Ballet isn’t just for little girls and professionals; anyone can give it a go. Hatty Willmoth gave up ballet as a teenager, but now rediscovers the joys of dancing as an adult.

There are plenty of reasons why an adult might choose to do ballet.

For a start, dance can improve strength, balance, flexibility, muscular control, coordination, and posture, as well as general fitness.

Plus, for those who grew up pirouetting, ballet can be nostalgic and easier than starting from scratch.

I danced from a young age. Thanks to my pestering, my parents sent me to ballet lessons soon after I started school, and I went for eight years.

I got quite far with ballet too, taking exams and often performing at local theatres, and when I was 11, I got my first pair of pointe shoes. But I steadily became reluctant to go to classes.

One of the girls used to throw her tap shoes at me to make the others laugh.

Not to mention, Grade 5 was getting tricky and the teacher’s comments towards me felt increasingly cutting — memorably, “Well done, Hatty. I can see you’re trying”.

I wasn’t naturally talented at ballet, I decided. I didn’t like the lessons. I didn’t want to go.

So I quit. And I never considered going back — until now.

Adult ballet: the benefits

Ballet is often assumed to be for little girls and professionals, but anyone can have a go; as I discovered when I joined a class of 10 adults, aged from their 20s to 50s, at Danceforce in Kingston, west London.

Joey Flint, 50, started going to ballet to get fit post-lockdown.

“I wanted to do something that I knew I would stick with that combined my love of classical music with flexibility and stamina,” she says.

“I enjoyed ballet as a young person so decided to give it a go again.”

And she’s glad she did. “It’s a friendly non-competitive environment, which makes a huge difference. The music helps you to mentally relax, and the focus on both flexibility and stamina means you get fitter as well as flexible.

“It is a great way to get out of the house, have a bit of a chat, and get fit!”

Others in the class emphasise the mental and social benefits of dancing.

Corinna Schroeder, 34, started going to ballet to improve her posture and strengthen her muscles after a recent back injury.

“Whilst my initial motivation to start ballet was mostly about the physical exercise, I quickly noticed that memorising a routine and focusing on coordination also keeps challenging me mentally in a very different way to my usual day to day job," she says.

“Besides this, for me it is a great way to embrace being a beginner again and just doing something for fun without taking myself too seriously.”

That’s one thing I love about the lesson: unlike my past experiences of ballet classes, the atmosphere is relaxed, self-effacing, and jovial. It is refreshing to laugh when it all goes wrong.

The joyful encouragement of ballet teacher Matilda Adams, 22, is welcome too.

Having danced since the age of two, she trained at Kirkham Henry Performing Arts, the Northern Ballet Academy and The Royal Academy of Dance, and relentlessly insists that “ballet is for everyone”.

“Ballet is so amazing because it can make so many different types of people feel so happy for so many different reasons,” she says.

“Not only are the physical benefits — such as improving your coordination, balance, strength, bone density and overall fitness — a key benefit from ballet, the mental benefits are equally as fulfilling.”

Dancing as you age

Ballet can also offer particular advantages for those who are getting older.

A 2021 study suggested that dancing can help lower cholesterol levels, improve fitness and body composition, and improve self-esteem among post-menopausal women.

Another study, this one from 2017, concluded that dancing has the most profound anti-ageing effect of any form of exercise on the part of the brain that controls memory, learning and balance.

Meanwhile, when researchers in New Zealand tested the effects of music and dancing on dementia patients in 2019, they found that participants reported significant improvements in their quality of life after six sessions.

Dancing with low mobility

Many ballet lessons are specifically geared towards older people.

YouTube channel Ballet Based Movement delivers online lessons for their 12,000 subscribers every fortnight and livestreams Zoom classes every week.

A mother and daughter named Elizabeth and Susan run the channel.

The movement they teach is not strictly ‘ballet’, but has been adapted for their clientele — men and women, with a variety of mobility limitations, typically in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

They even cater to those unable to stand.

“Our dancers love what we do,” they tell me. “We are overwhelmed by their responses to us.

“The best thing about ballet — and dance for that matter — is you are accidentally exercising while having fun. It is so joyful.

“Humanity has been moving to music forever — we innately find true joy in it. But the other benefits are numerous.

“You have to be absolutely present when you are in a ballet class. There are many elements that need to come together: the movement, the steps, and keeping in time to the music.

“This requires a lot of focus, and this is excellent for the mind — not only cognition, but clarity.

“Many of our dancers talk about the confidence in the stability and balance they gain doing ballet. And this is all through seemingly gentle but hugely effective exercises.”

Back at the barre

I had a wonderful evening trying out ballet again. With no tap shoes to dodge or derisive comments from teachers, the class was just joyful.

In fact, nearly a decade after giving up, I have recently purchased a new pair of ballet shoes. Now I’m going every week.

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