Dancing & teaching Ballet at 48 years old

This inspiring post is written by Laura from London. Enjoy! – Seira


Dear Seira,

I really enjoyed finding your website and thought I would share my story with you.

I am 48 years old and live in London. I started ballet around age 4 or 5 and took fairly regular classes in a variety of methods as I moved from place to place — Cecchetti, some ISTD Imperial, RAD, a bit of Vaganova… although it was all just “ballet” to me. We travelled a lot when I was a child and throughout life I’ve been fortunate enough to learn with some great teachers hailing from the Royal Ballet School, English National Ballet School (please note, my teachers went there, not me!) and the Joffrey, Bolshoi, Marinsky and San Francisco ballet companies. As a once-a-week student with as many ‘weaknesses’ (over-thinking, mediocre turnout, difficultly turning) as ‘strengths’ (musicality, good ballet feet, strong jumps, and later on core strength and flexibility) I didn’t have what it took to become a professional, although I did go on to do a BA Degree in Performing Arts.

I attended weekly class in my late 20s and early 30s then took a break of about 12 years. During this time I got married, had a child, and made my living teaching yoga and Pilates. About 2 years ago I watched a ballet video about Elmhurst Ballet School on youtube and realized how much I still loved and missed ballet. (Often when I asked myself what I would do if I won the lottery and could afford not to work, my fantasy involved going to ballet class every day!)

I decided rather spontaneously to look into training to become a ballet teacher to see what it would be like to approach it with the anatomical and kinesthetic knowledge that have come to me with maturity and through teaching yoga and Pilates. I was happy to discover that dance teacher training has changed quite a bit in the last 20-30 years. In the old days you normally had to have a professional performing career first, or work your way consecutively up through the grades as a young student to pass the “Associate” exam. Now I discovered there were several teacher training courses that involved part-time distance learning along with more intensive training periods, and in some cases (e.g. the ISTD Diplomas in Dance Instruction and Dance Education) the work was broken down into manageable units which you could pass gradually — and sometimes pay as you go. The one unifying factor in the UK is that you need to pass a recognized Intermediate exam as part of any teacher training course. I am extremely lucky in that I live within 15 minutes of RAD Headquarters and another school that was offering an RAD Intermediate class specifically for adults. The class at the other school was at a slightly better time for me and I signed up in September 2013.

Re-starting ballet after such a long break wasn’t as painful as it could be. Pilates and yoga had actually made me much stronger and more flexible then when I was 18, I was fit from doing lots of running, and I felt I understood movement more. On the down side, pointe work took some getting used to after all those years barefoot spreading my toes (I still have a love-hate relationship with it) and I’m definitely not as quick as I could be on petit allegro.

Still I decided, hesitantly, to apply for the ISTD Diploma in Dance Instruction in Imperial Classical Ballet with a very supportive organisation that offered flexible learning arrangements. Last year I passed the Health & Safety exam while working away at the RAD Intermediate exam syllabus. To be honest I felt I was ready for my Intermediate exam after about a year, but new people kept joining the class and we kept backtracking. After almost 2 years I felt like I was slightly burning out and maybe even getting worse! But finally this year our teacher put us into the exam — all but one were adults from 20s to 40s — and we all passed!

I am now planning on working towards Advanced Foundation and finishing up the introductory teaching diploma — which involves observation of teaching and learning their syllabus up to Grade 5. I have to admit I have constant doubts and financial worries but I’ve already invested a lot of time and money and am half way through so don’t want to give up. I am passionate about learning how to teach and understanding ballet at a deeper level, from the inside out. My ultimate aim is to teach well and safely, and offer contemporary, creative ballet classes to lifelong learners — for physical training, artistic expression and daily living!

I’ll keep an eye on your website for future tips!

Thanks for all your insight. I hope you keep sharing and good luck with your studies and teaching, too.