How to Start in Adult Beginner Ballet

February 20, 2011 § 27 Comments

So you are ready to start adult beginner ballet….and you are over 18!?!?! You’ve come to  good place to learn about ballet for the over 18 and under 180 (degree turnout haha) crowd.

Well awesome! Hopefully you are surrounded by supportive and open-minded people who dig the idea of you doing something completely out of your comfort zone. If you aren’t, well, who cares what people think anyway.

So let’s talk about what you will need to get started in that first class!

1. What should I wear and bring to my classes?

Ballet Shoes

I’m assuming you know you will be committed from the get-go so will go out and invest in some ballet slippers. There are as many brands and models as there are feet it seems! For a beginner, full-soles are often recommended as they are said to build strength better and faster than split sole ballet slippers. I am not sure if this is really true or not, I have just heard it numerous times. I have only used split-soles and my feet are strong as hell, hehehe.

Full sole ballet slippers, above.

Split sole ballet slippers, above (my favorite Grishko Performance Series aka Model 6).

Go to your local dancewear store and take time to find a shoe that feels really good. Some people like canvas (cheaper), others leather (lasts longer). Some even prefer jazz shoes or gymnastics shoes!
I started wearing leather Capezio Juliet split soles, but now I wear canvas split soles. I’ve tried many kinds- Sansha Pro1C, Bloch Elastosplit and Grishko Performance Series. I will be writing reviews on all the shoes I have tried in the near future.

Once you have a favorite shoe, you can save money by ordering online from Discount Dance Supply. They often have free shipping promos so keep an eye out.

Ballet Clothes

Most adult beginner ballet classes do not have any kind of dress code. We are grown ups and not expected to wear pink tights, froofy skirts and leotards. You can wear gym clothes if you like, though for your own progress the tighter-fitting variety are better. This is because a good teacher will look at your body and how it is aligned; he or she needs to see your body to correct you. If you are in a potato sack, it is harder for the teacher to see your lines.

If you want to wear a leotard and tights, by all means that is certainly appropriate. Be sure that the leotard supports your breasts. If you have anything above a B-cup a skinny strap camisole leotard might not be the most supportive style. Look for tank or halter style leotards.

tank

Tank leotard, above.

halter

Halter leotard, above.

I usually wear a leotard with stretchy booty shorts and bare legs. I just get too warm to have too much fabric on me!

shorts

2. Will there be snooty rail-thin bunheads with banana feet, 180-degree turnout, and the ability to fold their bodies in three? Will there be neurotic Natalie Portman in The Black Swan types who will scratch me if I am not perfect? And will they laugh at me when I fall down and can’t get up?

Luckily, no! If you are taking an absolute beginner’s class, chances are there will be a class full of other people just like you. Some may have zero dance experience; some may be coming back to ballet after 5, 10, 20 or more years! There will also likely be some students who have been attending that class for a while and are familiar with the teacher’s combinations, or seem to execute the steps and movements better than the others. This is GOOD. Watching and mimicing these students, you can see how you will be progressing if you keep attending classes.

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§ 27 Responses to How to Start in Adult Beginner Ballet

  • Lindsey says:

    I’m in my late twenties… I took ballet as a young girl but haven’t danced since. But I really really want to get back into it now and am in the process of finding a good beginner ballet class in my area. My question is this… I have lost a LOT of my former flexibility due to years of little or no exercise. Is this something that will come back with practice. As an adult beginner, do you think that at some point (after several years of regular and committed practice and classes) that I can move onto pointe? Thanks for your expertise and time…

    Best Regards,
    Lindsey

    • balletcougar says:

      Oh yay! At least you have some experience, you are ahead of the game. AS far as your flexibility, well I am not a physiotherapist or doctor or sports trainer….but I would say YES you will regain some flexibility. I am not sure about a complete head-touching arabesque, but you might be surprised!
      You said you have not exercised in years…so please be patient with yourself as those muscles that have been nice and cozily rested will need more time to loosen up. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be at 90 degrees with your extensions. Do what you can and in the correct form, that is what will build the flexibility. AND more importantly the STRENGTH to hold your limbs in those positions. Be nice to yourself in the process :O)

      As far as pointe, I really can’t say for sure. Just based on what I have seen, you really have to be confident in regular slippers first. That means: ab strength, ANKLE strength (I get scared seeing people on pointe who aren’t ready! the ankles!!!). If you have the strength to straighten your knees and maintain correct alignment in the rest of your body, you should try. You must talk to your teacher first however, as if you are not ready (in your muscles and feet) you can really hurt your knees, back omg owwwww!

      After about 4 years I tried pointe and did okay. After a while my giant bunion couldn’t take it any longer so I stopped. It wasn’t worth the pain. I’m an old lady LOL and can dance nicely in slippers. Plus I find pointe shoes so darn clunky! hehehe

      Did you find a ballet studio? I’d love to hear what you think about it, you can post it here if you’d like!

  • Lindsey says:

    Hi BalletCougar! Thanks for your reply. :-)

    I DID actually find a ballet studio about 20 min from my house, and they offer all levels of ballet for adults. Well, actually they’re for ages 13 and up, but the owner of the dance academy said that there’s a good mix of younger girls and older adults, and that I would fit right in, so that’s great!

    The only problem is that they don’t offer adult beginner classes during the summer semester, so I’ll have to wait until late August to start. However, in the meantime the dance academy owner recommended I take this short summer semester class called BeMoved, which is this easy class for adults that focuses mostly on improving strength and flexibility, while incorporating a different genre each class (it’s only $10 per class, walk-ins, and is offered twice a week – 1 hour classes). So I think I’m going to start doing that. The next one is tomorrow night. I’m a little anxious about starting mid-course but if it’s all adult beginners and they’re doing a different genre each class then I shouldn’t really be behind in any way.

    Also, I’ve been thinking about what you said and I think you’re right… I feel positive that my flexibility WILL mostly return, along with my strength (I was always a very active teenager and adult up until a surgery which turned me into a bit of a couch potato), so I’m going to take your advice and go easy on myself but with the goal of being able to move back into pointe. If you do pointe at my new ballet studio/dance academy, you have to take 2-3 hours of pointe per week PLUS 2 – 3 hours of regular ballet per week, so by then I will be much stronger and more flexible, and this more rigorous schedule will only make me better and better. I”m a housewife with no children, so I have lots of time (I’m very thankful for my situation) to be able to focus on ballet the way I want to.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for your response, and if you have any other thoughts or advice I’d love to hear what you have to say. You seem to really know what you’re talking about, and I just like having someone to talk to about this all.

    Best Regards,
    Lindsey

  • balletcougar says:

    Hi Lindsey, Awww yes the dreaded summer vacation. Very bad for the obsessed :O) But the BeMoved class actually sounds like a good place to start back into ballet. In fact, I wish that when I started some years ago there were stretching and flexibility classes offered at the studio I went to. Like something to get your body ready for the demands of actually learning steps and dancing. So perhaps the summer break is a blessing in disguise.
    i hope your first class was eye-opening, and hip-opening hehe.

  • Lindsey says:

    Hi BalletCougar! Well, I’m already up to dancing 3 days a week now!! I’m taking that BeMoved class twice a week (Sundays and Wednesdays) AND an adult ballet class at a different dance studio for the summer. I’m unemployed and so was my husband recently so money is tight, and in light of that situation I asked the woman who owns the second ballet studio if I could pay by the class and she agreed. Then she called back and left me a message that I could just come on in and dance in the adult ballet classes and pay for the whole semester just whenever I am able (because it’s SO MUCH cheaper to pay for the whole semester than by the class – it saves you like $250!!). Isn’t that amazing? Growing up on a farm and then moving to Chicago (well really I live in the north suburbs now) I’ve grown used to people up here not caring much because they’re all strangers, so I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone performs an act of kindness and generosity like that. So now I get to dance three times a week and am SO happy… I really love the BeMoved classes – they are hard-work but also a lot of fun – and can’t wait to start my first adult class this Thursday night. Will fill you in on how it goes!! Thanks for the encouragement! e:-)

  • Amy-Marie says:

    I am going to piggy back on this with two questions. For my 29th birthday I started ballet (as a present to myself) going about once a week, then twice a week on and off for about a year. I have good flexability thanks to yoga training for years, but my issue is strength. Two questions: One I injured my toe almost a year ago banging it against a curb and then walking on it and then teaching a 90 minute yoga class thinking I had just stubbed it (5th phallanx- the little pinky bone- not a metatarsal). I wore ‘the boot’, stopped all yoga and ballet, was on crutches, wore flats for 4 months. It still didn’t fix itself. I was told (after three podiatrists) that it was indeed healing, but not fusing… so that in order for it to fuse I would need surgery to either remove this bone or pin in. Two: I got a job in Sierra Leone and obviously here there are no ballet studios. My toe doesn’t hurt anymore unless I sneak into thick heels or wedges for work but I want to keep up my strength here as a combination of a fatty and carb rich diet (the only food here) and lack of exercise (there aren’t even really sidewalks and you can’t show up to a business meeting walking somewhere drenched in sweat) have left me with less muscle tone and increased fat.

    What exercises can I do at home to build strength so when I return to NYC next year I haven’t lost it all?

    • balletcougar says:

      Hi Amy! I am sorry I did not reply sooner, I have been quite ill and have not been much into ‘working’ on my site. I have only taken 2 dance classes since February 1st, that is how ill I have been :(

      I’m not physician, so I am not going to say you should be dancing on a toe that has not properly healed. But if you just want to keep your strength up, just do exercises at home where you are not putting too much weight on that foot. Makes sense.

      I would suggest getting some ballet DVDs, such as the NYC Ballet Workout. If there are issues with shipping to Sierra Leone, you can download it from Part 1 and Part 2 from The Pirate Bay. Don’t tell anyone I told you that though ;O). Also if you search on YouTube you will find the videos cut up into different lengths.
      Also, I am sure you remember the order of a ballet class so you can always do a an hour barre workout at home going from pliés all the way to grands battements.
      If there is a large community of expats where you are, you can look on expat forums. I have many times found dance studios or individuals who have put together casual classes this way in my travels.

      Google is your friend. :O)

  • Susana says:

    Hi Ballet Cougar, first of all, thanks for having this amazing blog. My question, I’m a 26 year old woman with some ballet experience gathered at my local community college for 8 months.

    I’m not in a rush to go on pointe, but I can’t shake off the fantasy that may be one day I will. My fear is that my bunions are not subtle. They stick out, and even though I had surgery in them 6 years ago, they came back with revenge and are here to stay.

    In your opinion, will I be able to dance on pointe even with bunions? and if so, after how many years of consistent class taking? Thank you! :)

  • frenchopper2 says:

    I wonder if you could explain something to me. I did ballet from a young age until I was 13, then gave it up and did jazz, tap and aerobics until I was 25. I was a good dancer and was invited to audition for a dance company. Then due to life circumstances I gave it. In my thirties I started to suffer from very bad lower bad pain (in fact all of my left side was completely stiff). All exercise recommended such as swimming, pilates, and particularly yoga (with the extreme stretches) exacerbated the pain. Last year I decided to give ballet a go again and for some reason was able to do it without pain. The sauté’s do give me some trouble at times because my achilles tendons are very stiff and my pliés are atrocious as well because of stiffness. My turnout isn’t great either due to stiffness but my balance is good partly because I have tight abdominals. I’m 43 now and really enjoy the class. I’m just confused as to why I can do a ballet class and a contemporary dance class and my body feels freer particularly my neck area but pilates and aerobics with weights results in injury. Certainly the last thing I was advised to do because of my back was ballet. I attended an alexander technique teacher and he advised me that ballet teaches you to hold a naturally strained posture by holding your abdominals in and tensing your buttocks and not to attempt it.

  • Kenya says:

    So I stumbled upon your blog. Looking for some guidance on whether or not that after high school and during college, I should start ballet. I have had some dance history (Hip hop infused with SOME ballet techniques but nothing fancy). But I would like to at least have some ballet to build up a resume for when I audition for Disney.
    But this how-to makes me happy. Hopefully I can fit in 2 classes a week at a studio with work and college classes <3
    Fingers crossed ^_^

  • enomishi says:

    I am interested in starting ballet. I used to do it when I was very young but I’m 22 now and really want to start again. I just wanted to thank you fo this blog because it really inspired me to go after it since I’ve been feeling really insecure. Thanks! :)

  • Keisla says:

    Hello!
    I have never done a ballet class and am very interested. I am 22 years old. Will I ever be able to be en pointe?? Also, it has been very hard to find a place to learn ballet here in Puerto Rico, affordable and good schedule. They seem to be teaching classes for abput 3-4 months. What stuff can I learn in that period of time. Thanks, sorry for the many questions…

    • balletcougar says:

      Yes ballet schools have ‘seasons.’ You can learn a lot in 3 to 4 months. I can’t answer your question about pointe, you’ll have to ask your teacher. Just go and do it and see for yourself. Good luck!

  • sookie says:

    I started pointe at 30 years old never taking any kind of dance class in my entire life. I’m pretty big too(170lbs @ 5’6″) and I did surprisingly well. I’m now in my second year and loving it more and more. If you’re strong enough you should be able to take pointe.

  • Amelea says:

    Hi ballet cougar. I’m a 24 year old woman and i seem to have a natural “ballet body” type. i am tall and slender with long limbs and a short waist. i took ballet as a young child but i was a tomboy, and i really felt like i didn’t fit in. since i was a teen, i’ve struggled to gain weight but it never works and i just feel frustrated or ugly when i compare myself to my curvy friends. i have considered taking up ballet since i was 16 but i never really felt the drive until now. i have a lot of patience and i know that this wont be a quick process, and that there will be commitments to be made.
    what are some leg strengthening tips that you can give me? i know that i am a “hard gainer”, but will that have an effect on gaining muscle mass? should i also take up yoga, or should i just practice all of the time? how many hours a week should i expect to devote to this if i want to dance at recitals?
    i know that it will be unlikely that ill be a professional dancer, but would it be unrealistic if i set getting to pointe as a personal goal? i feel that i have the potential to enjoy this very much, but i know that by watching my grandmother and great grandmother struggle with arthritis after years of professional dancing, that you can only “force” your body to go so far without doing some damage.

    any and all comments would be appreciated, and i look forward to hearing from you,

    Amelea

  • It is so exciting for me to see all the comments about ballet. I started a dance studio for adults 6 years ago. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I wanted a studio where we taught ballet, tap, jazz, modern and hip hop for just adults. I thought it would be just for women like me, shall we say, of a certain age. But I have been pleasantly surprised to find women of all ages, 16 to well into seventies doing ballet all together. Some women have danced for years, some professionally, and some are absolute beginners. The seasoned dancers are very quick to help out the beginners, it has been a wonderful experience. Early on I took all of the classes and not I am mostly working and not dancing. Your blog has encouraged me to try it again. Thanks so much.

  • Janja says:

    Hello,
    i am a bit embarrased, my eng. isn’t that great, but i would like to write you anyway.
    I’m a 30 year old girl/woman..what ever:-) and for years i dreamed to dance ballet… Of course not professional:-) Duhh…but, you know, for myself, for the soul, because i would like to do something beautiful with my body.
    I wouldn’t say that i’m in a bad phys. shape…i…um..yes, don’t laught…trained martial arts since i was 11 and i still do. I also do high intensity training, yoga bla bla.
    I wouldn’t say i am gracefull, a have muscled arms and legs…tattoos…not a very perfect and pretty balerina :-/ But still…
    Sadly i haven’t found the courage to enter a ballet school for adults…if it even exist…:-/
    But, do you have any sugestions..i mean, i am a very insecure and shy woman. Would a person with my skills and looks be someone you laught about behind her/his back..because, ballet is something much deeper than some other dancing art. Specific… I surfed alot on the net and watched some tutorials… Should i just forget or try it anyway, should i learn something before i enter a beginners class. So i wouldn’t look like a tree trying to dance:-) I realy wouldn’t want to make a clown out of myself :-)
    Thanks, and sorry for the messy mail:-)

    Janja

  • Emma says:

    Hello! I am currently 20 years of age and I used to dance with ‘street dance’ groups when I was younger. At age 14 I tried Ballet and fell in love with it. However, after a few months, I ended up (stupidly) giving up, and now aged 20, I find myself obsessed with watching ballets and endless programmes about it. I’m realistic about any goals, I would only ever want to dance recreationally and understand Pointe can take a matter of years. I’m a little heavier than I used to be! However, I’m currently moving cities with my partner and am determined to find a studio that admits adult beginners. I’m already at the cardio and the gym as I am determined to discover a hobby I love. The trouble is, whenever I’m asking around, there doesn’t seem to be any dance studios around that offer any sort of adult beginners classes at all. How do I go about finding a suitable class, or is it simply a case of asking?

    Thanks in advance!

  • cassierabbit says:

    Hi I’m 16, and was wondering how long usually does It take for people to go on pointe? I am going to start adult ballet classes for beginners soon and really want to get good enough to be on pointe, but was wondering when I would be able to.

  • hi,my name is carolynne and i’ve never been into ballet since i was born. can i learn the moves and be on point

  • jeanne england says:

    I am 46 and I would like to take some beginning Ballet classes to help some of my posture and flexabilty. I took 4 years of ballet along time ago and still know my positions and arm movements. I know this may sound very crazy coming from a 46 year old lady.

  • Karen Pallino says:

    Hi Ballet Cougar! I started Ballet at 45! I never took it as a child I was a tapper and did jazz. I am back to tap also after a 27 year break! My question is I am having a hard time doing a pirouette. This is my third year. What can I do to get the fear out? I start to turn then I get nervous and fall out of it. Do you think there is hope for me? So glad I found this!

    • balletcougar says:

      Hi Karen! Wow, good for you!!! Pirouettes, argh…so frustrating! What I would recommend, as probably your teacher will as well, is to keep your eyes open! And them being open, do the old spotting trick. Choose a point on the wall, or if looking in a mirror look at your face, and try to keep your eyes on it as you turn. Also, practice just doing half turns, less scary! Yes there is hope!

  • Melissa says:

    hi there,

    I am 60 starting ballet- one day a week- tomorrow! I studied briefly in my late teens -drove 2 daughters back and forth and sat through numerous competitions, Nutcracker’s etc with them so am excited to start ballet again. My dream is to go enpointe!

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