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DOES BALLET CLASS HAVE AN AGE LIMIT?

24 Feb

I take ballet class with a woman who is turning 90-years-old at the end of April. (And she’s not the teacher — she’s a student, like me!)

Clearly, my Saturday morning adult ballet class is host to a diverse group. Some students are local dance teachers; some are yoga or Pilates instructors. Some are former company ballerinas and some are students in their teens. Then there is Nancy, an 89-year-old great-grandmother, in class to take the barre. I guess she’s there for the same reason I am — love for ballet’s discipline and musicality, and, of course, for the great way it helps you stay fit.

Wearing her leotard and nylon warm-up pants, leg warmers and ballet slippers, Nancy begins the barre by facing the mirror and holding on with both hands. Though she needs both hands for support, she is quite competent as she goes through the plié combinations, tendu, rond de jambe and battement.

Nancy’s leg may be low, and she might not bend all the way to the floor, but she works hard, is graceful and is really quite remarkable. (We all adjust our movements for age and capability.)

The master - Antony Tudor at 53 years old, teaching class at the Old Met, 1961

The master – Antony Tudor at 53 years old, teaching class at the Old Met, 1961

I was reminded of prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, who I watched teach class at American Ballet Theatre studios back when I was Event Coordinator for the 2007 ABT Dancer Reunion. (Read Jumping at the Chance on adriaballetbeat.com). I first noticed Makarova while walking past the studio hosting company class – who was that teacher with the gorgeous figure, demonstrating a magnificent grand battement with perfect extension? At first I wasn’t sure, so I asked. It was indeed Makarova, who was 67 at the time.

Well, Nancy is no Makarova, but she does make us realize that continuing to take ballet class, at any level or any age, can be wonderful both mentally and physically.

Nancy's 90th Birthday (Photo added April 22, 2014)

Nancy’s 90th Birthday (Photo: April 22, 2014)

Do we really have to stop dancing when we get older? Does a ballet class have an age limit? I hope not. Nancy makes us realize that at any age or any level, continuing to take class offers the benefit of maintaining flexibility, strength and endurance. Add in the ballet mind-game of combinations and patterns, and there you have it — the full mind/body workout.

Age is just a number, right? On Saturday mornings we take class, and are the better for it.

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THE BALLET CLASS GRUMP

23 Sep

I’m dressed in my leotard and tights, bending and stretching at the barre, getting ready for 10 am class to begin. The piano player takes her seat; the teacher enters the studio and gives the opening plié combination.

I start class, but during the first port de bras my mind begins to wander. Instead of focusing on the music and movement, I instead begin to make a mental list of things that make me “buggy” in ballet class. lucy ballet[1]

Ballet is my most favorite of art forms, and class is something I always look forward to – for me it’s like breathing! I feel compelled to be there – it’s a big part of my life. Why can’t I just relax and enjoy myself? Why do I always let things bother me? Is it age? Exhaustion? The weather?

Maybe I’m just a ballet class grump!

Here’s my top ten list of ballet class bug-a-boos:

  1. Teachers who rush the barre – please go slowly until my muscles loosen up.
  2. Dancers who don’t towel off – please don’t fling your sweat at me!
  3. Dancers who don’t move backward or forward – can’t they make room for everyone around them?
  4. Stagnant air – please turn on a fan!
  5. Pianists who never change their music – ever.
  6. Teachers who talk too much – let’s get moving.
  7. Dancers who don’t angle at the barre – don’t put me in mortal danger with your battement!
  8. Show offs – do you really need to do eight pirouettes between combinations?
  9. Classes that start late – and end on time!
  10. Dancers who believe they “own” their spot – read “Whose Spot is it Anyway” on adriaballetbeat.com.

battement-tendu-2[1]There – now I feel better. Sometimes it feels so good to vent. Now I can concentrate, and enjoy my first tendu.

Are there things that makes you “buggy” in ballet class?

IT’S MY THERAPY

22 Jun

When I was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, I was very close with my grandmother’s sisters.  I loved my great aunts – they were a colorful group, all with larger than life personalities. They were great cooks, would talk up a storm (mostly gossiping  about the relatives), were always fun but unfortunately, were also big gamblers. GamblingDespite a tight budget, they managed to spend most of their spare time playing  Poker, Canasta, Gin Rummy,  “the horses,” “the numbers” (pre-lottery days), and more. You name it, they were in it. Of course they were always losing, but still, they went back again for more and more. The gambling bug never quit.

My mother, asking why they couldn’t get the habit under control, would always be given the same answer – “it’s my therapy.” The card playing was their therapy, the racetrack, their therapy, Bingo, their therapy. What the heck were they talking about?

Years later, I learned. Life is filled with curves, with lots of bumps in the road. How do you cope with life’s highs and lows? Most people find balance in “a therapy.” pointe shoesWhether it’s yoga, running, reading or a favorite hobby, having “a therapy” helps calm the soul. (Hopefully, that therapy is not gambling)!

So, what’s my therapy? Mmm.. off to ballet class….

DANCING TO THE RIGHT

13 Nov

Sometimes I feel like I’m crumbling… one day my knees are the problem, another day my back, some days my hips or feet.  Sometimes I feel like I can conquer the world, so bendy and free, and other days just taking the barre feels like a challenge.  As an adult dancer who takes two to three ballet classes a week, I get sick and tired of my never-ending aches and pains, but unfortunately, that’s  the reality when you’re still taking class over the age of 50(!).

Sadly, as a person ages, their body just doesn’t perform the way it used to. In the old days, I would take class and focus on technique; now, my focus often turns to a stiff back, knees that don’t bend deeply enough or shoulders that ache when I move this way or that.

In the “old” days, all “bendy and free…”

Of course, injuries to dancers are common – ligament tears, overuse injuries, ankle sprains and knee pains… it goes with the territory.  (And dancers should always see a doctor if they’re dancing through pain and no one should ever come back to class without clearance. Waiting without treating an injury surely does more harm than good)!

But this musing is not about handling serious dance injuries – it’s about facing the inevitable stiffness and loss of flexibility that comes with age. When a dancer matures, so does the technical difficulty of the dance class.

So, why do we continue to go? Because we take pleasure in ballet’s discipline and enjoy interpreting the beautiful music. We like to work hard and bend our bodies in ways that are unlike any other type of exercise. We feel joy in artistic movement and find satisfaction in that, despite the physical obstacles.

We manage by substituting less flexibility for increased artistry; we use the music differently and phrase our dancing, perhaps, more eloquently; we re-focus on grace and posture. We “mark” when we need to and sometimes alter the combinations to suit.  Regardless of our age, we receive gratification from striving to be our personal best.

If a bad left knee means a grand jeté only to the right, that’s OK. If, because of that knee, you relevé only on the right foot, that’s OK too. So what if your petit allegro isn’t what it used to be?

The important thing is that we’re there, in ballet class, doing what we love and striving to be our best. That’s what I do, and I feel like I still belong.

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