Everyone is capable of dancing ballet well.

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Ballet dancer jumping through smoke. Everyone is capable of dancing ballet well.

As adult ballet students, we are often told what we cannot do…

“You can’t be a professional.”

“You can’t gain extreme flexibility.”

“You won’t be doing 32 fouettes.”

“Pointe work is unlikely.”

We hear these messages, both explicitly and implicitly, far more often than is necessary.

These ideas are often presented as a joke.

Teachers might say, “Well, it’s not like we’re preparing you for Swan Lake” — as if an adult ballet student dancing any portion of Swan Lake is the most ridiculous notion ever. (It’s not.)

We are also frequently reminded that our dancing is for “fun and fitness.”

I have heard teachers say, “I don’t care if you mess up.”

And I always want to respond: “But I care."

We — adult ballet students — hear these comments and internalize the idea that real progress isn't possible for us, that we are somehow less capable and less worthy than younger students.

Adult ballet students care (a lot!) about making progress in ballet

Adult students are told, time and time again, that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously in ballet.

But I do take my ballet dancing seriously, and so do countless other adults.

Ballet is important to us.

We make a lot of sacrifices to dance.

If ballet wasn’t important to me, I would have a lot more disposable income (because I wouldn't be spending it all on ballet!). And I would be home most nights of the week, putting my kids to bed, instead of at ballet class.

I — and many, many other adult ballet students — have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources in ballet.

We do this happily and of our own free will. I am not looking for a pat on the back.

It is, indeed, a privilege to allocate resources to ballet.

But yes, I care if I mess up the combination. Messing up won’t make or break my confidence, but it does mean I would like to try again. And again.

And I care, a lot, about becoming stronger, more flexible, and more technically and artistically proficient.

So, please, stop telling me what I can’t do. Stop telling me my progress is not important.

My progress is important to me.

Adult ballet students can become excellent ballet dancers

The message that adults can only go so far with ballet is incorrect: an unfortunate byproduct of elitist ballet culture.

I believe everyone is capable of learning to dance ballet, and that everyone, with the right opportunity — the training, the encouragement — is capable of dancing ballet well.

Yes, I believe everyone is capable of dancing ballet well.

I don’t think this is an extreme view.

No one is born a ballet dancer. No one enters this world knowing to keep their knees over their toes in plié.

No, you are not born a ballet dancer. You are trained to become one.

Anyone can excel in ballet, if that is what they want to do, and if they have access to the right resources. Unfortunately, more often than not, adult ballet students have to fight for access to ballet.

What do we mean when we say “Ballet is for everyone”?

Far too many people tout the catchphrase "Ballet is for everyone” without really meaning it. What they mean is that anyone can appreciate ballet or try a beginner level class. And that's pretty much where the “everyone” ends.

But when I say ballet is for everyone, I really, really, REALLY mean it.


With hard work, persistence, and a deeply rooted love of the art form, anyone can learn to dance ballet with skill and grace. And many — perhaps not all, but many — recreational dancers are capable of achieving technical feats such as pointe work and multiple pirouettes. I would argue that most of us are capable of these things and more.

Late starters can become proficient classical dancers. The only problem is that, all too often, we are not given the chance.

But the fact remains: the things that make ballet beautiful — musicality, technique, and artistry — can be learned at any age.

You can train your ear to understand music — anyone can move to a beat once they learn to hear it.

Take enough ballet classes and your technique will undoubtedly improve; stretch and strenghten and it will improve even more.

And I believe that deep in our souls, we are all creatives.

Even if artistic expression doesn't come naturally to you, I believe you can, with time, learn to authentically express yourself through dance — to draw from your experiences and make your dancing uniquely your own.

But despite our potential, adult ballet students are often overlooked and forced to take our ballet training into our own hands.

We do our own research on topics like pointe and dance anatomy. We practice at home and attend multiple studios to create the dance schedule we need in order to progress. We may even pay for costly private classes.

When the opportunities we crave are not available, many of us do our best to create them ourselves, so that we can go about the business of becoming the best ballet dancers we can be.

People of various physical abilities can become great dancers

Many adult ballet beginners and returners are capable of achieving multiple pirouettes, pointe work, fouettés, high extensions, and high jumps, so long as we have consistent, quality training and so long as we put in the work (which most of us are more than willing to do).

We may not dance like professionals, but that isn’t necessary. We can still create beautiful ballet with our bodies.

But even for those who have physical limitations — such as health conditions or injuries that prevent some or all of the more pronounced virtuosity of ballet — I still believe becoming an excellent ballet dancer is, more often than not, entirely possible.

Much of the beauty of ballet is in the upper body — a soft port de bras and correctly placed torso, neck, and shoulders. Allowing your gaze to follow your palm in port de bras is a breathtaking movement that does not require any extreme physicality.

With careful and patient training, anyone can learn port de bras and placement. You don’t need the tricks — the flexibility, the endless turns, the soaring leaps, or even the pointe shoes — to be a beautiful dancer.

A well placed arabesque à terre, for example, is often just as striking as one that exceeds ninety degrees.

We each have our own personal situations to consider — our own unique limitations and abilities — but by and large, I don't feel that high quality ballet dancing is as far out of reach for most of us as it might feel like sometimes.

Many adult students are capable, if given the chance, of the bravura of ballet — or perhaps we are capable of some of it, if not all. And adult students with significant physical limitations also deserve quality training — these students can still become expressive, technical dancers, just in a different, and still meaningful, way.

When adult students go to ballet class — when we give our time, resources, support, and energy to a local ballet school — we deserve the chance to try. To be taken seriously. To push ourselves and see how far we can go.

Instead of focusing on our limitations, let's focus on our potential.

All too often, as adult ballet students, we sell ourselves short. (It is easy to do this, especially when most of the ballet world barely seems to acknowledge us, much less take our training seriously.)

We tend to think we are too old or too late or too...any other myriad of perceived obstacles.

But we have many years of adulthood to work on ballet. They say it takes ten years to train a classical dancer. Last time I checked, adulthood is usually much longer than ten years.

If you begin ballet when you are forty, by the time you are fifty, you will have ten years of experience.

We have time to become well-trained classical dancers.

And why shouldn't we keep dancing through our 50s, 60s, 70s — for as long as we have the energy and the mobility, for as long as we are able?

So to myself and to my fellow adult ballet students — let us start focusing on our potential, not our limitations.

Let us believe we are capable of accomplishing great things in ballet. Because we are, in fact, capable of making significant progress. That progress may look different for each of us but ballet is a worthy pursuit for all.

And even when the ballet world seems to be constantly telling us otherwise — let us dig deep into our souls and find the core of ourselves, where we truly believe that we are capable of becoming the best dancers we can possibly be.

Life is long — there is plenty of time to dance. And we should feel free to make the most of however many dancing years we have.