The negative effects of technology and social media have left people more isolated and empty than ever before. Our eyes are glued to computer screens and smartphones, and our conversations are reduced to little more than three-letter acronyms (that’s if you can’t find an emoji concise enough). Yet, despite the McNugget communication culture we find ourselves in, there are individuals calling for a simpler time, who are aching with nostalgia and a desire to live with greater purpose.
The arts have long been a haven for these, and the ballet world is one creative arena that has undergone significant restructuring to meet such demands. Considering ballet’s royal history and staunch exclusivity, the birth of “adult ballet”, or ballet classes designed specifically for adult novices, is truly a miracle in this Millennial Age. While the creation of such classes was surely a marketing strategy to generate new revenue, the overwhelming sentimental response of the targeted demographic is undeniable. Adult ballet, in a society obsessed with Newer-Bigger-Better, is a return to the past that has proven to be a surprisingly welcome white knight.
When I decided I wanted to pursue ballet at age 14, it was the height of the Y2K scare and adult ballet was still a fairly new concept that ballet schools were toying with. From an artistic standpoint, there was no reason directors should have any vested interest in a student who didn't serve their bottom-line: adults students don’t pursue professional careers and were therefore viewed at best, extra bucks for the school, but a waste of a director’s creative juices. In fact, the first dance studio I attended made no accommodations based on my circumstances and I was subsequently placed in a class of third graders. When I switched to a pre-professional school the following year, they were barely introducing the idea of teaching teenagers the basics of the art form. Since the Great Recession of 2008, however, the tune has changed. Today, almost every ballet school in the country, recreational and professional, offers adult ballet classes. While I’m inclined to chalk it up to ballet schools needing help yanking their butts out of the financial fire, the reality is, there are individuals working hard to instigate change by making the art form more inclusive. Thanks to their efforts, men and women of all ages and abilities are finding their niche in this unique slice of the creative community, and reconnecting to values they feel are sorely lacking in our modern world.
In adult ballet class, grown-ups have the opportunity to revisit childhood dreams, improve their health, and find productive stimulation without the pressures that have come to weigh us all down. While many European countries maintain a strong appreciation for the arts, including ballet, American culture presents an arsenal of useless distractions that hardcore followers of adult ballet combat every time they go to class. There’s no corporate rhetoric being pounded into our brains. We’re reconnecting with our bodies. iPhones aren’t buzzing against our thigh, and there are no commercials telling us to buy things we don’t need. There is only one thing in our world that matters for that hour and a half—dance. The studio is an escape from the office, an outlet for artistic expression, even meditation. I can’t tell you the number of times an adult student confessed to me how the simple act of placing their hand on the barre instantly improved their mood. While it would be a tight argument to claim adult ballet is powerful enough to eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals, there’s every reason to believe its merits are on par with any other therapeutic activity, such as restorative yoga or taking a brisk walk. And you thought tutus were only for toddlers.
What’s more, adult ballet has revolutionized the roll call—people of all nationalities, physical appearance, and socio-economic backgrounds dance side by side. There is zero discrimination. It is likewise notable to see that not everyone flocking to these classes is of retirement age; no, the majority of participation comes from this very generation. Telling, I feel, for those of us at center of the digital wave to be just as desperate for change as those with more life’s experience. After all, no where else can you immerse yourself in the music of Prokofiev, tone your muscles, and build relationships with your peers like you do in an adult ballet class. Sure, you can practice the piano at home and write that novel on your laptop. Any exploration of the arts should be encouraged and nurtured—but you’ll be tempted to check your news feed. Or a text. Before you know it, curiosity and motivation takes a backseat to familiar scenery and we suffer. The inherent risks of the world we now live in will continue to threaten our ability to focus, examine our priorities, and recognize truly beautiful pursuits. Adult ballet, with its indisputable physical, mental, and emotional benefits, isn’t just a great way for ballet schools to bring in more business—it’s making people happy.
Text by Bethany Leger
Bethany Leger taught ballet for 7 years in Dallas, TX. She is the founder of Ballet For Adults, a site dedicated to educating adults about ballet at: http://BalletForAdults.com