Advice for Starting Late in Ballet

While ballet is most frequently started between the ages of three and seven, the explosion of ballet studios opening in all areas of America has opened the study to any age. Being a “late starter” is not easy, but don’t get discouraged! Though a career in professional ballet is a slim possibility as a late starter, you can still have access to a career in the ballet world. Even as a teen or adult student, there are performance opportunities!

Careers in the Ballet World

Whether you’re 12 years old or 20, the rule is the same: Never go into your first ballet class expecting a career in it. The reason isn’t so much because of age as it is desire. If you haven’t actually taken ballet yet, you can’t really know it’s what you want to do. If, after a year or two, you still desire a career in ballet, you can set your training toward it. Be aware from the beginning that even for ballet dancers who train from a very young age, only a select few become professional ballet dancers. Thus, the chances for late starters are even slimmer, as they‘re already behind on crucial training years.

Even though you may not be able to have a career as a professional ballet dancer, there are plenty of other options if you love ballet. With enough training and knowledge, you can become a teacher, choreographer, or even a local critic! Just because you aren’t equipped to go into dancing professionally doesn’t mean you can’t have a career in the ballet world. Regardless of which path you choose, remember this: Love ballet, and the rest will follow.

Hot Tip: Cultivate Brains & Beauty

If you’re a late starter with a college degree in your hand (or on the horizon), consider becoming a dance writer. Applying your academic skills to your knowledge of ballet can make for a career that is satisfying for both the mind and creative soul. Check with your local papers about what they look for in a dance critic to see what you need to do to get involved!

You Can Go En Pointe

One common question late starters ask is if they ever have a shot at being en pointe. The answer is simple: Yes! Pointe shoes are not restricted to those who started at age three. Be aware that pointe work will require proper muscle development and technical proficiency, which can take anywhere from six months to several years to attain. Talk to your teacher about pointe work and ask if you’re ready. Even if you aren’t, (s)he can give you advice on what to do to get there faster.

If you want to be en pointe as soon as possible in ballet, the more classes you can take per week, the faster you’ll be en pointe. Most schools require a minimum of three classes per week for students starting pointe. This ensures that the teacher can note progress in technique, and that your body has sufficient endurance and muscle memory. Students taking classes once or twice a week will not progress as fast technically, and may not develop their muscles enough to properly stand en pointe.

Performing as a Dancer

As stated above, it is very unlikely a dancer starting after age 12 will become a professional ballerina or danseur. However, this doesn’t in any way mean that you can’t perform. If you’re looking to start ballet with the goal of doing yearly or bi-yearly performances, check out your local schools. The majority of them now have performance opportunities for late starters and adults. Depending on the school’s policy, late starters may even perform in the same shows as pre-professional students.

Once you have gained sufficient experience studying ballet and performing with your school, you may want to consider auditioning for local, community companies. While these companies do not usually pay a stipend to dancers, they do offer larger scale performance opportunities than schools. Additionally, since they’re non-union and locally based, their criterion for dancers is a lot less rigid than most companies. This means that dancers who may be older than the average ballerina have a better shot at getting in and dancing soloist roles.

Mental Edge

Don’t feel intimidated if your role isn’t as big as the pre-professional 12-year-old in your school. Performing in a ballet is a wonderful experience, and every dancer helps to make a production a success. Just because you aren’t the Sugar Plum Fairy doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of your achievements on stage!

Dress Codes

Teens and adults starting ballet often wonder if they’ll be required to wear what child students wear. The short answer is no. Ballet schools range from strict to laissez faire on adult/teen dress codes. Taking this into consideration, the most stringent schools will have dancers wearing a leotard and tights, with no t-shirts or sweaters of any kind on top. This ensures that the teacher can see full alignment in the early stages of technique.

Other schools allow adults and teens to wear whatever they like, so long as they can move in it. If dress code is a concern for you, call your school ahead of time or check their web site. Most all studios are more than happy to offer advice on what to wear to your first class.

Open Your Mind

Don’t let the fact that you’re older than other dancers get you down. Ballet is a beautiful art form that can be learned and enjoyed at any age. At your studio, there will likely at least be one dancer younger than you, and one dancer older. Go into class with the goal of learning how to dance for the sheer enjoyment of it. Overloading yourself with big goals and pressures can be overwhelming and ruin the experience. Ballet is not a competitive sport. Have the goal of improving, and not competing with anyone else.

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