Inspired by a 71 year old taking her ballet exams, I attempt adult starter ballet lessons

You are never too old to be a ballerina. Last month, at 71, Doreen Pechey became the oldest ballerina in Britain ever to pass the grade six exam at the Royal Academy of Dance. She took up ballet at 61 and now has a barre installed in her kitchen so she can practice. She has swapped adult-only lessons for those with teenagers in order to be able to train for exams. I love her attitude; “all little girls want to go en pointe – just because I’m 71 doesn’t mean I’m not a little girl.”

Things I had no eyed deer about ballet lessons:

  • A Frappe isn’t just something that you get at Starbucks
  • Nor is a coupe just a type of car
  • There is more piano music than a Richard Clayderman concert

My beginners ballet class is at Sydney Dance Company in Walsh Bay over looking the harbour, with a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge and exclusive apartments with their own yacht moorings. Entry is through the Sydney Dance Lounge restaurant and bar and past this, the dance studios.

imageI always loved the TV programme Fame when I was a teenager. My friends and I spent many an hour being the kids from Fame donning our leg warmers and jumping off the dining table shouting “fame – I want to live for ever….” only to have someone shout “you won’t if you don’t get off my furniture.” Walking past the restaurant and into the corridor reminds me of just this as I see people in various dance attire and ballet shoes. I feel like I should be shoving past someone and slamming a locker and then breaking into my own flash mob.

The studio is a la New York warehouse, high ceilings, big and airy with lots of mirrors and barres around the walls. My classmates, all in various stages of standing or sitting stretching are mainly women, and a diversity of ages. As we wait for the class to start we are all curious about why each of us have decided to take the lessons. We are a mixture of those who did lessons as a child from ten to forty years ago, and others like myself, who are just curious about what they missed.

imageMy classmates wear a variety of outfits, mainly similar to what you would expect for yoga, most people have pink ballet practice shoes, but some are in socks. I had taken one adult ballet lesson at Sydney Dance Company a year ago and afterwards I went straight off to Bloch to get some practice ballet shoes – pink of course. In the store, it was the first time I had touched “proper” ballet shoes that ballerinas go en pointe with and I was surprised how rock hard the toes are. I stuck with the less sexy practice shoes as instructed. I also bought a ballet cardigan to look the part – I stopped short of turning up to class in the multicoloured tutu that I wore for a fun run earlier in the year. But after buying all the kit life got in the way and I never returned, until I saw the article on Doreen.

imageThe class starts and we are straight into barre routines.  It appears that everyone apart from me had bothered to look up what at least the first five ballet positions are. My problem is I learned the number but not the names. I did the equivalent of trying to drive a car without knowing which gear is which. And as they say with a manual car – “if you can’t find it grind it.” I get by concentrating on the person in front and copying them – a bit like a slightly out of sync lip syncer. I realised later in the class that whist I was convinced that I was the only person that couldn’t do the moves, in actuality I wasn’t the only one, but there is only one person we are looking at in the mirror and that is ourselves. Plus, although the dance teacher must be used to teaching professionals, he shows great patience and I never feel stupid (even if I might look it.)

After awhile I convince myself that I’m getting better, a bit like when you are watching a subtitled film and convince yourself you are now fluent in that language. I’ve never heard so much piano music since my Aunty used to subject me to her Richard Clayderman records as a child. The one other time I came here I was in a studio with a real piano and piano player – a genuine kids from Fame experience – except no stern woman with a big stick.

imageWe progress from routines holding onto the barre to those with our leg on the bar. This proves harder than it looks. Getting it up there is not too bad, removing it gracefully is completely different. Wedged onto the barre, I attempt to gracefully lift my leg up and off without using my hands …..but it is so not happening. After exercises on the barre we progress to routines in the middle of the floor. My main problem is my memory. As a teenager I had to play my Cher Fitness aerobic video in slow motion just to get the moves correct. I always struggle with yoga where they say the fancy names but you only know the moves by the layman’s terms . Who knew Coupes and Frappes were not just cars and drinks available at Starbucks but ballet positions?

The class ends with us divided into two groups. I would say it ends with a dance off, but everyone is very supportive of each other and desperately trying to remember the routine in their heads – concentrating purely on their own performance when it is their turn and relieved when it is the other group. And then thats it, it’s a wrap. The second the music stops the dancers for the next class come streaming in and start warming up, they look like they know what they are doing. I head home via the beautiful illuminated harbour knowing that however gentle the exercise seemed, it is going to hurt tomorrow.


I took the Ballet Basics lesson at Sydney Dance Company.

This is not a sponsored post. This represents my personal opinion.

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