As an adult, you’ve discovered ballet and decided you love ballet passionately. Now you wonder if it is possible to pursue ballet as a career?
Adult ballet dancers often think there is no room for them in the ballet world. This article is about pursuing ballet passionately as an adult and possibly make ballet their career.”
When it comes to adults and learning ballet, here are the top most common responses:
- I’m too old for ballet!
- I’m too inflexible
- I have no coordination (I have 2 left feet)
- I should have started ballet when I was a child.
- I shouldn’t have stopped ballet when I was a child, now it is too late.
- There’s no point in learning ballet, as an adult, I wouldn’t get very far.
Read this article I wrote about why it is better to learn ballet as an adult.
While the above may simply be some of the ways that people politely decline taking a ballet class, they are not the ones I’m writing this article for.
I’m addressing those who are genuinely passionate about ballet and want to make ballet a big part of their life, and possibly even make it their career.
Taking ballet seriously, Seriously?
Other well-meaning family and friends generally assume that the only reason why you would take ballet seriously is to eventually be a professional dancer. Now as an adult, it is generally too late to turn professional (due to heavy competition from younger teenagers), so it is common for them to NOT understand why you would take ballet training seriously.
Okay, yes, the hard reality is that if you’re an adult, it is too late to audition for the Royal Ballet school. Even if you took lots of private lessons to catch up, it is highly unlikely you may have the chance to be employed as a professional ballet dancer.
But that’s just age. Let’s say even if your age is not accounted for, to be become a professional dancer is almost like a genetic lottery. Your talent (assuming if you have some) is secondary, because you’ll still have to have at least 90% of what it famously donned as the
correct body type for ballet
A big head gets you nowhere
There is this adult dancer who has been dancing since she was 3 but never went down the professional route. She doesn’t come across as being particularly talented, but she is fairly coordinated and can be considered to be an advanced dancer. Being deeply passionate about ballet, she (tiresomely) enjoys telling everyone her greatest regrets, that “she should have been a professional dancer.” No one had the heart to tell her that she didn’t have the right body type. Her face is unusually large and her head is unproportionally too big (literally).
It sounds mean, but most vocational schools choose their students this way. They actually have required minimum measurements. It is just like fashion runway models have to be unusually tall and thin, and Jockeys have to be stout and light. Even airplane pilots have a preferred body type.
So what I mean is, no point harping on the fact that you’re too old to dance ballet because you’re an adult age. Even if age is not a factor, other factors may prevent you turning professional.
ANYWAY, if you really knew what professional dancers go through, you might not even want to go down that road!
A Dancer’s Life
Not all that glitters is gold.
There aren’t many stories out there about those children who trained all their life in professional school and didn’t make it due to a pas de duex (partnering) injury.
There are those whose families sold their house to afford their ballet vocational school – only for them to graduate and not find a job in any company.
There are those who used their parent’s savings for their college education to pursue their dream, only to dance a couple of years in the company and realize its not for them.
Professional Company life
Being in a professional company is also highly competitive and stressful environment where dancers are always vying for the best roles. Then, every year, younger, more talented, more flexible, prettier dancers join the company…
Some professional dancers get so sick of professional company life and wish that they don’t get major roles so they can slack off. It is a job, at the end of the day. They need to earn money, they get tired and need rest.
It may be political as well. Sometimes if dancers are from a well-connected family, or have rich patrons and sponsors – they can to dance the roles they want. The less well-off or less connected dancers may not have much chances to dance the roles that they want.
They also get bored of doing the same Swan Lake and Nutcracker, which remain strongly the public’s favorites. And those brings in the much needed dollars for the company each year.
Nevertheless, as an adult dancer…
Nevertheless, you can still pursue ballet seriously and passionately.
While you may never get to dance professionally, you can still make ballet part of your career ambition. This is for those who are always told “It is too late for you!”
So as an adult, can I still pursue ballet passionately?
Yes, and why not if you’ve got the time and resources?
There are many ways you can get involved in ballet as an adult. However…
First and foremost
Take your ballet training seriously
In order to do so, you have to find a good ballet teacher.
If you’re very passionate about ballet, the important thing is find a passionate teacher. This teacher will give you personal corrections and push you beyond what you think you can do. These rare and few great ballet teachers treat you as a serious ballet student, not as an adult who is just looking for some exercise.
I remember once I lost my passion and got rather discouraged because I couldn’t find a good teacher in the new area I lived in. My ballet teacher then made me lose hope to improve myself because she didn’t quite care how we were doing.
I then discontinued ballet for many years.
Set high standards for yourself
When you’re committed to learning ballet seriously, you become a thinking dancer. You read up on ballet terms, watch ballet videos, attend ballet performances, perhaps jot down your corrections and reminders in a ballet diary. You’ll also warm up, stretch and take class as often as you can.
In this way, you’re on your own journey of learning to dance well. One day, people might think that you’ve danced since you were a child, or even mistake you as an ex-professional dancer! I’ve seen them in Advanced classes.
Train like a professional
I never knew that there were different training standards for types of dancers. There was the recreational type and the pre-professional type.
Both types are important and one is not superior to the other because it suits different needs.
The priorities for the recreational dancer is to learn to dance, be in time, perform and enjoy the art. Its purpose for learning dance recreationally is also to lose weight, lay the foundation for other sort of dances, improve coordination or is to a hobby.
Most adult ballet teachers feel that adults undertake ballet for recreational purpose, so therefore their standards are lowered. The class is made to be fun and enjoyable and less intense.
Thus, it surprised me when my more senior adult ballet dancer friends told me about what they said to their teacher. They said, “Please train me like the way you train professional dancers. Don’t cut me any slack because I want to learn ballet seriously.”
I decided to do the same.
Then I realized learning ballet can be so much more precise and in-depth – it fascinated me! However, there also comes along with it that was different to the recreational style of learning. It was intense, frustrating and I could be affected emotionally and filled with self-doubt.
Nevertheless, if you’re serious about ballet. It would help if you acquired a more in-depth understanding of ballet.
One example of an adult dancer who did this is:
Natalie Portman, at age 27, trained like a professional for a year, 6 times a week for 2-5 hours a day to prepare for her role in Black Swan .
Is all this intense effort pointless for an adult dancer like me?
To the contrary, I think it is better this way, when you’re learning for yourself. There’s no real pressure to reach your goals in the certain amount of time, with a certain kind of outcome (like getting a job in the top companies in the world).
You can thoroughly enjoy the process and focus the pressure of learning entirely to improve your technique, instead of worrying about whether the hundreds of thousand dollars of family money spent since you were three years old will be wasted.
You don’t have to worry about getting into a vocational ballet school or if you’re going to have a job as a dancer to pay your bills. And if you already have made it in, whether you could continue to rise the rank AND hopefully your career won’t be halted permanently by any unforeseen injuries.
After all since you’re your own artistic director of your ballet life, it is up to you to set goals for yourself.
Opportunities for adult ballet enthusiasts
Being in the adult ballet world for some time, I’ve come to meet many passionate adult ballet dancers. Here are some of the things they do for ballet.
Performing opportunities as an adult
Some really good dancers join smaller home-grown companies and dance with them for a small fee or per contract basis.
There are some wonderful small companies, usually run about adult volunteers which put on shows for the public and charitable causes. One of the most famous one is Kathy Mata Ballet, which I got to know from watching an online documentary.
You could get in touch with them if you live in San Francisco, or you could also start a similar one on your own!
Read my interview with her.
Some take part in local/international dance competitions such as CSTD, where there is an open group category (no age limit). Some studios are willing to send their adult students in.
If your studio has a reasonable sized adult dancers population, you could take part in their year end performance.
There is also the church group where you could choreograph or stage your performance around their events, for example, Christmas or New Year’s celebration
Becoming professional dancers in other dance genres
With ballet being a great foundation for dance, you could open yourself to the possibilities of becoming a professional dancer in contemporary dance. Some of contemporary dance styles are quite lyrical, and ballet dancers also enjoy them very much.
There is also other dance genres where a ballet foundation would be extremely helpful, such as Ballroom, Salsa or even pole dancing.
And you may never know – you might get to even DANCE at professional ballet companies.
Volunteer, become a patron, take dance classes at your local dance company and get connected!
Recently, one adult ballet dancer became friends with the director of the Singapore Dance Theatre, and as a result, she had a minor role in their recent production of Giselle. She became Giselle’s mother. The role required more acting than dancing, but still you had to wear ballet character shoes and walk in a ballet way and make balletic movements and gestures.
My point is, you can aim to learn to dance as well as a professional dancer. You can set yourself for professional standards.
Becoming a ballet teacher
Yes it is possible!
You can aspire to be a ballet teacher.
The internet is littered with stories of adults who started ballet and eventually passed their RAD intermediate exams and applied for a Certificate of Ballet teaching Studies by the Royal Academy of Dance. They then became ballet teachers!
I personally know of three late starters (or re-starters to ballet) who became ballet teachers, one of them is RAD registered.
Starting a Ballet School
There are other careers pathways in ballet for adults too.
Another person I know who is extremely passionate in dance partnered with her ballet teacher to start a ballet school.
She handles the admin and the teacher handles the classes
There are at least 3 adults I know who eventually created their own dancewear label or started their own dancewear store. They designed T-shirts, leotards, or retailed other ballet items like pointe shoe ribbons etc.
A very talented dancer designed costumes for everyone and now she has a small company making costumes.
It was a adult dancer in Kathy Mata’s class who created the dance documentary, “Adult Beginner”.
If you’re eloquent in writing, you could help your school maintain their websites, blog or newsletters.
You could volunteer for events and use any skill you may have. My friend who is a physiotherapist regularly volunteers to treat sore muscles backstage.
Working in a dance company
Why not apply for a job in your local dance company? They would need administrative staff, marketing executives, wardrobe assistants etc.
There are many places for adults who are passionate about ballet!
I hope you have found some ideas here!