After moving to London to start my Master’s and the next chapter of my life, I decided to push myself even further, so far as to try ballet for the first time as a 21 year old with zero dance skills. Can an adult master an art so old and prescribed as ballet?
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. My friends dancing on a stage surrounded by mini feet in mini shoes. Romeo and Juliet, star crossed lovers in stockings. Natalie Portman’s haunting face in Black Swan. French words, elegant bodies, eating disorders, stress, broken egos, troubled swans.
These were the things, both good and bad, I associated with the ancient art of ballet. One so ancient and yet so prevalent – a part of my surroundings as a 21st century being but still so distant, hidden away on a stage, behind a curtain, belonging to another life which is not my own. I was an observer, a writer, a member of the audience. I read and wrote and watched ballet, but I never thought I could do it.
I have often moaned and groaned about how if I had only been made to do ballet, or gymnastics, or horse riding, from a young age, then I would be a prodigy by now. Of course, this could never have happened either way as I have the coordination of an elephant on stilts. However, a small part of me liked to believe I could have been a “prima ballerina”, with glitter in my “coque” hair bun, and a pale pink tutu to match.
So, when I started a new adventure, the chapter in my life called: Lauryn moves to London to do a Master’s, I thought maybe it was time I reinvented myself. I was advised not to henna my hair, I’m still too scared to get those tattoos I want, but ballet… ballet was just absurd enough to believe.
Finding a Barre:
After a quick search I found that the thing I thought so inconceivable was in fact very real: there are beginner ballet classes for adults! I don’t know why I was so surprised, it is London after all. There’s pretty much everything you might need or want on every corner.
City Academy (you may already be familiar with it), offers every class under the rainbow, from ballet for absolute fledglings like me, to intensive screen acting courses. Scared to commit a hefty fee towards an eight week course, I chose to take the taster lesson first.
After changing five times into what I believed would be the most appropriate “I have never done ballet but please make me look elegant and poised” outfit, I flew out the door two whole hours before class. Alas, London transport did not let me down and there were indeed severe delays up and down the district line.
I flew off the tube and after a struggle with Apple Maps I made it to the Sylvia Young Theatre School. Although the streets were mainly empty, as the afternoon sun started to set, the feeling of confidence and serenity which filled me as I climbed the steps was inescapable.
What it felt like:
Inside there were young women in long sleeve cotton wrap tops, their hair curled and plopped on their heads, eyes focused, the light shining in through a blue stained glass window.
Little clumsy me saw the dreams I had had as a child come true. I will never be a prima ballerina – but I can still get the feelings of structure, sophistication, and freedom that come with practicing ballet.
The pleasant surprises did not end there, as soon I was to discover the taster class I had booked for just £15 had now turned into a one-to-one ballet class, as no one else had showed up. Normally this would make me freak out. Me, dancing alone in front of an experienced teacher in a room covered in mirrors, nothing could be worse.
But it wasn’t. In the studio I had become a different version of myself. Now, I don’t mean to say I could suddenly do pirouettes and fondues (yes, there is a move in ballet called “fondu” and it has nothing to do with chocolate or cheese), but I did have an eagerness to learn that came above anything else.
While I practiced my positions, first through to fifth, I was graced with familiar tunes: the score from Harry Potter, classical adaptations of pop songs. Ballet was suddenly, somehow, something accessible. My “turnout” wasn’t terrible for a beginner. Although I quivered, I pushed myself to take my hand off the barre and balance on my two elongated feet. Everything was within my reach – if I practiced enough of course.
The class came to an end with every inch of my body signalling their existence. No pain or resistance, just an “I’m here, I belong to you. You usually don’t notice me, but you do have control over me.” The awareness after just one class filled me with hunger for more.
I’m not saying ballet is for everyone or that I have suddenly found a way to face all my fears. In fact, had it been a Hip Hop or Tap class I’m quite certain I would have left in tears. I also don’t believe that one class is enough to grasp the enormity of what ballet is and what it means for your body.
Every natural instinct and movement that your body conducts on a daily basis is the opposite of what you would do in ballet. Everything is controlled and connected when you dance – it’s like retraining your body to do the most miniscule movements, all while keeping in time to the music, and trying to look in the slightest bit graceful while you do it.
The bottom line is that it was fun. It was fun to do something radically different from what I usually do, to explore a different part of the city, to have a conversation with another human being, especially after the chaos of lockdowns from the past year.
Have you always wanted to paint but been hopeless at even drawing? Do it. Book your class now. Watch a tutorial. Just start, or should I say, commences.