April 8, 2012

Dancing Against Time

At least one of my ballet teachers has me figured out. The preceding conversation went along the lines of "ballet is more than a hobby.. it's your passion, yes?" It wasn't even a question, but a statement underlined with a knowing smile. For a second I feared Madame was going to say obsession, what with all the ballet blogs I write and the classes I never miss. I told her that it's been like this for some twenty years now, more or less. Okay, there have been times when my relationship with ballet was an on and off love-affair, even times when I didn't dance at all. But I know that I'm not getting any younger..  Now I just want to dance as much as I can!

For once, I was met with sympathetic understanding. Madame said she had felt the same way when her performing career was nearing its end; a strong desire to dance and a sense of urgency. Much unlike your early twenties, when there's no apparent limit to time and opportunity! Of course I'm not a professional dancer, and no artistic director is going to end my contract and have me bid farewell to the stage. Ballet is hard, but I've had it comparatively easy. One or two classes a day, four to five times per week. Pro-ballerinas, on the other hand, have class in the morning, then rehearsals, followed by a short break, warm-up class and finally perfomance. Ice, rest and repeat on the next day, and the next.. No wonder dancers peak around their mid-thirties!

Counting in ballerina-years, I'm old. Old enough to retire and let the next generation take over. But thank goodness I'm no ballerina! Au contraire! As an adult ballet dancer I have still plenty of mileage left, and I hope that I get to perform at our spring shows until I'm old enough to be wheeled on stage. Aurora's grandma, anyone? Fact is, I'm in better shape than I was ten years ago. Stronger too, even more flexible. But..

I am dancing against time. Another birthday is looming around the corner, just three ballet classes away. Ten years from now I might be a more expressive dancer, but I won't be as strong. It is highly unlikely that I will have the same "wonderful jump" (teacher's words, not mine - and too nice not to share :). It is improbable that my extension will get any higher or my pirouettes turn better. Dance keeps you young(er), but inevitably we will all dance our way down-hill. Which is not that bad, as long as you adjust your expectations, pace yourself and enjoy the ride no matter what. But, I'm not quite there yet.

I still have the energy and drive to take three classes on a given day, and I'm more than happy to dance most of my spare time. My body can still take the push, do the deep back-bends and jump high and far. I know it will not last at this level, not forever, certainly not for ten more years. Which makes tomorrow, the following weeks and months, this summer, next winter and the spring thereafter all the more precious. Then again, the only time to dance is in the present. Next class is on Tuesday, and there will be no more talk of old age and such! :)


  1. Geez, I am only 24 and have trouble taking more than one ballet class per day. Four classes a week feels like a LOT to me. However, I guess if I was doing it regularly I could adjust.

    Still, though, I look up to your boundless energy and ability to just keep on dancing. I'm a decade behind you and don't know that I'd be able to keep up with you!

    Keep inspiring!

  2. Chelsey, you do get used to it! :)

    But I don't take mutliple classes on every day, just on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Okay, written down it looks like a lot.. I guess I have more energy than I thought! Thanks for putting that into perspective :)

  3. Johanna--this blog post made me a bit sad. :( I don't think much about my future limitations, in fact, I realized recently that I become more flexible than when I was in my twenties(I'm in my thirties too)--I attribute that to my diligent stretching in class. Every class is a joy, and it gives me comfort as I dance alongside women up to their 80's, that I can also dance throughout my life as well. It's the internal feeling of artistry and musicality that make ballet so enjoyable, I'm glad those things won't go away...and I like my feet too, which hopefully won't change too much with age! :)

  4. Hi Jennifer!

    You are right about that "internal feeling of artistry and musicality" - it's what makes ballet more than a display of physical prowess. And it's the one thing that will always be part of our dancing, right into those 80's.. :)

    Me, I had to write this out of my system. It has to do with watching the Finnish ballerina of my generation take her last bow, with the increasing amount of gray hair on my head and a face that's starting to look older than I feel! In other words: impending middle-age crisis!

    As for ballet, I will be dancing as long as I possibly can. I have taken class with women twice my age (76 being the oldest), just as I'm now taking class with girls half my age. And I'm happy that I can.

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing! :)

  5. Little Angelic RoseApril 16, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    Hi Johanna. I think you are being very hard on yourself. I am the same age, give or take a few months and I don't feel age creeping. I don't get to dance as frequently as you, family commitments won't allow, but when I do I certainly hold my own against young things who could be my daughters. I'm even older than my teacher.

    I took twenty years off and that is my problem, not age. I came back a little over a year ago, straight back onto pointe, new shoes (oh the excitement of buying new pointe shoes!) (and OMG how things have changed - ouch pouches??!! Say wha??? Animal wool or nothing in my day! [nothing for me, less to lose and prevent me dancing]) and although there are things I can't do due to the 20 yr sabbatical, I am learning new steps and I love it as much as I ever did.

    If you keep dancing regularly age won't have time to creep up on you and barring injuries, you can keep going for years. So none of us are going to be on the stage but that doesn't matter, watching week is scary enough! And never say never with extensions and pirouettes, I'm more flexible since having kids.

    Think of it as being as young as the dancers you keep up with and if they are fourteen, well, wey hey!

  6. Hi!

    Wow. You went straight on pointe after a twenty year break? I bow before you! That is seriously awesome. :)

    Before now, my most active dancing days were in my mid-twenties, after that it was mostly on and off until I stopped completely. And then got back, thank goodness. The thing is I'm having such a good time now I don't want it to ever stop! But like you said, there's no reason not to dance right into old age. Change is part of life, and I will learn to adjust as I dance along.

    I love what you said about being able to keep up with 14-year olds. Guess I'm much younger than I figured! :D


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...