Why Adults Do Ballet: Your Stories

by Thierry Rosenzweig

March, 2022

Introduction​ 

We present here below an overview of the results from the “My Story” questionnaire.
The objective of the survey was to draw a better understanding of why adults came up to practise ballet,
what are their experiences, thoughts, and suggestions as learners.

The questionnaire was sent to the thirteen ballet learners who spontaneously expressed their interest in the "My Story" project (as presented in one of the Holistic Ballet newsletters).

Franziska with her father, Thierry, who wrote this article

12 of them filled in the questionnaire, we all thank them very much for their interest and cooperation.

The type of questionnaire we selected mainly favoured "open questions" (thus, "free answers") that in our view were more relevant to the project's objective than collecting "dry data" and statistics.

In the same way, the results presented below are for most of them illustrated/supported by a selection of respondents' (non-modified) answers. We selected answers that well reflected a set of roughly the same ideas among respondents.

In drafting the results below, we intended to keep it "short" or at least to a reasonable length. I hope we have succeeded.

 

Furthermore, readers must consider that part of the respondents are not native English speakers and might have expressed their ideas with some expressions not necessarily familiar to everyone.

Lastly, we would welcome any questions or comments regarding the survey and its results presentation.

Thank you, Thierry

1. Respondents' Profile At A Glance​

My Story table 1.png

2. Childhood Ballet Classes Memories​

  • Nearly half of the respondents (5/12) experienced ballet at early childhood age (4y to 9y). It left them with very strong memories but often with some frustration. “I loved those classes, I felt free and exhilarated. My teacher said I was doing very well but she also told my mum I would never be a dancer because I was already too tall”; “I did a solo when I was 7 which I was very proud of. Then, from junior school onwards I felt directed/pushed for exams. There was no « magical » anymore"; “I was not select for the show. I was very bitter”.

  • Some had not taken ballet classes during their childhood but have been fascinated by it: "I always wanted to do ballet since I was 4. Only took me 50 years to start! Not going to stop anytime soon!"

 

3. Enrolling In Adult Ballet Classes And Other Physical Practices​

The age at which respondents started adult ballet classes is evenly spread out between 20 and 50 as shown in the graph below:

Your Story table 2.png
  • When they enrolled in adult ballet class, all respondents had already several years of experience in other areas of physical activity. Five had taken courses in different types of dances (ballroom, salsa, tango, "Bollywood" or Chinese sword dance…). Three had concentrated on yoga, Pilates or similar. The remaining had actively practised individual physical activities such as swimming, hiking etc.​

  • All but two (i.e., 83%) keep practising their former activities at least on a part-time basis, namely Pilates "to improve muscular capacity, balance and flexibility in the direction required for Ballet”. Others want to “keep stamina” through climbing or fencing. One finds in swimming “a relaxing counter-effect to ballet. I do the movements with not worrying too much doing them well”.​

  • Lastly, Asian dances somehow "match well with ballet" and provide additional benefits: “I practice Chinese sword-dance, which is culturally meaningful for me and requires the use of different muscle groups (upper body). It also gives a lot of fun!”; “Bollywood Indian dance has similar precision (hands, fingers, lines) and whereas few want to watch amateur or beginner adult ballet, I perform with my Indian group a lot.”​​​

adult ballet students at a workshop.jpg

4. Teaching Ballet To Adults: What Works?​

  • A structured progression is seen by many respondents as particularly needed by adult ballet learners. “As I’ve matured, I’ve realized how much I need calm structure around me. Holistic Ballet suits me very well for these reasons. There is calm, order and planned structure built on repetition”; “I value repetition, patience, and practice. I despair easily and am often very nervous which prevent me to repeat the combination”.​​​

 

adult ballet students focused at a workshop

  • In the same vein, a major need shared by most respondents is the need for explanations: “I need to understand how to do something and feel it. Holistic I guess”; “Understanding the anatomy involved in a certain technique helps me to engage the correct musculature and pay attention to the correct physical sensation”; “I like teachers who give [an] alternative way of explaining a movement since sometimes the more common phrases don't mean the right thing to me". ”; “I have been always struggling with the same issue because I never understood how to solve them." The teaching style of Franziska. "made me improve a lot."; "I find [it] very helpful when a teacher explains what you might do wrong before the actual combination starts."​

  • No explanations however without precise demonstrations: “I find the way Franziska breaks down the steps in the videos and also that camera is often behind her, makes it easier to follow her instructions."​

  • And explanations should also be "enlivened" at least at times by "verbally painted pictures”: “As soon as someone mentions 'protective wings growing out [of] my back', my heart radiates out to my fingers! It highlights the outcomes we are working toward."​

  • In brief, most respondents share the view that teaching ballet to adults (and particularly to ‘late beginners’) is specific: “Most teachers teach would teach adults the same way they teach kids! (In this regards) the experience I have training with Franziska is the best experience”.​

  • Lastly, the learner’s own effort to learn is considered by respondents as crucial. This particularly means getting additional body strengthening as mentioned, for instance, this ballet beginner of 50+: "I soon discovered that just getting generally ‘fitter’ was not going to improve my ballet. I then joined a gym and went back to weight training”.

5. Challenges And Reality​

  • Enrolling in ballet at an adult age is seen as a challenge by itself “both mental and physical”: “(When I started), I was shocked how much harder it was to take ballet up as an adult! I’d forgotten everything about the terminology beyond the basic positions. And everything hurt! "​

  • This is why respondents value very much teaching that takes these constraints into account: "I enjoy Holistic Ballet classes because they work realistically with my body instead of trying to push too far and cause injury".

  • Moreover, respondents believe that “being realistic” is the best way to progress: “I find that having realistic expectations was very useful. Then, over the years, I found myself more confident to try new steps and sequences"; "When I first started, I did want to get onto pointe and do effortless pirouettes etc. I'm now more aware of what my body needs and is able to do. My goals seem further away but I have the rest of my life to accomplish this and enjoy the journey, so no rush".​

  • Without disagreeing with the “realistic” approach, others also appreciate teachers ”who encourage me to try new things, I particularly enjoyed try pointe for a couple of terms because it was a challenge, I thought I wouldn’t be able to ever do”; “I already exceeded my personal goal since I am doing pointe now! But the most important for me is to keep enjoy my ballet practice as I am doing now”.

6. Why Do You Practise Ballet? (Imagine you explain it to a friend, a family member)​​

Responses to this question are sometimes just simple and direct: “I do ballet because I love it.”

  • So, for quite a few, Ballet is above all a matter of ‘love and passion’. "I love ballet. It feels I am home"; ”I started ballet just as an exercise class but fell in love with it."​

  • But what fuels this passion? Some said it is the challenge that Ballet proposes: “I love the mental and physical challenge of ballet”; “I had a lot to catch up on starting so late, but I love the challenge, discipline and strength required to make it looks beautiful".​

  • Some particularly like the serenity effect: “(Doing ballet) is the only time my brain is totally quiet”; “Ballet barre is like a meditation session to me. You concentrate so much that the whole world stops to exist"; "There is nothing like the feeling of intense focus and complete absorption that ballet gives me and the exhilaration I feel when the music and movements come together, even at my clumsy beginner level".​

  • In the same vein, respondents see the ballet class as an emotional experience: “Ballet has changed from a physical exercise I happened to enjoy to a (discipline) essential to my emotional wellbeing”; “It is a connection with my childhood and my mother who always wanted to do it but never managed to”; “I love my teacher because she makes me feel like a ballerina even though I am 55 and with only three years of practice.”; “I met wonderful people in ballet classes”.​​​

 

Ruth Cowan_edited.jpg

adult dancer Ruth Cowan at a

Swan Lake ballet retreat

  • Others underlined the “healing effect”: “Having experienced a lot of ill-health, it feels special and important to feel strong and capable in my body and be able to use it. This is healing effect”; “Even in my darkest days I’d be able to think of nothing but my turn out and engaging my body during an hour or two."​

  • For one respondent, Ballet was for her, nothing less than a "lifesaver".​

  • And what about the role of Ballet to just getting “fit”? This objective is of course mentioned: “I do ballet because it makes me feel graceful and happy”; “It has made my balance better, my body leaner and stronger”; “Ballet is a brilliant way to keep your body healthy and fit.”.​

  • But this "getting fit" is one objective among others "that are deeper". Getting "fit" is never presented as the sole or the key reason to practice ballet.​

7. Lastly Have You Any Suggestions?​ 

First, suggestions collected were the following:

  • More "Zoom" workshop for beginners (like weekends or so)​

  • Ballet retreats (or Herbert would complain if you are away?)​

  • Do you know a method to get more flexible still at this age?​

  • What about an “Adult Learners Question Time”? A session during which learners could discuss a whole range of issues with the teacher.

8. Additionally: COVID 19 And Its Consequences On Training​

At the time of the survey (Spring 2021), 50% of the respondents declared they were still experiencing significant constraints due to the pandemic.

To the question “Do these constraints impact your training negatively?” 33% answered “Yes”.

Negative Consequences From Covid Constraints On Training

  • The first and main negative consequence mentioned is the lack of space or equipment (mirror, adequate floor) when they take online classes or self-train from home.​

  • “Due to limited space at home, I can’t work properly, I can’t do long sequences or grand allegro. In addition, I do not have a mirror for proper feedback and corrections”; “Not enough space to practise turns and bigger movements or put a centre practise without bumping in something"; "On my floor, I could not do any jump or much travelling".​

  • These respondents also declared missing very much “hand on corrections” they used to get in in-studio training.​​

  • Another drawback is mentioned by learners who were before the Covid already “struggling” to keep the pace of the training: "I started struggling even before Covid (likely because of getting older plus other commitments). This prevented me from doing as many classes as I would have liked. Then, when I began to train at home (through online lessons) I felt I've lost any skill/strength."​

Lastly, a respondent expresses her worries that Covid may result in durable limitations from studios' training offers.

  • “Our studio used to offer multiple classes a week for adults but when the classes went on Zoom, much fewer people came to attend in-studio classes (when they started back). As a result, the studio only offers two identical classes a week because the number of attendees is low. Moreover, the in-studio classes are currently "very gentle" as most learners didn't do anything during lockdown. It is very frustrating."

On the other hand, without minimising the drawbacks, 83% of respondents said « Yes » to the question: « Did the COVID event generate a durable positive impact on the way you train? »

Durable Positive Impact From The Covid Event On Training

  • For most respondents, the pandemic "pushed them" to look at online courses which they said significantly enrich their training. “I have found online options that I never knew existed. I even trained with the New York City Ballet! There are not many possibilities where I live… especially not the type of Holistic Ballet!"; "I am so glad I found Franziska online. I feel like she is more attentive than many other teachers I had in my studio, and her teaching style motivates me to stick more to my ballet routine."​

  • It gives learners the opportunity ‘to do more’: “Going online was fantastic! It was the silver lining of the lockdown for me; being able to get up to three classes in a good week. A bliss!"​

  • It enables them to pay more attention to training ….but with limitations: “I found the online class really concentrated my mind…but I missed the energy of a live class.”; “Online classes taught me to find time to train regularly and pay more attention to my body/my training…but I am not saying that’s the best for your ballet (practise). You can’t beat live corrections!”; “(With online class and their recording) I could practice and follow repeated instructions on what to focus on.”​

  • It provides useful but sometimes painful comparisons regarding one’s actual level: “(In my ordinary studio) I felt that I was progressing well, but suddenly seeing other adult learners and also attending online classes which focus more on correct technique than the ‘leisure’ adult classes I used to take showed me I was way behind where I want to go and potentially could be.”; “These new online classes inspired me and showed me that I can do better.”

joanna_edited.jpg

adult dancer Joanna Veldman

performing in La Sylphide

Conclusion:

It is clear from the survey that the Covid event had a strong effect on the way learners train ballet. We assume that at least part of the changes will prove durable.

  • The main obvious change is that learners train much more now through a combination of practices, namely a combination of in-studio and online classes.​

  • Online classes are the most practised (83% of the respondents) closely followed by studio classes (75% of the respondents). Moreover, 75% of respondents declare that in addition to their usual in-studio and online classes, they attend ballet workshops (2/3 online and 1/3 in present). Workshops’ attendance varies among respondents from just once to three or four times a year.​​​​

  • In addition to these most practised ways of training, 42% of respondents declare also taking individual “private lessons" (in-person or online) with a frequency that varies between once a week to once a month or being only "occasional" for the others.​

  • Lastly, 43% of respondents said they complement their training with DVDs ballet training programs or similar but with a frequency that never exceed 2 hours per month.