2 Nov 2012

Jim's Ballet Page

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly" (G.K. Chesterton)

One of my greatest pleasures in recent years has been taking up classical ballet (at the age of 52). Yoga struck me as too static and inward-looking, and not sufficiently aesthetic. Getting the courage to do so took a few years (particularly in a country like Australia where men are supposed to be REAL men - go fishing, play football, drink lots of beer, and so on). But one of the pleasures of getting past 50 is that you stop caring what people think. I was tipped into it by some excellent articles by Tom Parsons, an electrical engineer and computer scientist who took classes during most of his adult life. I recommend these articles highly to anyone who is even slightly wondering whether to take up ballet as an adult (further experiences are found at the wonderful Ballet Talk for Dancers http://dancers.invisionzone.com/index.php). So I looked in the yellow pages, rang up the nearest school that mentioned "adult classes", and went along for a class. I got addicted for life within the first few seconds of working at the barre. Here's a picture from a recent Dance Australia article (PDF, 358 kB) on my current ballet classes at 2Ballerinas, in Brisbane.

  Miss Jills last class

The second picture shows the members of the last class taught by Miss Jill (centre), who recently retired from teaching one of my classes.

Why is ballet such a very great pleasure ? For myself, I can explain it by referring to ballet's historical roots. Ballet started at the tail-end of the Renaissance. Art at the time was linked to the philosophical idea that objects of the real world were just the imperfect imitations of the 'true' or ideal forms that existed only as abstract ideas. The aim of all art was to represent the true or ideal forms as closely as possible. This view had originated in Classical Greece, and rediscovered during the Renaissance. Ballet similarly aimed to imitate ideal forms, and in particular those produced in Classical Greece, and represented in the sculpture of the time. This means that one's mental attitude during ballet class is very straightforward and simple - the whole aim of an exercise is to move an arm, or a leg, or other part of one's body as perfectly as possible - to come as close as possible to the ideal for that particular exercise*.

The classical roots of ballet also explains its concentration on extension of the limbs, on producing long lines, and on the sense of effortlessness and weightlessness that one aims to convey. Trying to imitate these forms in class leads to a sense of clarity, simplicity, and perfection.

The result is that there is a great straightforwardness of motives when doing ballet - when working at the barre, one can forget all the complexities of the modern world. We dont have to worry that our motives are ambiguous, or that every position implies its own contradiction.

People are often shy about taking up ballet, wondering if they will be laughed at in class, or at least commented on because of lack of ability. Dont worry! Everyone in an adult class is there because they love ballet, and is very welcoming to anyone else who wants to share this too. All you have to do is try, and you will be accepted. After all, they have all been through it themselves at some time or other. And, no matter what your standard is when you start, if you keep at it, you will get better, and better. For men, there also sometimes seems to be a concern about what clothing to wear. Dont worry - as you can see from the photograph above, you can wear whatever makes you feel comfortable.

The result is that I spend many evenings in old wooden halls, under slowly turning fans, sometimes with the sky outside lit up by a wonderful sunset, or with a tropical storm shaking the roof. These times, spent among beautiful people trying to move as beautifully as possible, are some of my happiest.

Some more points: taking up ballet lets you have dreams. It is particularly important to keep having dreams as you get older.

The main criteria for taking up ballet as an adult: willingness to keep trying in the face of failure, and willingness to put up with humiliation (e.g. as after a session of "why dont we do that from the corner in twos?").

See an article on adult ballet for which I was interviewed. Most of it is OK, but it is a laugh in other ways because it is very appearance-based. I suppose the journalist was using this as a way to engage the interest of the readers. However, you dance, not because of what you might look like, but because you just HAVE to!

*Classical ballet also celebrates the young, and perfect, human body. Oh well.

To Queensland Ballet: our local company and 2Ballerinas adult ballet school.

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