Age no bar for ballet

Cilla Khatry

Cilla Khatry

Age no bar for ballet

The best way to learn ballet as an adult is to take it slow and learn it in stages, without being in a rush to put on the special shoes

Little girls in tutus—that’s the image that comes to mind when we think of ballet. Traditionally, a child starts ballet at the age of eight with pre-ballet classes before that. But various dance studios in Nepal offer adults a chance to learn this complex, theatrical dance form.

“It’s better if you start early, but even if you have never had ballet lessons as a child, you can still learn it later in life,” says Arpana Lama, a dance instructor at Sushila Arts Academy in Kathmandu.

Arpana mentions those in their 20s and 30s have taken up ballet in recent years for various reasons. Some want to correct their postures while others want to work on their flexibility. The fascination also stems from the fact that it’s a graceful dance form, one that’s visually appealing.

Anweiti Upadhyay, the features editor at The Kathmandu Post, joined Lama’s weekend ballet classes because she wanted to work on her “awkward” body language. In a little over a year, her posture has become a lot better and her body movements aren’t as jerky as they used to be, she says, adding ballet has also made her more confident.

But ballet is unlike other dance forms. It requires immense strength and flexibility. Anweiti confesses she thought she would be twirling like a pro in no time and was initially disappointed when that didn’t happen. “The classes mostly focused on stretching exercises,” she says.

This, Arpana explains, is because you need to have a lot of core strength and control to perform the steps with the elegance they require. And that, she says, can only come when you are flexible. The muscles of your calves, hamstrings, and core need to be strong for you to execute and maintain difficult poses that have to merge seamlessly in order to create a brilliant dance sequence.

Dance, in any form, requires discipline. It’s hard work. Ballet is often considered the foundation of a dancer’s career as a lot of basics is covered before you can get to the actual jumping and spinning. The focus on alignment, the dedication it requires, and the body movement fluidity it eventually gives you help you in other dance forms as well.

Babita Lama, a 25-year-old hip-hop dancer, who started learning ballet five years ago says ballet is challenging but enjoyable. You learn to love your body, she says. She believes the reason it’s considered better to take up ballet as a child is because the body is flexible and thus training becomes easier. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn it as an adult. It just requires a bit more practice and focus, she says.

People might draw similarities between ballet and yoga when they first take it up because of all the bending and postures they have to do and hold. Indeed, in ballet, the dance steps are basically modifications of the stretching exercises you are made to practice in class. Over time, as your body becomes flexible and strong you will be able to glide from one move to the next. “Only then will it feel like a dance form,” says Babita.

Anweiti agrees with her and adds you might feel demotivated as she did after a few classes. But she swears by its effectiveness in making you feel better about yourself. You will feel agile and you will become fitter too, she says. Even better, if you suffer from unexplained muscle aches, ballet can help fix that as well.

Arpana adds ballet is a great dance form to learn if you want to get a good workout—it engages the entire body from head to toe, with each exercise working on different muscle groups. For those who spend long hours in front of screens, ballet can also help correct bad postural habits. Additionally, the intense physical workout releases endorphins, giving you an instant mood lift.

However, unlike children who learn ballet at a young age and level up gradually, adult ballet doesn’t follow a fixed course structure. This, Arpana explains, is because children who learn ballet are often training to become professional ballerinas. Whereas the goals vary in adult ballet programs. Adults might also have various responsibilities and constraints, limiting the time they can invest in ballet.

“Ballet comes with its own vocabulary. There are names for all the steps and positions and they are in French. So, it takes time to learn that too if you aren’t already familiar with the language,” says Arpana. The best way to learn ballet as an adult is to take it slow and learn it in stages, without being in a rush to put on the special shoes or the pointe shoes, adds the instructor.

“Sign up for a class and see how you feel about it,” says Babita. But you must be consistent with practice once you start. Even if you aren’t able to attend regular classes, you must do the stretches by yourself at home. “But don’t practice wearing ballet shoes if you are on your own. That must always be done under the guidance of an instructor. Else, you run the risk of serious injuries,” says Arpana.

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