Are You Too Old to Start Ballet?

by David on April 12, 2010

Ballet takes an intense amount of training, taking years to develop proficient skill. Because of this, ballet is often considered to be reserved for those who start at a very young age, maintaining steady training, and retiring at a young age. It seems that everyone over the age of 12 wonders if they are too old to start ballet. The short answer is, “NO!”, you are not too old to start ballet. The long answer takes into account what you want to get out of ballet and the age you start. In this post I will talk a little bit about my personal experience as a late-beginner. I will also discuss the reality of when dancers begin studying ballet, particularly pertaining to male dancers, as well as what options are open to nearly all dancers, regardless of when you start.

My Experience as a Late-Beginner

At 24 years old I decided to take ballet. I had never taken a dance class in my life, unless you count the time we learned a line-dance to “Boot Scootin Boogie” in my 7th grade gym class (and I don’t think we’ll count that). When I told friends I wanted to take ballet, not many people took it too seriously. Some warned me that ballet was hard, which is true, but is not a reason to not do it. At 25 years old, I quit working as a Merchant Mariner (doing deck work on cargo-ships) and finally had time to try out a Teen-Adult Beginner ballet class.

Since I took that first class, my dance training slowly became more intensive. I started taking two classes a week. After about a month I took 3 a week, then later 4, adding in some beginner classes with the younger students (somewhat embarrassing being so old in class, but that is just more reason to redeem myself by getting better at dancing). I slowly worked myself up into Advanced level classes by taking as many classes as I could, concentrating on dance, taking summer intensives, and find all opportunities to dance. This whole time I was in school full time, and working, so time management was essential, but I was lucky enough to be given a dance scholarship, otherwise I would not have been able to afford it (dance scholarships for male dancers are frequent, especially in schools connected to dance companies).

I’m 28 years old now, and I’m performing as a soloist in a local pre-professional company. I find many opportunities to perform in full productions, as well as in dance festivals. I have found a chance to teach creative dance to elementary students. Through dance I’ve made some excellent friends. I’m in better shape than I have ever been in, both mentally and physically. I consider the day I decided to take ballet, a major transition in my life. Ballet is a huge part of my current life, and I scare myself by thinking about what life would be like if I had not given ballet a chance.

When Dancers Begin Studying Ballet

It is typical that ballet dancers will start studying as young as 4 years old. But this is not a rule, even for professional dancers. Every dancer’s journey is different. While it is extremely helpful to get as many years of training as you can, it does not mean that you cannot study ballet after a certain age. Male dancers can find even more freedom from this rule.

You will see that there are a lot of professional male dancers who started at a very young age. But it does not mean that there aren’t any very successful professional male dancers who started later in their teens. Males have an advantage because of the shortage of men in ballet, so while there is competition, it is not nearly as competitive as it is for a ballerina.

While starting early can mean a head start on technique, skill, and understanding, it doesn’t always mean a head start on strength. Males usually see their adolescent growth spurt in early or mid-teen years, where they develop the strength they need for partnering and jumping, two major parts of male ballet. In these later years, new dancers are usually are more focused in their training than when they were as a child, and so make greater improvements over short periods of time.

What Late-Beginners Can Expect

The great thing about being a late-beginner, is that your path isn’t defined. Some people could see that actually makes the journey harder, but I think it makes it more enjoyable, rewarding, and unpredictable. When you start ballet, nobody will be able to tell you how far you will go, or what you will do. If you start young, people may give you options and say that you can study yourself into a professional company, or into a school and into a company. There are avenues that have been travelled before and that are still made available. As a “late” start, you will be finding your own way.

Your way may or may not include a professional career. However, if you love dancing or performing, you are happy dancing and performing. You will find ways to do what you love. I believe, that no matter what age you start dancing at, you will find somewhere happy to have you studying dance with them. I also believe that regardless of your age, there are plenty of local dance companies who are looking for people willing to perform and take part in their productions. Performing locally is far more rewarding than people ever seem to give it credit.

You are never too old to dance. I know that sometimes people think that ballet and dance is the exception to things that anyone can start at any age, but it is not. If you put a serious effort into dance, you will most likely get a positive experience in return.

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