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5 Things to Expect at Your First Adult Ballet Class

Updated: Mar 23

If you have signed up for your first adult ballet class, congratulations! I applaud you for your courage. You may have heard of many stereotypes about ballet, which makes beginning ballet as an adult an intimidating experience. However, ballet is growing in popularity among many adults these days. The many dancers whom I have crossed paths with in my studio are pursuing ballet for various reasons such as:

  • To fulfil their childhood dream of learning ballet

  • Ballet as a lifestyle fitness activity

  • Mastery of a new skill for personal growth

  • Ballet as a form of therapy for healing and recovery

Now, allay your unfounded fears and ready yourself for your first class with these beginner-friendly pointers.

1. Structure of a ballet class

In a regular ballet class, you can expect two main segments of a class – barre work and centre work. At the barre, dancers can expect a warm-up exercise and a series of exercises that follows after. Such exercises include pliés, battements tendus, battements glissés, battements fondus, ronds de jambe, battements frappés, petit battements, adage, and grands battements. Centre work involves moving away from the barre and doing practices in the centre of the studio without holding onto anything for support.

SBRY dancers doing pliés at the barre.

SBRY dancers doing relevés for centre work.

In an Absolute Beginner Ballet class, your teacher may choreograph exercises primarily at the barre. This is to allow you to develop your foundations proper before progressing to centre practices. You may place one or two hands on the barre depending on how your teacher choreographs the exercises.

On the other hand, non-syllabus open classes usually follow the regular structure of a ballet class – barre work and centre work. You will observe that there are many dancers with varied learning capabilities and of different age groups. An assumption is that you should have some prior knowledge of the fundamentals of classical ballet to cope with the pace of an open class setting. Usually, open classes will be categorised into different levels like Foundation Ballet and Intermediate Ballet. This will allow dancers to choose a class that is more suitable for their ability. If you are an absolute beginner, it is not recommended to attend an open class because you may not be able to catch up with the pace.

2. Ballet attire

You might associate ballet with black leotards and pink tights, but adult students generally are not required to conform to a standard uniform. There are many dancers – male and females alike – who are rooted in fear of tight-fitted leotards and tights. Most adult ballet programmes are in fact quite flexible with dress code. You may opt to come in comfortable attire such as sweats and tank tops to yoga clothes and running tights.

SBRY dancers donned in different designs of leotards, tights and skirts.

If you want to unleash your inner ballerina self, go ahead and dress in a leotard, a pair of tights and wrap skirt. There is a wide variety of designs you can select from online at an affordable price. Leotards should be a snug fit with no creases visible when fitted correctly. This is to allow freedom of movement and also for the teacher to observe your form clearly for accurate correction. If you don't want to wear a pair of ballet tights, you can always opt to wear a pair of leggings over it.

If you are attending a trial ballet class, you will be advised to attend your first class in socks. If you are ready to commit to the classes for a longer term, you will be required to get a pair of soft ballet slippers. This is not to be confused with pointe shoes, which will come later if you (female dancers) have sufficient amount of practice and have been assessed ready to commence pointe work.

Soft ballet slippers come in canvas or leather material. They may come in different shades of colours like pink, white and black. Most studios do not dictate the colour of footwear for adult ballet dancers. However, it is still important for you to give it a check on the prescribed attire your studio may recommend.

3. Punctuality

It is basic etiquette to show up punctually for class (unless there is valid reason). Rushing into the studio flustered will not do you good, especially on your first lesson. You may also want to factor in ample time for locating the studio space if you are unfamiliar with the area and coming for the first time. Some dancers also prefer changing into their dance attire at the studio so give yourself sufficient time for that before the class.

4. Making mistakes is okay

Ballet can look effortless, but the truth is that it is physically demanding. Professional dancers take years of arduous practice to be proficient in their craft. If you are just starting out ballet in your adulthood – especially if you have no dance background – please be kind and gentle with yourself. It is perfectly normal to fumble along the way. Don't beat yourself for not grasping a movement. Enjoy every learning moment and laugh it off if you make mistakes. It is all about managing expectations of yourself so that you learn with a positive growth mindset and make every session enjoyable and less stressful.

There are many beginning adult dancers who expect much of themselves, which is a great attitude to motivate them to work harder. However, it is important not to rush through the process of learning. Ballet is built on proper foundations. Your teacher may do repetitive drills at the barre to help you hone your technique. This is part of skill mastery and should not be deemed boring. Think barre work as a springboard to move complex movements and combinations for your future progression.

5. Be prepared to perspire (a lot)

Ballet is beautiful, but not a breeze. You can expect to break a sweat even in a warm-up exercise at the barre. Beginning dancers are always surprised at how much of a workout ballet can be. Ballet requires you to engage your core and glutes in every exercise so this can make the class strenuous and tiring. Remember to bring along a towel and a bottle of water to hydrate yourself.

I hope that you feel more than ready to take your first adult ballet class now. It is important to find a teacher who takes adult dancers seriously and treats everyone respectfully. This means teaching you proper technique while also fostering a supportive, safe environment. If your teacher wastes time, does not give out corrections, skimps on technique or is straight-up mean, please go elsewhere. You have the power to decide what's best for yourself. Here in Studio by Raquel Yeo, the adult ballet community is warm, passionate and inclusive. If you are joining us for a class, we’re so glad you’re here!

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