Who is Balletcougar?

February 18, 2011 § 15 Comments

About Me

I’m Jacki and I am 36 years old. I started adult beginner ballet when I was 27. All my life, I had been an athlete: basketball, soccer, track and field, biking, hiking and cross-country running. As a child, if I had been asked what I wanted to do instead of sports, I would have emphatically chosen ballet. But I wasn’t asked (haha yes that is a poke at my parents). By the age of 27, I was no longer participating in organized sports; rather, I had become a gym-exerciser. Gym-ratting had become completely boring for me and I was looking to do some physical activity that actually engaged my brain and resulted in something besides an elevated heart rate….

I had been pondering martial arts for a while but never signed up (I admit, it was because I hated the ugly uniforms! haha). So there I was still, no alternative to the gym in sight. Then I happened to see a movie. It was Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Talk to Her.’ The main female character is a ballet dancer (ok, she was in a coma most of the movie, but anyway…), and there were several scenes of ballet classes. Watching this movie, I remembered that as a child I had always wanted to take ballet classes, and there it was decided. Yes, RANDOM!

I did some research and found a small ballet studio near my house in Berkeley, CA…I had no idea it was literally a 2 minute walk from home. It was Shawl Anderson Dance Studio on Alcatraz and College Avenues. It was really embarrassing taking my first classes, but I quickly realized that all we beginners looked pretty silly and just gave up on any hopes of looking dignified!

Soon after, I discovered San Francisco Dance Center (now Alonzo King’s LINES Dance Center). I took Sally Miramon’s Introduction to Dance for about 3 months. Turns out Sally started as an adult as well, I believe at 24! And now she is a teacher. I moved on to Kathy Mata’s ballet classes for adults and took from her almost exclusively for about 6 years. With the exception of a small two-week break in 2008 when I had a double lung transplant.

Kathy gave me the foundation and confidence to keep myself coming back 2 to 3 times a week. But more than that, she injected a sense of fun into learning ballet. For something so intimidating as our perceived idea of the ‘perfection’ of ballet, having a teacher like Kathy who diffuses the pressure by making silly jokes, or flipping up the back of her skirt to moon you really helps you to relax. The fact that she has very loyal students, even those who have advanced way beyond the beginner lever, is testament to her ‘magic.’

I left San Francisco in 2010 after living 34 years there. I take classes all over the world depending on where I am living at the moment. I am living in Berlin currently. Though I have lived, traveled and/or taken ballet classes in Berkeley, San Francisco, Paris, Valencia (Spain), Buenos Aires and London. I am moving to either Lausanne or Geneva, Switzerland soon (February 2012) and already have dance studios picked out that offer adult ballet classes! You know I will be reporting!


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§ 15 Responses to Who is Balletcougar?

  • Jeff says:

    Hi there, I’m an adult soon-to-be ballet beginner, and I came across your site as I’ve been getting into reading ballet blogs etc. I live in the Bay Area and will start taking an “absolute beginner ballet” workshop at LINES Dance Center this month. Exciting! Anyway, nice blog, and I think I might have seen you interviewed in a LINES video or documentary? So inspiring!

    • balletcougar says:

      hey jeff! oh yay! is the workshop wth lieszl austria? i love her classes too…perhaps the opnly reason i did not attend her classes vs kathy’s was the class start time :O( it was just a little too early for me to make it. although several times i did make it to her class and really learned a lot. you will die at how perfect her feet are! and her penchee’ arabesque (haha you will learn what that is!). hey, that is what we strive for even as beginners.
      if you take the workshop and decide you want to continue you will probably start in sally miramon’s ‘intro to dance’ class to get more experience. you can them move up to kathy mata’s classes and hopefully down the road move on to lieszl’s advanced beginning classes. though i really think most of kathy’s classes were harder than lieszl’s. kathy can be a little kooky and possesive. just a warning. ballet is her life so, yeah.
      well, thanks for your nice words and best of luck to you! i do hope you will continue with ballet and it will bring a new perspective in your life.

  • Jeff says:

    Thanks for the tips! Yes, the workshop is with Liezl Austria. My background is in jazz/musical theater dance, which I did many years ago in high school and college, so there is some ballet crossover, but like I said it’s been many years so I want to start at the “beginning” with ballet. I’m excited. Dance has always been important to me, but after I got done with school, I never went back to it seriously. Now is the time… better late than never!

  • balletcougar says:

    ah cool! so you have some dance background….this is good! you know how to count and a bit about presentation and going ‘all out’ then? anyway, i really prefer to watch male dancers since a lot of what they do is different than what i can do. just look up videos of tetsuya kumakawa on youtube. :/ his jumps make me get butterflies in my stomach. that will be you one day!!!

  • Margaret says:

    I love that there’s a teacher who started at 24, dreams can come true! Great story though! And I love how you’ve been able to find a studio no matter where you go in the world.

    I’m about to move to Belfast, and my biggest worry is not finding an adult ballet class. Do you just do your searches online?

    Really enjoying your blog :D

    • balletcougar says:

      Hey Margaret! Yes, usually I search (in the language of the place I am going) online to find the studios. I have been lucky in that every city I have lived in (ok, except the tiny beach town in Costa Rica hahaha) had more than one dance center! Did you find one in Belfast? You can also ask yoga and Pilates studios, as that crowd often runs with the dancers :O)

  • Ashley says:

    Hi there,
    I am an almost 30 year old mom who decided I finally want to learn ballet. I am pretty tall 5″8 1/2 and think 125 pounds but way out of shape lol. Anyways, It is encouraging to know that there are others out there with this dream in their heart to learn to ballet. I took it when i was 6 years old but when my parents divorced, I was taken out of the class and never really thought about it. Until I was a teenager, i started thinking about it more and desided i would love to ballet, but my confidence was super low and i just pushed that dream out of my head. Finally now i am feeling more whole and confident and ready to begin!! My goal is to go on pointe because I just LOVE watching ballet dancers move about the floor so gracefully. I currently have a x-ballerina friend teaching me all the moves, arms, feet, leg, you know beginners but is there a specific adult class for pointe out there? I know typically the classes are for 4-and up if u are experienced, but are there adult classes for beginner’s pointe? How often would i need to practice, take classes to get on pointe? Seriously this is my dream. Although i am older and i will never be in swan lake, i really want to accomplish this!!


    • balletcougar says:

      Hi Ashley! Whether or not you will be able to start pointe work is something you should discuss with your teacher. Being an adult, the demands of pointe work can really set you up for serious injury if you start without having the proper strength and technique. I have seen too many ‘Dolly Dinkle’ teachers allow their students to start pointe work when they are absolutely not ready. I believe the teachers do this to feed the ballerina fantasy of their students to keep them coming back, rather than showing them the reality that being able to start pointe work is something that will take YEARS of regular class attendance (3 or more times a week). These tachers have no concern for the safety of their students. The students are taking class en pointe, but their legs are bent, their entire posture is out of alignment, they are not learning to use the shoes properly. This is VERY hard on especially the knees and lower back. If your feet are not flexible enough, you can seriously injure tendons and ligaments.

      If you will be able to go en pointe is something I can’t answer. Personally, I told myself that I want to be very confident in ballet slippers before I make a serious attempt at pointe work. Almost 8 years since starting ballet, I do not take class en pointe. I can do some things in pointe shoes, like piqué turns, sous-tenu turns, bourées and of course barre exercises, but doing a whole class is more than just those steps.

      That said, once you have discussed your progress with your teacher and he/she decides you can start, only you would know if there are beginning pointe classes where you are taking ballet. Not sure how I would know that information, since I don’t know where you live nor where you take classes. :/ At all the dance studios I have attended there have been beginning pointe classes for adults.

  • Katherine says:

    Were you in the short film “Adult Beginner Ballet” by Michelle Ortega? I was looking for stuff with adults taking beginner’s ballet classes a while ago. I saw it and bookmarked it. When I read on this blog about how you took classes with Kathy Mata some lights went on in my head. I looked for her photo and I remembered. Here’s the link:
    Where you the woman at 3:00 and at 9:45 into the video? Kathy was a big part of the film. She’s hard to forget. This short film was good motivation for me. I’m glad I found it.

  • Nicky says:

    Hi, my name is Nicky Henshall, I was browsing through blogs and came across yours. I am looking for reviewers to review Ballet performances, especially the major companies in Europe. I read that you now live in Berlin, do you ever watch staatsballett Berlin perform? Have you ever reviewed ballet before? If you think it could be something you would be interested in, you can email me on nickyhensh@ gmail.com and I would be happy to give you more information on it.
    Many thanks,

    • balletcougar says:

      hi nicky! i did live in berlin and saw the staatsballet perform to an incredible electronic piece. the performance was hypnotic!
      i live in lausanne now and am planning to see my first bejart performance in december. i don’t think i would be a good candidate to write reviews though, unfortunately! starting as late as i did, i just don’t have the ballet vocabulary or expertise to be able to evaluate a performance beyond describing it in mostly emotional terms. sorry! best of luck!

  • Anne says:

    Hello! This is a little late, hope you still check in here, but first of all, I hope you are well. Wow! A double lung transplant. I can’t imagine! I really hope all is going great for you and you are doing well with those new lungs.
    I have a question about what to wear to my first ballet class (with Kathy Mata at SF Dance Center!) I have split sole canvas slippers and full sole pair in leather. I am going to wear leggings that go to my knee and a simple tshirt. I guess my main concern is with the foot wear. What will everyone else be wearing? Thank you so much.


    • balletcougar says:

      Hi Anne! Sorry for the late reply, I kind of abandoned my poor blog! Kathy? I took classes for years with her, tell her Jacki says hello :O) She is a doll! I am sure you have figured out your shoe situation by now. Me, I preferred canvas split-soles. How are the classes going? I am still in recovery from my 2nd transplant. Life is crazy and I miss dance a lot. Thank you for your message and keep dancing, life is short!

  • J says:

    Jacki – I arrived here after Googling “Adult Ballet classes Zurich” What an inspiring blog! I too have re-discovered this passion and even though I’m considered “old” for Ballet (38), the idea of stopping tears me up inside.

    Are you currently living in Zurich? I too am from San Francisco, and was a loyal SF Dance Center Ballet class junkie! Although I did Ballet as a child, I stopped for many years before realizing “once a dancer, always a dancer.” I look forward to seeing more posts!

    All the best to you!

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