I started learning ballet in my 40s. Here’s what I’ve realized.
Updated: Mar 24
I’ve been taking ballet classes regularly now for about a year and half, and enjoying it so much I don’t ever want to stop. My son asked me why I was taking lessons -- Did I want to perform one day? Did I want to teach? What was my end-goal? When I think about it, there is no end-goal (yet), but it’s many things that motivate me to put on those tights and leotards three times a week: I enjoy the challenge, I love learning new things and seeing my progress. I do it because it makes me happy!
I spent many of my younger years as a jazz dancer and got into contemporary dance only recently. But learning ballet had always been my childhood dream. I had thought about taking lessons in my 30s, but pre-pandemic traffic was a problem. I just didn’t have the time or the energy because I worked in Makati and lived in QC. So when the lockdowns from COVID happened and online classes became available, I jumped at the opportunity.
Here are three lessons I’ve learned over the last 18 months:
1. It’s never too late to start (anything).
I had originally signed up for adult ballet classes, so that I could learn the basics together with people closer to my age, but after a few weeks they dissolved the class. This meant that if I wanted to continue with classical ballet training, then I would have to join the regular classes where my classmates would be little girls less than a third of my age. But I REALLY wanted to learn, and I guess it helped that these were online classes, so I didn’t feel TOO bad about being a middle-aged woman among middle-schoolers.
I quickly realized that the flexibility I had in my youth had abandoned me. It was tough to keep my arabesques at 90 degrees, or to raise my leg past my shoulder. It didn’t help that my kids would tease me about how I had the lowest extensions in class. But as with anything in life, dedication and perseverance help you win the long game. By consistently going to class, my strength and flexibility started coming back, and I became more confident as the weeks went by.
These days I’m in an intermediate class with pointes, together with some high schoolers. It really makes my day when my teachers point out how far I’ve come. I think what’s great about ballet is that the results are so tangible. All I need to do is think about the time when I didn’t know croise from ecarte, or when I was too scared to go en pointe without holding the barre.
2. Ballet is an amazing full body workout.
I have gotten away with wearing my Apple watch during ballet class (which is a no-no), and it says that I burn almost the same calories as I do from an intense boxing class. Dance in all forms provides amazing fitness benefits – from cardiovascular fitness, to improving coordination and agility. But what’s different about ballet is how the dancer needs to maintain an illusion of effortlessness and grace, while beneath the surface, your body is working like crazy to generate power, stay elongated and balanced, and maintain control. Ballet class is like an insane leg day and core workout combined. Every muscle needs to stay engaged for the duration of the class, whether you’re just posing before an exercise, balancing, holding a position, turning or jumping.
Pointes classes are especially tough. I was surprised to find that they didn’t really hurt your toes as long as your shoes fit properly, but they do challenge every other part of your legs: from your thighs and glutes to your calves, ankles and feet.
3. You need to be patient with yourself.
I’m a competitive person and I like seeing results fast, so ballet was very humbling for me. In the beginning I couldn’t turn my feet out to 180 degrees like the younger girls, or even sustain a tight fifth position with the toes of one foot in line with the heel of the other. There was a time when my hips kept clicking, probably from me trying to force a better turnout.
At some point, I was doing ballet 3 times a week and strength workouts including weighted leg days on the other 3 to 4 days. It did me in. One day I started feeling pain in my knee which made it very difficult to do jumping movements and the upward motion of a fondue (similar to the upward phase of a one-legged squat). My orthopedist advised me to stop ballet completely for about 2 months and focus on resting my knee and strengthening surrounding muscles. It was so disappointing and frustrating, but I knew I had to follow doctor’s orders.
When I got the go signal to return to class, there were a couple of things that really helped me: One was to give myself more warm-up time and do foam rolling on my calves and IT band area before class. Second, I focused on upper body workouts for the non-ballet days, and now rest completely on Saturdays. My legs are so much happier. Stop using age as an excuse.
Age is definitely not a barrier to trying something new and challenging yourself physically. As we get older, we NEED activities that can keep our minds and bodies in tiptop shape. If dance is not your thing, then go seek out activities that you’ll enjoy! Message me if you’d like ideas.
If you ARE interested in taking ballet lessons, try out the classes at the Lisa Macuja School of Ballet. If you’re curious about adult ballet but not ready to attend a live class, try out the beginner ballet program of Korio Studios, which you can take online at any time (tights and leotards not required)!