Adult beginner quandaries

So, we’re doing grande battements at the barre: standing leg strong, body strong, no swinging, working leg sweeps up and Hold! then down, close fifth. Then sweep up, Hold down, close fifth. Eight times to the front, then side, then back and side again, then twirl around, other leg!
Smirnoff counting and yelling out encouraging things like To The Ear! The ear! Hold! No no, close front first time, that’s better. Use your waist to hold! Your instep is the heaviest part of your body, throw it away from you!
These things are killer. I love them. I love the hold. My kick is about barre height, which is relatively unimpressive, but I can hold that fucker!
Yeah!
Adult Beginner sez Freeze, mofo!
That’s what I’m talking ’bout!
The second side is more difficult, even though the working leg was just standing there before. You’d think it would be all rested and ready to show-up the first leg, but apparently being the supporting leg is hard work too. Interesting, but no time to think about it! Freeze, mofo!
We finished those, then we do a new exercise: grande battements on relevé without the hold, so we’re up on the ball of our standing foot and now that we don’t have to hold, our legs are just flying up there! So high! Above the barre! So easy! So fun!
Two front side back side, whirl around, same, then barre done!
Smirnoff tells us to go to the corner while he fumbles with his CDs.
We collect, grinning, and Triple G says, “Those are really fun on pointe! Are you taking the pointe class?”
I say no, I don’t think I’m ready.
She says, “oh sure you are! How long have you been in this class? What, over a year right? You could totally do it.”
And then Smirnoff presses play and we do chainés-nés.
And then after class Smirnoff is fretting about whether to cancel the pointe class that falls on the holiday, because he doesn’t want to pay for the room if no one shows up and he’s asking if anyone knows if this person or that person is planning on showing up, and Triple G points and says, “don’t you think she could do the pointe class?” and he says, “what? Oh, yes of course but I still think I will have to cancel for tomorrow, where is the manager I must speak with her.”
Gentle Reader, I totally floated out of the studio on a cloud. Did I have my car keys? Who cares! He said of course I could!
Aaaaaah!
So, now, here’s the thing. On the one hand, I’ve only been taking ballet for close to a year and a half. So, as my dancer-turned-yoga-master friend says, I’m only, like, six in ballerina years.
But on the other hand, it’s been two classes a week with this teacher for nearly that entire time, so I trust that he knows what I can handle, where my strengths and weaknesses are and all that.
And on the other other hand I figure if this old man is willing to teach me pointe, I should jump on it while he’s still around, I mean, he is no spring chicken. He is more like a mid-winter chicken.
But then maybe I’m no spring chicken either. Maybe I’m an early summer chicken. Maybe I don’t want to do anything risky with my feet. Gotta stand on those for work, you know.
But gosh, pointe!
Its a possibility! Holycrap!
Think I’ll talk with him about it after class next week.
Any opinions out there?
I will listen to advice but caveat: I may not follow it.

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Ballerina Class, and other pointe-y stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Adult beginner quandaries

  1. Laura says:

    You should definitely talk to Smirnoff about it in a more focused way but I say GO FOR IT. If you have his support, then why not?

    Here’s what I decided about pointe when I re-started this past fall:
    1. If it’s awful and you’re miserable, you can stop.
    2. You are physically fit and an adult and therefore unlikely to hurt yourself if you’re careful and have a good teacher. It took me a while to figure this out but a big part of the reason that little girls have to train for so long before starting pointe is that they are little girls and have to be physically mature enough that they won’t damage their bones. If you are already grown, then being only 6 in ballerina years (love this) is adequate.
    3. Wear really good shoes to work on the days you have ballet. I live in my Danskos now.

    Whatever you decide, good luck. I will say that I’m very glad I decided to go on pointe again–it has made me a better dancer for sure. Also, I’m writing down that thing about the instep being the heaviest part of the body. I wish I could take a class from your Smirnoff.

    • Ha! Little girls are little! That makes so much sense! And yet, I never thought about it that way. Definitely stronger now than I was at six. Or at any other age. Wow. Go ballet!
      Yes, I will talk with my teacher and make sure that that ‘of course’ was for reals.
      Like your Good Shoes idea. This will incorporate nicely with my Never Wear The Same Shoes Two Days In A Row philosophy.

  2. Hiccup42 says:

    I am really jealous. I’m like 3 in ballet years (i.e just started). I’ve done 12 weeks of one class a week, and always a big class too.
    I don’t even know if there are any pointe classes I could join where I am. Mind you by the time I’m ready I might be somewhere else!

  3. roriroars says:

    Haha… I knew you secretly lusted after pointe! ;)

    As I’m sure you’re well aware there are a ton of physical and technique factors that go into the determination of pointe readiness. It sounds like Smirnoff feels that your technique is at a level that pointe would be safe. Assuming the other physical factors are there (you don’t have foot issues that would contraindicate pointe, etc.)… The question becomes, do you want to do pointe? Sounds like you do… and I see no problem in pursuing it as long as:

    1) You go get fitted for pointe shoes at a store that will do a professional fitting (just because a place sells pointe shoes does not mean that they have fitters who really know what they’re doing or will take the time to make sure you have the tools to make pointe a positive experience). This is especially important not only to make sure you get put in the right shoe, but because they can recommend other tricks to make pointe feel better. For example, when I went back on pointe after 10 years off my fitter took the time to look at the shape of my foot, my pointe, etc. She said that I may benefit from using a spacer between my big & 2nd toes. I’d never used them before, but tried them for the first time this week in class and for the first time ever my bunion on the left foot is not yelling. She also recommended a different type of padding from what I’d been using and since then… no blisters yet!

    2) You’ve got fellow students who will demonstrate for you, give you hints, tips, tricks, etc. I know you’ve been struggling with this lately and I think you might find this even more necessary in pointe. In some ways it a different kind of dancing.

    Pointe is not really all that dangerous as long as you’ve got people who will keep you safe. As Laura noted, the reason why kids have to dance for so long before going on pointe is more of a bone development issue than anything. So if you think it’s something you want to go for, do it! But on the other hand, don’t feel that this is your only chance to do pointe. If your classmates and teacher think you’ve got the ability to do pointe, chances are that teachers down the road will also feel that you are capable and will support your interest. I’ve got people in my pointe class who are 40+, 50+. Summer chickens are welcome!

    • Haha!
      The lady doth protested too much?!
      But how could I resist, pointe is so handsome. I mean attractive. I mean drives such a cool car. I mean never mind.
      I’m just so curious about pointe! How does it even work?! Fascinating!
      Interesting about the shoe fitting. Figured I would ask the other girls where they got their shoes fitted, keeping in mind the place where I bought my slippers as a back-up. The lady there actually tried a few pairs on me and asked me to make a point, which I thought was a very silly request, and this was all after I told her I just needed them for a ballet-ish exercise class.
      Maybe I will open this one up to the universe too, by which I mean twitter, and see if anyone’s got an omg-great reco in the Los Angeles area.
      Sounds like most of the girls I turn to for good examples in my class are taking Smirnoff’s pointe class already. Sounds like most of them take ballet two or three classes per week, plus the one pointe class per week. So that is very good. They have been really encouraging and generous the whole way through.
      I mean, on a side note, I went into ballet with a headfull of stereotypes about bitchy, super competitive ballerinas and have not found anyone to fit that stereotype.
      Except in the movies!

      • roriroars says:

        Re: your side note… yeah, actually that was kind of part of the reason I quit ballet after college. I was sick of the bitchy, super competitive types (both ballerinas and modern dancers). I was tired of feeling like I didn’t fit in. But adult classes are a totally different ballgame. It’s actually fun. No one cares about what you’re doing except you. And they’re all supportive and stuff. Weird.

  4. White Swan says:

    Omg – if my teacher told me I was ready for pointe, I would drag him/her to the shoe store at.that.very.moment to help fit me for shoes! For reals. After I fainted and was revived, of course. I can’t wait to hear more about it! Rock out with your satin ribbons out!

  5. Acacia says:

    Wow. That’s amazing! I love hearing about Smirnoff and the offhand remarks he makes about how brilliant you are, as if it was self evident and you were the only one who didn’t know.

  6. Johanna says:

    I wondered when this would be coming up.. It seems no adult dancer can resist the lure of the pointe shoe ;) I certainly could not! It´s sweet indeed that you´re getting that kind of encouragement from your teacher and fellow dancers. Shows that you are doing something right! Now, having said that, would you mind terribly if I drizzle a little tepid water on you?

    So, not a cold shower but.. Rori already gave her opinion from a teacher´s POW (and returning student), and there will undoubtedly be others to follow. This is my take, as an adult dancer like yourself. Pointe is serious business. You do not have to worry about bone ossification nor having the attention span of a 12-year old, but it´s still no dance in the park. If you possibly can, up your weekly classes to three, and wait for three more months. Two classes a week are good for beginners and up-keep, but with pointe you need more strength and technique.

    Also, and this is very important – does Smirnoff teach a beginner pointe class? You know, where you really start with slow relevés at the barre? Or will you be thrown into way too challenging stuff? Everything is harder on pointe, holding your turnout, articulating your feet, pulling yourself up. Oh, and yes, it is painful.

    I started pointe 7 months ago and take one 60min class in top of 2-3 technique classes. Before that I had been dancing for 4 years after restarting ballet. Our class has been mixed-level from the get-go, but the barre has always been geared towards bloody beginners like myself. The first classes I took, I was actually told when to switch back into soft shoes (in the center, towards end of class)! Now I can do the entire class, but if our teacher gives fouettés to the advanced girls, no one expects me to follow suit. Phew!

    We get lots of feedback in class. My teacher is literally at our feet, and no exercise is done without inspection and (manual) correction. As a result I feel both challenged and safe in class. And happy to be on pointe! I really wish the same for you.

    There are quite a few good articles and links I read on the subject. The first is from ballet.co and their ballet magazine:
    Is Pointe a Silly Dream?

    This question asked by 21 year old restarter, answered by Classical Ballet Teacher:
    Dear CBT

    If you haven´t checked this blog out yet: Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes – make it easier

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to include links. I appreciate it, although wordpress got a bit twitchy and trapped your response in the spam filter. But no worries, it’s here now!
      Ridiculously enough, I ran across all three of those articles way way back when first starting ballet. I mean, while I’m googling adult beginning ballet, why not do a little pointe research? Jumping the gun? Crazy dreamer? What evs!
      Ok but srsly, I hear you on the beginner class issue.
      The nice thing I do know about Smirnoff’s pointe class is that the class itself is new. Like, there’s been talk since last fall about starting a pointe class, people chatting after class about how they’d like to have a pointe class too and Smirnoff kind of gauging interest. And at some point a couple months ago I got back into town after a trip and all that talk had actually come to fruition. So, the class itself is new, the majority if not all the pointe students come from my ballet class, which I think means they’re beginners or returners. (And at least one of them is less experienced in ballet than even I am. I mean, I’m not saying ‘if she can do it I can do it’. I’m just sayin’)
      But yeah, this’ll be one of the things I’ll talk with him about. Whether the class is beginner-y enough.

      • candice says:

        I take a beginner* pointe class, and one thing our teacher does is invite new people to take the class in soft shoes so they can try and watch and see if they’re up for it. Good idea before you make the often expensive shoe investment. And ask Smirnoff to recommend a fitter. Consider yourself lucky to live in a major city, where you should be able to get every major brand of shoe to try on.

        Also many things are terrifying (turns, traveling passes) but if you are the type that gets an adrenaline rush from doing scary things you may like it.

        *by this I mean basic, but expected to do center work en pointe. Most starting out do some stretch of 15 minutes after class pointe exercises before ending up in there.

    • Thanks for the bump, Johanna!!

  7. Anna says:

    Go check out Ballet Talk for Dancers at http://www.dancers.invisionzone.com
    It’s a great board, very professional, well moderated, with TONS of information. I have been there for years. They have a pointe section where you can learn so much about technique, shoes, fit etc. There are some professional fitters who can evaluate pictures of you en pointe and make shoe suggestions. There also is a great adult beginner section!

    I love your blog, by the way!

    • This looks very interesting. Isn’t the internet amazing? So glad I’m an adult beginner now and not, like, thirty years ago.
      Thank you for the encouragement, and the link!

  8. I can’t speak from a technical perspective, as I am an adult (law) student as well as an adult ballet dancer (pretty much a premie in your ballet years – it’s been 10 classes or so @ once a week) but from an “OMG imtotallyobsessedwithballetanditsallicanthinkabout” perspective, I would definitely explore this option!! I don’t know when in this lifetime, if ever, I will have the chance to try pointe, so if you don’t do it for you, at least do it for me….pretty please?? No, I take back the please. Do it! DO IT NOW!!! Do it for all of us adult ballerinas who, for whatever reason, are unable to right now. Like, you just have to! And then write about it (duh!) so we can all drool and wish we were you and daydream our days away in pointe.
    PS- love your blog :)

  9. chrisgo1 says:

    DO IT! That was the most exciting post I have read in ages.

  10. Congrats! I’m in a similar position as you– I’ve been doing ballet intensively for only a little over a year, and have just gone en pointe after approval from two instructors.

    While I admittedly do have lifelong dance experience (as opposed to you going in as a total beginner, yes?), I think I may be able to give some good insight on starting pointe!

    First of all, you should definitely do it! As long as you have proper strength and flexible enough ankles (which I’m sure you have by now) and can at least stand with proper alignment, there really is no hurt. In fact, it makes you MUCH stronger.

    After my first pointe lesson, I was surprised at how–not only did my feet and ankles feel worked as hell– my turn-out muscles had never felt so gloriously sore! Pointe makes EVERYTHING harder and accentuates every fault. So, while you have a 120 degree turnout in soft shoe, once you get up on those toes, your turnout looks more like 60 degrees.

    Same with turning out your feet in the air– I’ll arabesque and my foot will look sickled unless I use every ounce of ankle turnout I have left in my body.

    If you can shell out the extra cash (it’s $40 at my studio) I recommend doing a 30 minute private pointe lesson after the end of a regular ballet class. If you’ve ever felt like ballet is tedious, wait until you get up on those shoes. They can be damn frustrating and it’s nice to be working one-on-one so the lesson is tailored specifically to what I need. I don’t know what it would be like in a class, but all I know is that I want my teacher to be watching every damn bourre I do on those things to make sure I’m not doing one move wrong. It’s just so micro-detailed and movements are so small.

    Plus, I could not stand (literally) a minute more after my half hour lesson ended.

    Oh! And, last but not least, I recommend Gaynor Mindens (my teacher told me to get them). They are $128 but last years (as opposed to a couple of months), they are perfectly padded (no toe pads needed– I wear them with bare feet!), and they are pre-broken in, which I think is great for us newbies, as we can just focus on getting over the box without having to worry about whether or not we properly broke them in or not.

    They are a bit controversial, though, for various reasons. But I approve of them and so do my teachers.

    Anyway, I’ve written an embarrassingly long comment now, but I hope it helps. If you have any questions from someone in the same boat, I’m (obviously) happy to chat!

    • Couldn’t stand? Yikes! I gotta drive home after class!
      You know, I can see how it’s made some of the other girls in my class stronger, like some of them can do that crazy rise-up-on-the-toes-from-demi-pointe thing at the barre. I want some of that action!
      Thanks for the encouragement! You’re always welcome to ramble on,I know I do.

  11. OK, here’s the official advice – get yourself a Theraband, buy the Perfect Pointe Book and spend the next three or four months working on strengthening your feet, ankles and legs before you even consider pointe.

    Now here’s the unofficial advice. Your teacher sounds like my wonderful old teacher, Tony Lehtonen, who died suddenly only a year or so after I started ballet – and only a few months after I started pointe. I’m so glad I didn’t hesitate to start when Tony invited me to. Make the most of your wonderful teacher while you can!

  12. Alli says:

    If your teacher says yes, GO FOR IT! Will it hurt? Hells yes. Will it mangle your feet? Gimme another Hells yes. Will you totally feel like a Real Dancer? Oh ya baby. No feeling like it.

    I’ll refrain from advice about purchase of shoes etc, since all of the best has already been given, but I will say that pointe is the quintessential ballet experience not to be missed especially by those as dedicated as you :)

    Oh, and at first… you’ll be doing rises and relevees and thinking: “but when do I get to piourettes?!” Have patience young Padawan :)

  13. Lisa says:

    I’ve actually never done pointe before, but I’m thinking of signing up for a class! Guess I’ll start preparing myself for the pain now… oy vey!

    I’ve always loved dance and found this really cool blog post about dance which I think you all may like! http://claremunn.com/2011/04/cq-of-dance-movement-helps-connection-and-communication/comment-page-1/#comment-1928

    Hope you like it :)

    DANCE ON!

  14. Sue Kunicka says:

    How flexible is Smirnoff’s pointe class in terms of “choose your own adventure”/individualized difficulty level?
    We’ve had many people overcome their hesitations and rediscover their love of pointe after several years away from it, and just recently have experienced an influx of dancers who decided to take the plunge and try it for the first time. We now have an hour-long pointe class every Sunday, but initially, our students would wear their pointe shoes in elementary classes and just for barre in intermediate classes. Then one of our regulars had the brilliant idea of taking our beginning class en pointe: “easy” class for a hard skill. Our pointe class is highly individualized; students may even take the class without pointe shoes: they just do all of the exercises on the balls of the feet (demi-pointe) rather than the tips of the toes. If they do decide to wear pointe shoes, they’d do all of the exercises very basically and in moderation, but just because you’re new to the skills doesn’t mean you can’t give it a try–with the right supervision and teacher’s endorsement. I always invite students to wear them whenever they like and take them off whenever they’ve had enough: for some, barre is enough; for others, they put them on after barre for center work and exercises across the floor. Some return to the barre for added assistance during certain exercises. As you may know, just wearing the shoes, even without going up to full pointe, strengthens the legs and feet in a very unique way, so any time in them is beneficial.
    Private lessons are a wonderful idea if you have the time and money available.
    Good luck and keep us posted!

    • I didn’t know that just wearing the shoes helps strengthen. Interesting!
      Curious to find out the class format. Suppose I’ll just make sure I bring pointe shoes and slippers and see what happens.
      Your classes sound pretty rad.
      Thank you, and I will!

    • Kylara7 says:

      Ms. Kunicka, I clicked through to the website for The Studio and discovered that it is one of the places I found while searching for adult ballet classes in the Boston area. I will be visiting in early June on a work trip but am planning to take a bunch of class while I am there; your studio and classes sound wonderful :)

      (apologies for the derail)

  15. Kylara7 says:

    Whoo hoo! I heard all the points of view (pun intended) when I was deciding if I wanted to pursue the beginner pointe classes too…some said “No you have to dance for XX years and have super perfect everything before you can think about it or you’ll get hurt” and “Hey, why not…people do all kinds of crazy things” and everything in between. I think, as an adult, it’s really our own responsibility to assess our individual situations, gather advice and recommendations from our teachers, and make the call. I’m an ex-athlete and have added “ballet strong” to my previous development of body awareness, basic strength, proprioception, and ability to judge good pain from bad pain, and I have decided to go ahead with the blessings and cautions of my instructors.

    Life is short and having passions of your own make it worthwhile…I think your journey has been a good example and I love reading your updates. Can’t wait to hear how it goes! :)

    • Ha! I like the ‘people do all kinds of crazy things’ mentality. I mean, it’s not like I’m attempting to run a marathon or anything. Only a whack-a-do would attempt such a thing. Pointe is much sane-er

      • Kylara7 says:

        You know, that is really ironic, because I *am* (or was before ballet took over) a runner and though I have run regularly just about my whole life and have done a bunch of runs from 5k to several half-marathons, I have never wanted to do a marathon. I love running, I just don’t feel any pull towards running that long or that far. A half (13.1 miles) was about my attention span. :) What I am saying is not every runner sees “the marathon” as the be all-end all goal, just as every adult ballet student does not see pointe as the goal, but thank goodness there is lots of room for personal choice and what calls to us!

  16. AB, you may already know this since you visit my blog here and there (yay!), but you might enjoy poking around the various pointe articles I’ve posted, including a few about fitting that can help prevent pain from pointe shoes – which is quite often avoidable. Here’s the Pointe section on my site:

    http://classicalballetteacher.wordpress.com/category/pointe-shoes-2/

    Again, congrats!

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