Becoming a ballet student as an adult means:
a) A good way to exercise. It improves posture and flexibility, strengthens muscles and burns calories.
b) Easy to do. There are at least two professional studios in Salt Lake that offer adult beginner classes.
c) Exciting. As a kid, you never did ballet and your inner ballerina longs for a pair of criss-cross strappy pink slippers.
d) Scary. You might look clumsy and stupid.
These are the practical and daunting thoughts that play in your head when you decide to “fight the bulge” with a new ballet class for adults.
Eliminating the intimidation factor that surrounds ballet is the reason Western Ballet Academy launched classes last month in Salt Lake City and Park City.
“We’re not watering it down or renaming it,” academy director Peter Merz said of the technique lessons. “We want to make Ballet West teaching as accessible to people as possible.”
On a recent evening, Nikki Bybee, the Salt Lake City instructor, took the students through a series of beginner ballet positions, from plie and releve to thrown and chased. Beginners kept their eyes glued to her feet as she demonstrated the steps.
Then, while the piano was playing, Bybee walked around the room helping students adopt posture and hand and toe positions.
“I love teaching adults,” she said after class. “They find the humor in themselves and there’s a more relaxed environment and camaraderie.”
Unlike her younger, easily distracted students, adults’ “response time is much faster,” she added. “They really make it look good.”
Although the atmosphere is laid back, the class is a workout, said Aleksandra Jovanovic-Hacon. “It might be harder than going to the gym and using one of the machines.”
Jovanovic-Hacon attended his first class for “exercise, flexibility and fun”. Her 16-year-old daughter, Ana, who does ballet, came for moral support.
“Ballet dancers make it look very easy, almost effortless,” she said. “But it’s difficult. We have to give the dancers more credit.
Merz said he hopes it’s a side effect of the classes. “I hope it will deepen your appreciation when you see the dancers on stage,” he said. “It makes the experience richer watching them play.”
The first chance for that comes this week, when Ballet West performs “Cinderella” by Sir Frederick Ashton“, often vsconsidered the greatest interpretation of the timeless fairy tale. On Prokofiev’s classical score, it runs from February 9 to 25 at the Capitol Theater.
North Salt Lake’s Mark Love finds Ballet West’s class to be therapeutic – helping the double amputee deal with the pain of a neurological condition. “That’s the expression for me. I find joy in that,” he said. “It’s an option I didn’t think I had.”
Repertoire dance theater also offers a dozen adult dance classes each week at its Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center home. Saturday morning African dance with live drummers is the most popular, but other offerings include beginner ballet, flamenco, hip-hop and main move, said Stephanie Perkins, director of public relations and marketing of RTD.
Classes are for all levels. “People get professional experience because the classes are based on what our dancers take every day,” she said.
Tuition fees provide a small income to the business; the courses also introduce new people to RDT. “If they find the dance classes first, they realize they want to see these people perform.”
Of course, if you’re new to adult ballet, there are always a few additional questions you’ll need to ask, such as:
What am I wearing? • “We don’t usually wear tutus in technical class,” Merz said. No need for leotards and tights either. Wear something comfortable but close-fitting, like yoga or pilates equipment, so you can see your body’s alignment in the mirror. “You really want to be able to see where your spine, hips and knees are.”
And my feet? • The studio has a special non-slip surface, which means you can wear socks during class. But getting the cute slippers with the grippy soles is part of the fun. They cost between $18 and $25 at local dance shops.
How much does it cost? • Ballet West walk-in classes are 90 minutes long and cost $15 each; RTD classes are 75 minutes long and cost $12 each.
How tiring is it? • Students are encouraged to listen to their bodies and make movements as easy or difficult as they wish. But you can expect your heart rate to increase; you will sweat and the next day your arms, calves and hips will be worked.
Where am I going? • Classes are Wednesdays at 9:45 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. at Ballet West Academy Studios at Trolley Square, 602 S. 700 East, Salt Lake City. Classes are also held Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. at the Park City campus of Ballet West Academy, 6554 Creekside Lane. RDT classes are held weeknights and Saturday mornings at the Dance Center at 138 W. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City.