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Tips for Teaching Adult Beginning Ballet, part 2

adult beginning ballet student

I'm sure he didn't mean to, but Kurt Cobain perfectly summed up my approach to adult beginning ballet:

"Come, as you are, as you were

As I want you to be

As a friend"

Getting an adult beginning ballet class off the ground can be hard because so many adults worry that they aren't "good enough" to start ballet. It's very important to cultivate a culture that is welcoming and easy to join. I've talked in other posts about ballet class culture but adults need a different kind of space.

Classroom culture tips:

  • Adult ballet class is a judgment-free zone. Come as you are. You cannot over-stress this. Adult ballet is not about getting anything "right" or being "good enough" or anything like that. Adult ballet class is about trying and experiencing new types of movement and enjoying the process. Make it clear at the beginning of every class that in this space, "We are here to get better together and everyone is welcome."

  • The dress code for adults is practically nonexistent. When people inquire about this I always tell them to come in clothing that they will feel comfortable moving in. I let them know that most people come in leggings/yoga pants/sweatpants but there is no formal requirement. Plenty of people start adult beginning ballet wearing athletic socks instead of ballet slippers. I fully support this because people already have socks and if they must get slippers before they start that's just one more reason to postpone coming. Make it easy for people to come to the first class.

  • The focus of class is to offer movement opportunities, not corrections. The experience of class is so much more important than any outcome. Yes, explain that turnout comes from the hips, design exercises to help students develop strong ankles and un-sickled feet, give tips on how to keep track of which direction to turn, etc., but class is about trying. There is no external measure of success (see "judgment-free zone" above). Adults are already mentally comparing themselves to what they think a dancer "should" look like so criticism hits way harder than you intended. And unless someone specifically asks for tactile feedback, do not touch your adult students. Getting poked does not help create a feeling of safety and acceptance in the classroom.

  • Expect and accept limitations. Bodies age. And every body ages in a unique way. You have no way of knowing who blew out their knee in high school, who has rheumatoid arthritis, who's balance is declining faster than average . . . . If an adult quietly modifies a movement, accept it. I tell my students that adult class is "choose your own adventure." They are free to increase or decrease leg height, simplify or complicate arm movements (hands on hips is always an option), balance instead of turn, balance on flat instead of half-pointe, relevé instead of jump, etc. Trust that they are making the best choice for their body.

    • Always remember that adults are rearranging their schedule to be there and paying for class themselves and that there is nothing keeping them in your class. If they do not feel respected and accepted, they will not come back.

  • Attendance will be irregular. You will have die-hard students who rarely miss a class and you will have others who come sporadically. It can be tricky to find the balance in your lesson prep since you want the regular attenders to feel like they are making consistent progress, but you also need to make sure the class content stays accessible to people who have missed a class or two (or are joining for the first time). I tend to have a looser lesson plan for adults than I do for kids. Having one or two key vocabulary movements in mind will generally give you enough structure to make class cohesive but also leave plenty of space to be adaptable. For example, this week our vocabulary was pas de Basque which was easy to build up to with rond de jambe, petit développé, piqué en avant, and triplet steps.

"Come, as you are" no experience needed

"as you were" bring all the beautiful memories of ballet that you have and we'll add to them

"as I want you to be" because you have more ability and potential than you realize

"as a friend"

Everybody needs ballet friends. Getting to be the teacher in that room is a very special experience.


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