instance, to be prepared for ignorant comments you may get if your parents watch some ballet with you.

Ask for ballet lessons for Christmas, birthday, Easter, etc. Let them see that you REALLY want this. Hopefully, they will oblige.

Tania Gallardo said...

I was wondering if I can possibly do dance as a major in college if I'm starting ballet at age 14

Marie said...

I'm 24 years old, I took ballet when I was little, however I had to drop out due to my parents financial issues, age has nothing to do with it, I even have little back problems and ballet has helped me out so much! It takes dedication but it's worth it, missed it for so long and being back in it is amazing!

Marie said...

talk to them, let them at least understand it's a hobby, you can study and still practice ballet, afterwards and depending on how you feel with it and your progress then you can make a choice, let them see how much you love it, little by little they will understand, best of luck ^^

Soleil said...

I'm going on 19 and I badly want to start ballet.
I don't care about being a professional dancer. And I never dreamed of wearing frilly pink tutus. As a kid I wanted to do karate or soccer; I was a tomboy.
This raging desire to dance had only developed within the past two years. I can't even remember what sparked it, but something about ballet just resonates with me in this deep way that makes me ache because I'm not part of it.
I can't even express what I feel when I look at pictures of a solo dancer on an empty stage or practicing in the studio.
Every aspect of it fills me with longing, and nobody understands because I am so NOT the kind of girl you expect to dream of dancing.

Becca said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
E. Etherington said...

There is a possibility. With correct technique training and stretching, along with supportive shoes, there is a good chance that you can improve your feet enough to dance at a successful level en pointe. You'll never know if you don't try!

E. Etherington said...

I was in the same boat when I was 19 (the age when I began). Allow ballet to take you where it wants to go - don't feel like you have to act a certain way because that's the way it was in highschool. People change. People may even change radically. Go where the wind takes you, and don't try to fight it! :)

kat said...

hi there! im glad i found this post, very helpful-- I am 29yrs old, and have never done ballet, nor have ever wanted to until a couple years go (and no, it had nothing to do with Black Swan).
I actually grew up doing Dressage with horses, and loved it, but had to stop because when i became an adult realized how much money it actually required to keep up... lol. So I replaced my athletic bend to Triathlon, Nutrition and Massage Therapy during my college years, missing equestrian very much all the time. Flash forward 10 years, married stay at home mom with 2 very young children- anyone with young kids knows the physical and emotional demands of the job, and it leaves very little time to oneself, even with a great support of friends and family.
It took me a little while to realize that I was not doing any FUN things, things that I looked forward to to recharge my batteries on my off time, things to take me to another world- Oh sure, I went to the gym and journaled, but those things felt more like duties than fun. I also realized that I was pushing my body too hard, with exercise paired with the physical demands of young children, so I turned to look for activities that would help me concentrate, move my body in a different way (than cycling, running, swimming), and something with social involvment.
I thought I would give ballet a try at a local studio, and we will see if it is a fit, but this article was helpful! Thanks- Kat, San Diego.

Katie Brooks said...

Hi there! I'm 17 and I did ballet when I was younger. I did ballet for about 2-4 years, but had to stop since I moved and couldn't find a close enough studio. I am about 130-135 and I'm still decently kinda flexible. I've really been considering going back into ballet. Can I still do it..?

Michelle Dominguez said...

Hi, I did ballet for a couple years when I was very young (4-5 years old). I begged my mom to sign me up the following years but she was not able to. In the 8th grade I was diagnosed with scoliosis. It is not severe to the point where I am not able to participate in physical activity, in fact my chiropractor encourages it. I am 19 years old now and that childhood dream of continuing on in ballet is still extremely powerful in my heart. However, I did notice in the article it was stated as long as you have no major problems in your back. Should I be concerned about not being able to pursue my dream because of this?

Sydney said...

I was over joyed when i read that you were 19 when you started ballet. I've always been one of those nerdy kids wh never really participated in dance. But not because I didnt want to...I simply couldnt afford it. So now, being 19 and going into college I am going to minor in dance. (I intend to further my dance education after college, but I feel like it's a good place to get the basics). The only problem is, I'm having trouble not trying to learn it before I get this going to ruin my clean slate for the instructors?

Greta Cribbs said...

I'm 36 and starting my first ballet class today. I've studied other dance forms over the years, but have come to the conclusion that if I'm serious about dance, I really need to be doing ballet because that's where all of the theory of dance comes from. I very much appreciated this post and will keep these pointers in mind as I prepare for my class tonight!

Vaishali Sharma said...

Hi miss etherington.finally someone who believes it is possible n is an example herself!but I wanted to ask r u a professional, I mean do you work in a ballet company n how old r u now?please do reply

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