For adults, starting ballet for the first time is a big deal, even if you’ve been dancing for a while. Even though I’ve done a variety of dance styles in my dance life, the thought of doing ballet wasn’t appealing at first. Like many other adults, I was self-conscious. Even though there are more and more dancers donning ballet shoes for the first time as adults, there is still some stigma behind it. Some people think that ballet is only for children. Others don’t take adult dancers as seriously unless they are professionals or teachers. Well, I’m here to tell you don’t let those stereotypes hold you back. You belong in the studio. If you didn’t, the classes wouldn’t exist! After I finally took my first class, I was hooked. If I could go back and start over again, these are the tips I would keep in mind.
(Don’t forget to download your printable version of this list at the end of the post!)
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1. Don’t settle for just any studio.
If you are able to choose from multiple dance studios in your area, take the time to do some research. Why? Because while studios may offer the same classes, the teaching styles and philosophies will be different. Some studios are more relaxed while others are strict and to the book. Finding the right studio for you will depend on your goals. Do you just want to get a good workout while learning a bit of ballet, or do you want to get technical and into the details? How often do you want to perform? Do you want to compete? (Yes, there are competitions for adults!) Finding a studio that can help you achieve your goals will give you a more enjoyable experience.
2. Know what type of ballet you will be learning.
Not all styles of ballet are the same! From romantic ballet to the Vaganova method, ballet comes in many different forms. While much of the terminology will be the same, there will be differences in the execution of the moves. Sometimes the differences will be subtle, but other times the change is significant.
Kirsten from TwinTalksBallet has a great video that touches on the differences in the styles that you can watch below.
3. Check out your studio’s site for dress codes.
Not sure what to wear? Check your studio’s website for the dress code, if there is one. Some studios will expect all dancers, even adults, to wear leotards and tights, while others allow more freedom and give you the option to wear leggings instead. Even if you are going to a studio that is more relaxed about the clothing, I would still recommend wearing clothes that have a tight fit and putting your hair in a bun. Part of it is so that your instructor can watch your form closely. The other part is for safety. You don’t want your clothes getting caught underneath you when you move or your hair whipping in your face when you turn.
4. Invest in quality dancewear.
Dance classes can be a little spendy, and that usually doesn’t even include the cost of your dance gear. While it might be tempting to get the cheapest alternatives, it’s best to invest in quality dancewear. That doesn’t mean you have to splurge on the top brands, but a nice leotard and good pair of tights go a long way. Everyday tights are much different than dance tights. Dancewear manufacturers know you’ll be jumping, moving, and sweating a lot in your tights, so they make them durable.
I got my first set of ballet gear on Amazon for an extremely affordable price. For shoes, I currently use Danzcue split sole canvas ballet slippers. They are very durable and have lasted a long time. I still use the first pair I got a couple years ago. For clothing, I recommend the Capezio transition tights, and Capezio short sleeve leotard, and the H88 chiffon ballet skirt.
5. You’ll probably need to learn how to sew.
The Danzcue split sole canvas ballet slippers I use already had the elastics sewn on, but not all slippers do. Ballet shoes tend to be customized for each dancer by the dancer. If you think about it, even the pre-sewn shoes are customized for your feet when you tighten the elastic at the bottom of the shoe. Sewing the elastic bands that go over your feet is just another way to customize your shoes to your feet.
For adults starting ballet for the first time, getting shoes with elastics pre-sewn will work just fine. It will give you an idea of what is comfortable for you. The more you dance, the more you’ll learn about what works for your feet. You’d be amazed at how much you learn about your own feet in ballet!
6. Bring a water bottle and arrive with sweats or cover-ups over your leotard.
It goes without saying that hydration is important! Don’t let the stereotype that ballet is easy get to you. You will work up a sweat. As for sweatpants and cover-ups, you want to keep your muscles warm and protected to and from the parking lot and studio. Putting them on over your leotard to and from class will help.
7. Get to class a little early.
If you are brand new to the studio, going early will give you some time to familiarize yourself with the space and maybe even meet some of the people in your class. This will help with any nervousness you might feel. Going early also gives you extra time to warm up if you need to.
8. Choose your spot at the barre wisely.
Okay, dance classes in real life are not as dramatic as certain dance shows make it out to be. No one is going to make a scene because you took “their” spot at the barre. However, where you stand at the barre can make a difference. I would recommend that adults starting ballet for the very first time choose a spot towards the middle of the barre. Exercises are done with one hand on the barre, and you turn around to repeat the exercise on the other side. Placing yourself in the middle of the barre will give you someone to watch on both sides.
9. Watch your spacing.
It’s easy to get into your own zone when you are focused, but don’t forget there are other dancers around you! At the barre, there should be enough space in front and behind you so that you can extend your leg without hitting another dancer. If there isn’t enough room, turn towards the barre or away from the barre depending on what the exercise is. (Don’t worry. Your instructor will guide you!)
10. Learn to use the mirror.
The mirror is your most important resource next to your instructor! You might feel like you are doing something right, but you won’t know for sure unless you watch yourself in the mirror. Really pay attention to how your body looks. Watch for things like your turn out and lines. If you’re working on choreography look out for your spacing and timing.
11. Look with just your eyes and not your entire head.
This ties in with using your mirror. If you are a complete beginner, the tendency is to watch other people, which is completely understandable and recommended. You can’t learn if you don’t watch your teacher! However, I recommend getting in the habit of moving your eyes rather than dropping your whole head to look at the feet of the person in front of you.
Keeping your chin up is important for stability and form, especially when you start doing turns. As you learn more, the way you turn your head is also one of the many subtle details in many moves. Learning to just look with your eyes right away will keep you from getting into the bad habit of dropping your head.
12. Don’t worry about other people watching you.
Everyone is taking the class to learn. The only person who will be watching you closely will be your instructor. On the off chance that there is a mean dancer who is being nit picky for no reason, don’t fret. Most studios have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying.
13. Listen to every correction as if it’s your own.
There are a lot of things to remember in ballet. It might look easy, but there are a lot of details to remember. You won’t be expected to learn it all at once or right away. Listening to corrections even if it’s not your own will help you pick up all those little details.
14. Take your own corrections with grace.
Instructors don’t correct dancers for fun, so don’t take it personally. It can be frustrating, especially if you feel like you’re doing it right, but instructors give corrections for your safety and to help you improve. For instance, corrections about your turn out is for your safety. Forcing turn out or not turning out when you should will add stress on your joints. This will lead to injuries.
15. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The time to ask questions will depend on your teacher, but don’t be afraid to do so! Your instructor is there to help you learn.
16. Practice outside of class.
If you’re looking to see improvement at the end of the year, you will want to practice outside of class. This is especially true if you can only take one or two classes a week. A little goes a long way, whether it’s just going over the vocabulary in your head while waiting in line, or you’re working on your balance while brushing your teeth.
When it is time for recitals, practicing choreography outside of rehearsals help improve your skills and confidence in your performance. If you haven’t had to learn choreography before, here are some tips on memorizing dance choreography.
17. Learn to take care of your feet.
In ballet, you will be using muscles in your feet you never knew you had. Seriously. I have never had a charley horse underneath the arch of my foot until I started taking ballet. Depending on what you do and how much you dance, you will also have to deal with calluses, blisters, and bruised toes. Be sure to thank your body for all the hard work it does by giving it the care it needs to do it all over again the next class.
18. Be persistent and consistent.
You’ll have those days where your body just doesn’t want to cooperate, or there is a move that you just can’t get. It happens to everyone. You will get it eventually if you continue to push yourself. When you do get it, keep practicing so that skill becomes second nature. Just like anything in life, consistency is the key to improvement.
19. Don’t compare yourself to other dancers.
In my experience, you’ll meet dancers with different backgrounds in adult ballet. Some dancers will have taken classes when they were younger and want to start dancing again. Others will have no experience and are taking their first-ever dance class. No matter where you fall, remember that you are there for you. The only person you should compare yourself with is who you were yesterday.
20. Have confidence. Starting as an adult has advantages!
Starting as an adult doesn’t mean you will need to dance for years just to catch up on the basics. You actually have a few advantages as an adult! First, your bones are fully formed. Instructors wait to start young dancers en pointe until a certain age for two reasons: (1) they need to develop their skills and strength, and (2) their bones are more vulnerable to injury because they are still growing. Even if you don’t plan on going en pointe, adults are less likely to be at risk for bone deformation from poor technique because their bones are already fully grown.
Another advantage adults have is that they learn faster because they have the tendency to pick up on details very quickly. Adults can understand concepts on a deeper level, and this speeds up the learning. You’d be surprised at how much adults can learn in just one dance season!
Download Your Checklist
Did you find this list helpful? Here is a printable version for you to use as you prepare for your first ballet class. Happy dancing!
Stephanie Parrell says
This is great! I took dance classes as an adult with no dance experience and really enjoyed it. I think it is great to try something new every now and then!
Arianna Lynne says
It’s definitely a good thing to try new things as an adult. It’s so easy for us to get into a routine and stick with it, even if we are unhappy at times. Trying something new like ballet is a great way to add some exciting changes to our lives!
Agnes Dela Cruz says
There is no harm in trying to stuff even if you are an adult. These are such helpful tips and I must say it can help motivate anyone who would love to try ballet.
Arianna Lynne says
I’m happy you found this motivating and helpful! A lot of these tips were based on worries/questions I had myself, and I realized a lot of other dancers in my class had the same questions as well.
Great tips! Thank you for sharing. I’ve never been a ballet dancer myself (too heavy) but I’ve admired the art from afar. For anyone looking to try ballet in their adult years this is a wonderful guide to getting started.
Arianna Lynne says
Thank you! As someone who admires ballet, I still think you should give it a try! The studio I go to has dancers with all different body types in all classes. My fellow dancers in adult ballet are actually some of the most supportive people I’ve met, and I look forward to the class every week.
Patricia M says
My goodness, I never taught that starting as an adult would have so many step to watch for. I love this list because it’s very informative for someone thinking about starting ballet..
Arianna Lynne says
It definitely quite a bit, but it’s so rewarding in the end! A lot of the things on this list came from my own worries as someone who never did ballet as a kid. I’m glad you found it informative!
These are all great tips! I danced all throughout middle and high school, ballet was part of the dancing I did on my schools dance team. I miss it all of the time but have struggled with my confidence to do it again. The idea of starting up again would be amazing!
Arianna Lynne says
This is exactly why I started again! I was also on the dance team in high school, and I loved how dance was both a mental and physical exercise. Learning choreography and combinations definitely work your brain just as much as your body. I stopped dance after high school, and I really missed it after a couple years. I figured I’d go way out of my comfort zone and give ballet a try. So glad I did!