Returning to ballet classes as an adult feels just like coming home! Standing at the barre is akin to reconnecting with an old friend. You know the barre has always been a part of your life and is glad to have you back. The music will start for plié and if you’re anything like me, you’ll get a little teary and wonder why you stayed away for so long! Despite the aching muscles you know you’ll feel in coming days, you won’t want to be anywhere else.
Your physique will be entirely different to when you trained in earlier years. However, muscle memory is an amazing thing. Your brain will send the same signals to your muscles that it did when you were last training. Your muscles, on the other hand, won’t necessarily respond the way you remember! You may catch your reflection in the mirror and wonder where your arabesque line disappeared to. You’ll suspect that your turn-out has gone to the Greek Islands, never to return. Take heart in the knowledge that with regular attendance, your strength and placement will rebuild. New muscle memory will replace old and the joy of moving through the motions of an adult ballet class will feed your soul.
“Glissade, jété derrière, pas de bourré, changement”. In my first adult ballet class after 15 years away from training, I was immediately struck with the thought, “these words sound so familiar but if I don’t see them, I won’t be able to do them.” The language of ballet is like any other language – you have to use it regularly to maintain it. If it has been some time since you’ve attended classes, you’ll be placed in a class where every enchaînement is fully demonstrated by your teacher. This combination of seeing and hearing will help to refresh your “ballet brain”. Just remember that although it doesn’t all come rushing back at your first class, it does come back!
Ballet comes from the heart. It is a physical communication of our emotions, supported by careful technique. As Balanchine said, “Young people can dance steps but you have to be much older to really dance!” Quite simply, the more life experience you have, the more expression can be injected into your dancing. Artistic expression is what transforms the steps into dance. We may not have the technical wizardry of young dancers but artistically, we can dance rings around them!
The process of strengthening and refining technique is gradual, but your patience will be well-rewarded. Be gentle with yourself and don’t set unrealistic expectations in early days. Allow your body the time it needs to reconnect with classical technique, which, depending on your age and time away from classes, could be anything from two to six months. Work sensibly and ‘within your range’ and you’ll notice small improvements every class. It is critical to take away from class what you loved and leave any frustrations behind. Most importantly, enjoy the luxury of having ballet in your life again!