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Ballet as an adult beginner – why start and what you can learn!

Article by: Ina Nikolaeva

As adults, we are expected to do our full-time jobs and still find time to exercise and stay healthy. This task is made much easier if we come across a physical activity we enjoy and are passionate about. With a multitude of exercise programs currently available, and more emerging every day, it is difficult to decide which fitness classes to try out. I attended a beginner ballet dance class, taught by BalletCNJ School Director Thiago Silva during Free Week at Rutgers in the Fall of 2013. I also tried several other classes ranging from barbell weight training to yoga and Pilates. I was instantly hooked on ballet, as were quite a few of the other students present. It probably helped, too, that the instructor was an incredibly energetic young man who came up with hilarious, and therefore memorable, metaphors for the various steps.  I am now in my 3rd year of recreational ballet training, and I want to share some of the things I learned from spending so much of my personal time at the dance studios of Ballet Central New Jersey.

Hard work leads inevitably to improvement

As with any class that requires physical or mental effort, sometimes we have bad days. As I struggled to learn longer and more complex combinations in ballet, and add arm movements to them, bad days became inevitable. But in the end, I stayed with it and improved to the point where I can follow along even in some higher level classes. And let me tell you, the feeling of having a great class outshines any feelings of self-doubt during tougher days. I’ve seen this happen with other students too. If they stick it out through the confusions of learning a new form of exercise and build up some endurance, they feel accomplished and genuinely enjoy themselves! And yes, we all have busy weeks when we cannot come to class. Don’t let that discourage you! The right instructors will always welcome you back and help you pick up where you left off.

There is always room to grow

If you are like me, then you don’t feel satisfied repeating the same routine of exercises every time you hit the gym. While I tried increasing the weights I trained with, or cutting down on my 1-mile time, going through the motions still felt monotonous. Every next step required more exertion, but it was still the same exercise over and over. Ballet is different in that once you are able to adequately perform an exercise, the exercise changes. Combinations and movements differ from class to class, and new steps, jumps or turns are introduced all the time. On several occasions, depending on the students present and what they want, the instructor can completely abandon the normal class format and do a whole hour and a half at the barre en pointe or teach a variation.

The physical benefits

Will you get a dancer’s body from starting ballet as an adult? The truth is, no. However, ballet does burn a lot of calories when done right, and after several months of classes, you can start seeing changes in your body. Building lean muscle makes you look toned but not bulky. In clearer terms, you can look forward to much less jiggle! So while you will not experience a complete change of your body shape, ballet classes will move you in the direction of a dancer’s body.

Eye-opening new experiences!

If you have never done ballet dance before, you quickly learn that there is an entire group of muscles you rarely put to use in other physical activities. The motions of ballet are very different due to the constant need to turn-out.  Furthermore, depending on the ballet school and instructors, you *may* have the option of learning pointe work, if you so wish. If you have never slipped into a pair of toe shoes before, it is a novel feeling that adds a completely different layer of challenges to balance and dancing.  Finally, something that Ballet Central New Jersey does is sometimes allows adult students to perform in annual shows, if they are willing to put the work into classes and rehearsals. I have tried all of these things, and discovered that learning a physical activity is very different than learning something from a book. For instance, I had no idea that performances would make me so nervous, and that completing a show as a group leads everyone to become closer, regardless of age and experience. The choreography stays with you and the music you danced to gains a whole new meaning in your life. You remember it forever.

So go forth and find a local ballet class! You might never know if you have a dancer inside you unless you try!

- By Ina Nikolaeva

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