Dr Dance Blog

Ballet for Older Men

Posted by on June 1, 2014 at 6:35 PM

I've been dancing jazz for several years. It's one of my favourite forms of dance (to dance) as it's funky, emotive and, in the class I attend, danced to very loud music. You feel the rhythm bouncing through you. I feel comfortable dancing jazz. It lifts me.

I wanted to push myself in a new way, so I took up ballet. I've done ballet before, but not for several years. To add an edge to the learning (and enjoyment) process I joined the London Amateur Ballet (LAB) company, a group of adults who perform a mixed bill of classical repertoire once a year. I joined LAB on April 22nd and I'll be performing with them at the Bloomsbury Theatre on the 5th July. It's a steep learning curve.

One of the hardest things to learn (apart from the steps, technique and deportment) is what to do with my head. I don't mean what to do with my head in space and time, I mean how I come to terms with learning ballet all over again and trying to pre-empt what I will look like doing ballet in front of an audience.  Actually, I can't think about what I'll look like. If I do that too much I'll probably pull out.

Learning ballet as an older man is odd. Psychologically. It's odd because I have a memory of being able to do certain things (jumps, turns, fast foot work) that I simply cannot do (as well) anymore, and I'm not sure whether practice will improve things significantly. It's odd because there are not many older men in a ballet class and therefore I feel like I stick out. And it’s odd because ballet classes are extremely competitive and hierarchical. In addition to attending a ballet class before rehearsals with LAB I’ve been attending adult ballet classes at the Central School of Ballet and at Danceworks (both in London).  

Classes and rehearsals at LAB are now great. In the few weeks I’ve been attending I have learnt most of the barre and the centre work is challenging for everyone – at least that’s what it looks like to me, I’m not the only one who struggles with a pirouette combination that ends in multiple fouette turns. Tom, the ballet master, is clear, decisive, patient and engaged and I feel very comfortable being taught by Tom. Joining LAB, or rather walking in to the studio for the first couple of times, was anxiety provoking. Amongst 20 plus women there is one other man and I think we’re about the same age, build and ability level. He might even be 10 years younger than me. I cant believe I'm in the final few months of my forties. Perhaps we're both in our late 30's.

I was waiting outside the dance studio to go in. I arrived a bit too early. A man unconnected with LAB walked up to me and asked what I was doing waiting outside a dance school. He asked if I was there to pick up my daughter. No. Then, “well you’re not one of the dace teachers are you?” I walked away. I then met, for the first time, a female member of LAB. She asked if I was the new pianist.

In other ballet classes my head and reflexes feel old. I find it hard to remember (and perform) long enchainments, or sequences of steps, particularly the allegro sections. I’ve found myself just standing in the middle of the studio not sure whether to sissone right, left over or under as everyone else darts this way and that.

The hierarchy in open ballet classes is taking a bit of getting used to. I’ve recently attended several elementary adult classes in one Mayfair studio but most of my classmates were far from elementary standard. While we were asked to turn double pirouettes some male students were turning quads plus and finishing with double tours. What really stuck in my craw was that these advanced-level dancers got all the attention and were given multiple corrections. Older dancers like me seemed invisible. It is as if we are not worthy of correction.

I want, desperately, to return to the comfort of jazz, but before I go back I want to get my head and body around ballet. I am determined to keep on until ballet feels comfortable again, or until the 5th July when I’ll be performing with LAB at the Bloomsbury Theatre.




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