I’m 42, about to begin gender hormone therapy and have started ballet. So no mid-life crisis at all then.
Other “guys” get a sports car and take guitar lessons. I get leotards and learn the most beautiful, graceful, feminine art of them all. I win!
I’m not the most naturally graceful person, to say the least. My only dance experience until recently was bouncing about nightclub dancefloors in the Britpop era, twisting my melons like Bez from the Happy Mondays.
So how did I end up starting ballet? Well, a couple of years ago, I joined a slimming group. I’d met my partner, we ate too much, we drank too much and, before, I knew it, my weight had ballooned. I looked like sh*t and was desperately unhappy.
So, I joined the club and the weight dropped off. Hoorah! I lost more than half a stone in the first week and a pound or two in each of the next few weeks.
Then my weight loss started to plateau, so I decided to add some exercise to my healthy eating regime – and I wanted to try something I’d never done before, and something more feminine than football or jogging.
So I tried yoga. I went to Decathlon, bought all the female yoga attire (baggy shirt, baggy trousers) and went to a class recommended by a friend. Hmmm. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t for me. There was too little physical exercise and, instead, more focus on the spiritual side, sitting there in the lotus position, repeating “Om”.
Also, it wasn’t a bit feminine. About half of the people there were guys.
So, back to the drawing board. I went online and simply Googled feminine exercise. And there it was: ballet. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.
I’d never tried ballet, and had never felt any inclination to, although I had been to see the Nutcracker in Cardiff and LOVED it. But I never dreamed I could don the tights myself.
Until now. It seemed perfect. I had no intentions of joining a class, but I Googled about a bit and found that there were quite a few ballet exercise DVDs.
The one I liked the look of most was called Ballet Beautiful, and was by Mary Helen Bowers. If you don’t know, she was a dancer with New York Ballet and trained Natalie Portman for her part in Black Swan.
So, I got hold of the two Ballet Beautiful DVDs (there are several more now) and gave them a go. It was just what I needed – quite a rigorous workout, with some exercises on the mat and others standing.
I soon ordered my first leotard and tights to practise in. And I learned plenty of the basic moves, from pliés and relevés to attitudes and arabesques.
I did a workout about three times a week and adored them – the feeling of femininity, the thrill of learning something new and the fact that I was toning my body. Ballet makes the muscles long rather than chunky – so another feminine plus.
After a few weeks, I had caught the ballet bug and wanted to try classical ballet rather than the stretches and so on, which were more about toning than dancing.
So I began scouting round for a local class. And, me being me, I wanted to push myself by taking exams. I certainly have no ambitions of ever performing publicly, but I’m a sucker for a certificate and I knew that exams would give me something to aim for.
I must have emailed 20 or so dance schools, and I received replies from most. Some didn’t run adult ballet classes at all, some did but they were on nights when I had other commitments and others (the vast majority) didn’t enrol adults for exams.
I only found two that did. One sounded rather advanced and clashed with other commitments. With the other, the teacher said she hadn’t run exams for adults before, but that it shouldn’t be a problem.
So I began taking ballet classes *scrolls back through Outlook calendar* in September 2014. There were only four or five of us in lessons and I adored them. The ballet was basic, so perfect for me. My fellow pupils – all women – were lovely and my teacher was amazing.
I went week in, week out. No leotards, obviously – no-one seems to wear those to adult ballet classes. Though I did start wearing girls’ dance leggings eventually. I continued with my weekly classes and made steady progress.Some days, I came away feeling on top of the world.
Sometimes, ballet really touches your soul and makes you feel like a graceful, beautiful swan. I yearned for more of that feeling.
Then I found it tougher and tougher. Because I was in a mixed-abilities class, the teacher had to cater for all. An American woman joined and she had a lot of ballet background. What may have been really simple for her was really hard for me.
Instead of feeling amazing, I sometimes left feeling frustrated and like I had two left feet and couldn’t keep up. Also, there was never any sign of entering any exams. About this time, I had my DVT and had to stop going.
I’d become a bit disillusioned with ballet then. I tried another class elsewhere, but there must have been 30 or 40 people in it, so there was little individual instruction/correction. And despite it being a “beginners’ class”, it was far too advanced for me, so I never returned.
Despite all this, I still desperately wanted to take ballet classes, to sit exams and to experience that indescribable feeling when ballet touches your soul. But that’s for my next post.