Myth Busters - Why Ballet is for Every Body

Myth Busters - Why Ballet is for Every Body

As we have discussed before, telling people you are taking up ballet once you are over the age of 18 does tend to elicit some ‘interesting’ responses; from supportive to insulting, and everything in between. Usually meant to be humorous, sometimes these comments can be hurtful and quite confidence-denting! As anyone who has either taken up ballet as an adult or come back to ballet after a gap, knows only too well, that first time in the studio can be quite a challenge.

This week our blog is myth-busting – looking at reasons why ballet is for everybody, and every body.

Myth#1 - I’m too old

No! You’re not! Our bodies are made to move, and we keep them in good condition by using them. Being able to move throughout our life, especially as we get older, is something all of us need to nurture.  Ballet provides a whole-body workout that can be scaled according to every individual body.  Gentle classes, such as Silver Swans, can work on arm and leg mobility, range of motion for joints, bone strength and balance, all important skills to keep going to avoid those dreaded falls. Plus, remembering the movements is a great mental workout and definitely a skill that improves the more you do. Sudoku is not the only way to keep sharp!

Music is an important part of all ballet classes. Listening to music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions. The limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory, “lights” up when our ears perceive music. Moving to beautiful music is food for the brain as well as the soul..

Every ballet class begins at the barre, so it is safe for everyone. A good teacher will assess you and show you how to adapt movements according to ability.

Children often take up ballet around the age of 5 but by the time they get to 18, many give up so they have about 13 years of dancing.  If adults take up ballet at 50, there is no reason why they can’t be dancing at 80 and beyond, that’s 30+ years! So, it’s never too late to start and then keep on going.....

Myth#2 - I’m too fat

No! You’re not! As for myth#1, our bodies are made to move, and ballet is great for movement. Start with gentle classes and before long what seemed hard becomes easier. The beautiful music disguises the fact the ballet is also ‘exercise’. Don’t worry about weight or measurements and instead focus on what your body can do and see how it responds as you ask for a little more as time goes on. Regular ballet classes won’t magically take you from a size 18 to an 8 but much more importantly it will get you moving and start to tone and strengthen your muscles and joints. We are all made differently and a healthy body is one which can move; ballet is just perfect to get everything moving.

Myth#3 - I’m too unfit

No! You’re not!

Even if you haven’t done any formal exercise in living memory, or you’re not one of those people who says ‘Oh I don’t go to the gym but I love to walk’, that’s no reason why ballet can’t be your thing. As an absolute beginner, you will be learning basic leg/feet positions and arm movements. Correct technique is the name of the game so as to avoid any injury. Beginners’ classes will focus on where to position arms and legs so that strength is built up gently and safely. Progress is at your own pace – ballet isn’t a competitive sport so you can take your time and move at your own speed. You don’t begin ballet leaping and pirouetting across the studio!

Myth#3 - I don’t want to wear a leotard

As an adult dancer most classes will allow you to wear whatever you are comfortable in. Most beginners start in leggings and a tee shirt or gym/yoga style gear. There usually aren’t any rules to start with but generally teachers prefer that clothing isn’t super-baggy so they can see your form.

As time goes on dancers tend to get a bit braver about what they wear and move into dance specific clothing. Buying your first skirt to wear over leggings is a landmark! It’s like giving yourself permission to admit to being be a ‘real’ dancer. As manufacturers of dancewear specifically designed for adult bodies , we absolutely love seeing how dancers gain in confidence when they start to wear ballet clothes.

Myth#5 - My ankles are too weak

For non-dancers, when ballet is mentioned, thoughts go straight to pointe shoes. Beginners may be anxious that getting up on pointe is the end game and worry that their ankles might not be up to it. Fear not, many (most) adult dancers never get on pointe, nor have any desire to. Dancers start on a flat foot and then gradually more work on ‘tip toes’ is introduced, whilst remaining in a soft shoe. Leg, ankle and foot strength is built up slowly.


Myth#6 – My feet hurt

Ahh, aching feet. Just google ‘foot pain’ to see how common it is and how many different causes there can be. From bunions to arthritis, to plantar faciitis, to tendonitis and a million other things. The ankle and foot contain 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Considering both feet, that makes a total of 52 bones, making up about a quarter of all bones found in the mature adult body, so it’s not surprising that there are lots of things that can go wrong.

Our feet are the most hard-working part of our bodies yet we mostly take them for granted until something goes wrong. If movement is important for health and happiness, then foot care should be an essential part of life. Foot problems can often be related to current or future knee and hip issues, they can affect the ability to walk and exercise and ultimately the ability to live life as a mobile and independent person.

Foot ailments of any kind impact the ability of the entire body to function. There is hardly any movement we make that does not involve them.

Ballet has a very close relationship with feet. Everything starts with the feet and how they move across the floor, how they flex, how we learn to balance on just one of them and so much more. For new dancers just thinking about their feet and what they can and can’t do is probably eye-opening.

The good news is that regardless of age, it’s never too late to address foot problems. If you have sore feet today there are many health professionals who can help diagnose the cause and find solutions to mitigate or eliminate pain. Exercise Physiologists are experts in this field.

We will be dedicating a future blog to foot health, so watch out for that.

Myth#7 – I have a sore (insert body part)

Haven’t we all!

Being aware of our bodies and listening to them when they say they hurt is important. Movement is also important – See Myth#1. Other than things like broken bones, most soreness benefits from appropriate movement to repair and revive the body. Massage, supervised stretching such as yoga, pilates, gyrotonics, combined with other practices such as physio for specific injury etc all prepare the body to get it moving. Ballet is a whole-body workout, and properly managed is suitable for most people even if they have a pre-existing injury. Ballet teachers understand body mechanics and can advise how to adapt movements to make them safe where there is an injury to look after.

It is all too easy to use an injury of one part of the body to avoid moving the rest of it. At ballet class it is perfectly acceptable to just do the arms, or not do the arms or only do some leg exercises and so on thus enabling the rest of the body to get a gentle and safe work out and stay healthy.

Similarly if a hip or knee operation looms, gentle ballet leading up to the operation will enable the rest of the body to keep moving and be better prepared for recovery post-op.

Myth#8 – I’m too uncoordinated / stiff

The beauty of ballet is that learning it starts slowly. Whilst sequences will vary the movements are consistent. First time plies may be little more than a slight knee bend but with practise knees become more flexible, posture improves, muscles lengthen as well as strengthen. Starting ballet means that you will become more flexible coordinated every class you attend. It just happens! So start next week and next month you WILL  be more flexible.

Myth#9- I’m not a woman

The ballet studio is a place where everyone is equal. Differences of age, gender and ability are left at the door because everyone is there to work on themselves. Whilst pre and après ballet is often social time, during class there isn’t time for chatting. The class proceeds in a proscribed order and the teacher will have planned everything in advance to fill the allotted class time. It’s a time to focus on yourself. One of the many joys of ballet is that everyone can be in class together and just get on with it, so however you identify, ballet class is somewhere you can just be yourself.

Myth#10 - I tried ballet when I was a kid but I was no good

We hear this a lot! Childrens' ballet can be surprisingly cut throat! Whilst we’d like to think its all about the kids having a good time, serious ballet classes can be competitive and failure to pass exams or progress as expected can make it very unenjoyable. However, as adults none of that bad stuff matters. We (usually) don’t worry about exams and a good teacher will suggest adjustments to accommodate different levels of ability so that everyone can participate. Adult ballet is ALL about enjoyment.

Myth#11 - People in the class will look at me (and judge!)

See Myth#9 above. In class everyone is busy trying to get things right themselves, there isn’t time to worry about what anyone else is doing. Generally, the first part of the class is at the barre, where realistically you only have eyes for the teacher and for the two people directly in front and behind you. The second part of class is away from the barre, in the ‘centre’ which may involve small groups practicing travelling movements across the studio, and yes, the others in the class are watching each other. Watching, not judging - trying to remember the sequence, hoping they can get it right. As with the rest of class, dancers are focused on themselves.

Myth#12 – I have problems standing up

Ballet isn’t just for the 100% able-bodied. The barre can provide stability for those with balance challenges. It’s perfectly OK to take a few minutes out to catch your breath or just to miss out something your body doesn’t want to do - jumps for example. Live zoom or recorded classes are great for those who may be chair or housebound but who can enjoy the arm movements to beautiful music.

In fact, arms are the most important part of the iconic ballet Swan Lake. You may have seen this video of former ballet dancer Marta Cinta González, afflicted with memory loss, gracefully dancing to Swan Lake from her wheelchair. If not, get the tissues out. It is such a compelling demonstration of the great power of music and ballet to transport us all.

video link here >>> 

The back story of Marta below;

We hope you have enjoyed this blog, and that if you are thinking of taking up ballet you may feel encouraged.


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