A First Ballet Class story from a male adult beginner

Adult Beginner here, Got this email the other day from BK, who found the First Class Stories page and got to thinking about his first ballet class, and then got to writing and then wrote some more, and a little more, and some more, and then realized maybe the story was a bit long for the page and sent it to me and I think it’s great so I’m putting it here. Enjoy.

I was a month shy of turning 30 when I walked into my first ballet class 10 years ago. Sort of an early mid-life crisis moment, only I was way too young for a mid-life crisis. More like, “Well, I need to find something that’s really, really different from anything I’ve done before.” It should also be noted that I’m a guy. I had dated a girl in college who was a dancer, and had a few, um, private sessions with her, so I knew some of the lingo already. Beyond that, my ballet experience was zero. Right about that same time I was playing/teaching a sport for a living and figured that ballet would help me in the balance and focus departments. So, I called up a local pre-pro school and got the details on their adult classes…no beginners, just adult, one-size-fits-all -experience classes.
Here is where we take a short detour through the task of obtaining apparel for ballet class. This is easy for a woman, but not so much for a guy.
I ask the woman on the phone at the school what I should wear for class. Her response (which I remember exactly): “Our uniform for male students is a white t-shirt, black full length tights, white socks and black leather ballet slippers.” My response: “Uniform? Oh, um, okay (gulp).” Not quite what I was expecting, as I was thinking the t-shirt and shorts route, maybe slippers, which seemed necessary, but definitely not tights.
Then, she adds in this little nugget of info: “It will be cold in class (this was a Saturday morning class in January) so you’ll want to bring a sweatshirt and legwarmers for barre exercises.”
Me: “Legwarmers?” (more gulping noises)
So I go to a dance apparel store and spend more than I ever intend to on dancewear, not even sure if I’ll make it to a second class. I draw the line at the unitard the store attendant brought out (when I presented her with the list of things I needed I saw dollars signs in her eyes; she was trying to cash in), and also passed on something she called a “dance belt.” Had never heard of that before, and didn’t think it was necessary. Wow, was that a bad call…more on that later.
So I make my way to class very early one Saturday morning, and man, is it cold when I walk into the studio. That lady wasn’t kidding. There’s no one in the waiting room for the studio, and I walk past one classroom that’s dark. No one anywhere. That’s odd, I think. I go into the bathroom and get dressed. At least it’s warmer in there, for some reason. I stop in front of the mirror and catch sight of myself for the first time in full ballet get-up. I’m reasonably fit, and people have told me since that I have great legs and feet for dance, but wow, at that moment I was ready to turn and run out of the studio. Anxiety starts to set in.
I take a deep breath and exit the bathroom. Still no one in the waiting room. No noise coming from anywhere, nothing. It’s almost the time for class, so I’m wondering if I’m in the right place, or if class was cancelled and word never got to me since I’m new. I linger for a moment, wondering what to do.
I look around a corner and down a hallway and see a light on in a back studio, which leads me to believe it’s where class is being held. However, as I walk in that direction, a few things begin to happen simultaneously…1) The middle part of my body becomes aware of just how cold it is. The upper half is fine due to the sweatshirt, and my legs are nice and warm due to the legwarmers (pulled tight over my legs so as to not be noticeable; they’re so long they come over my knees). But the middle part? Where the dance belt would, and should, go under the tights? Nuh uh, not even close, still frigid. I’ll spare the details, but feelings of intense awkwardness and self-consciousness ensue. 2) I enter the studio and become aware of someone else there, over in the far corner that I couldn’t see until I walked in. An older guy, a good 20-30 years my senior, dressed exactly the same as me, sans sweatshirt and legwarmers. He ambles over immediately to shake my hand and greet me, which only makes me even more self-conscious. He explains that his daughters took ballet for years as children, and that he took it up when they stopped. They stopped 20 years ago. Okay. 3) I also become aware that there are no other people in the room, no teacher, no other students, nothing.
With my head spinning a little bit I do some simple warm up exercises at the barre, and make small talk with the other guy, midsection strategically angled away from him. Needless to say, this is a completely alien experience. A couple minutes go by. No one else enters the room. Now I’m thinking “What the hell is going on here? No teacher, only one other person and he’s old enough to be my dad?” Feelings of awkwardness intensify. Then, the teacher enters. She knows the other guy already and greets him, and starts asking me some questions about experience level and says she’ll tailor the class around what we want to do/learn. She’s very no-nonsense. I realize at this point that this is it for the class – two dudes, no women. That doesn’t bother me necessarily, it’s just not quite what I expected. I shrug that off and dive into class.
It doesn’t take long for the warm-up gear to come off and I run through the litany of positions, plies, releves, degages, frappes, rond de jambes, etc. (Note: I find I really enjoy rond de jambes and try to execute them as perfectly as possible). Then there are jumps and basic pirouettes. The other guy almost falls over every time he tries to execute a pirouette. It isn’t pretty, not that I have anything to talk about. “So much for 20 years’ experience”, the nasty side of me thinks. I immediately feel bad for thinking that.
The teacher spends a lot of time with me, making me realize that having only two people in the class wasn’t such a bad thing – I end up paying $10 for practically an individual lesson. Her bedside manner maybe isn’t the best, but I can tell she’s legitimately trying to teach me something. The class goes pretty smoothly, and my comfort level increases dramatically from when I first walked in.
As we wrap up there’s some more small talk, and she talks about the other adult class, on a Wednesday night, if Saturday mornings are too early for me. Then I make a joke about getting comfortable wearing tights (she’s been pretty serious throughout the class and I try naturally to get people to laugh, or at least smile). She gets a slightly confused look on her face and tells me “You know, you don’t have to wear tights in class. In our adult classes, you can wear whatever you’re comfortable in.” I explain what the woman on the phone said about the uniform, and then I get my first smile and laugh of the day. “Oh, that’s just for the boys in our professional school, not the adults.” Ah, okay.
Postscript — I never went back, mostly due to the school being such a long drive away. But a few months later I wander into a different studio one evening, much closer to home. They were overjoyed to see a male student walk in the door. The owner takes one look at my legs and tells me, seriously, that if I want a professional career she’d help me get started. I ended up staying for three years.
There was a core group of 8-10 women in their adult classes, one of whom I ended up dating for awhile. Yeah, didn’t take me too long to get comfortable at this studio. I was cast in their shows, and got to do some moderately complex partnering routines. The older women weren’t quite up to partnering so I usually got paired with some of the advanced high school girls at the studio. Those were awkward at first since I was a good 14-15 years older than they were, but as everyone got comfortable I ended up looking forward to staying after class for an hour working on routines. I got an actual dance belt (not really comfortable, but necessary), and got completely used to wearing tights. One class I wore shorts, and felt totally out of place the entire time. That’s when I knew I was completely “in” this.
And oh yeah, I even went on pointe! That was crazy. Just for one class, on a dare, 30 minutes at the barre. A couple of the advanced girls wanted to see a guy en pointe, and the studio owner said it might be good to feel what my partners felt. I couldn’t walk right the next two days. So much for feeling anything. My special-ordered size 11 black Sanshas were quickly retired.
Eventually I fell off the ballet wagon as other parts of my life called. No professional career for me, not even close. The classmate I was dating decided to go back to school and had to move so we called it off. Not that painful really, but it caused me to look forward to class a little bit less. My schedule filled up, and ballet didn’t make the cut. In the seven years since, I’ve taken just a handful of classes, maybe five total. I wandered into one last summer in the city where I recently moved and felt completely lost since it had been so long.
I’m married now, and get this, my wife used to work in the office of the same pre-pro school where I took my first class. For real. (Ok, yeah, apparently I have a thing for dancers, so sue me.) That was quite an interesting conversation on the first date….”Wait, you worked where?” “Wait, you take ballet?” Once she saw my legs though, it all made sense to her.
But I still think about my days as a danseur from time to time, when I took the plunge on something completely different and it paid off with an experience that taught me a lot – discipline, focus, balance, really just a chance to see the world through a completely different viewpoint. It was challenging, frustrating, and fun. Although I’m somewhat relieved I no longer have to memorize combinations and toss 110-pound girls over my head (hello, back problems!), I still manage to get the urge to trace a rond de jambe from time to time.
When I walked into that studio on that freezing January morning and laughed at myself in the mirror and wanted to just leave, I never would have thought part of me would one day miss ballet. Funny how that all works out.

About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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17 Responses to A First Ballet Class story from a male adult beginner

  1. Is it just me or was anyone else totally on pins-and-needles about the dance belt?
    Also the part about the older dude falling over in the pirouettes, I was like Oh man, that is me in seventeen years lolz and face-palmz.
    Big thank you to BK for sharing!

  2. RO says:

    Hahaha jup the older guy falling over in pirouettes did make me think about myself.. haha! We get new girls in class all the time and they turn 10 times better than I do, and I’ve been doing ballet for 4 years again… Ahh well, we all have our weaknesses.
    What a gorgeous story! I do hope he will get the chance to dance again sometime! :-)

  3. yogicarson says:

    This was very entertaining! More to follow…

  4. ryecob says:

    My adult beginner ballet journey began in my late 20’s. After trying a handful of different studios, I too found one where the teach was over the moon to have a male dancer. I went to class twice a week for the better part of a year before having to stop – work always gets in the way. My teacher pleaded with me to stay, even going so far as to offer half price classes.

  5. BK says:

    Don’t know if anyone was interested in an update, but I was “inspired” enough by my own post to head back to class earlier this week. First time in years. And it went surprisingly well. Most of it came back to me pretty easily, and the teacher seemed impressed by my knowledge. Class was small, just me and two other people, but no big deal. Lots of stretching at the end, almost like a ballet/pilates combo class, which is actually pretty perfect for me these days. It was free, which was great, and I wouldn’t mind going back, but from here on out I’d have to pay. So, decisions, decisions.

    Not that it matters, but I also have to get a couple bonus points for doing this with a 5-week old at home, right? My wife was pretty jealous that I got to leave the house for a couple hours. For anyone who thinks that I shirked baby duties to go jump around a ballet studio for an hour, don’t worry, I was right back on duty the moment I got back home. (And it took me about 10 minutes to type this post…such is life with a whimpering infant in the other room.)

  6. rahyuhnjeymz says:

    Not sure if BK’s revealing story soothes or invokes my anxiety surrounding the day I step out onto a dance floor in tights and shoes I yet know how to tie… I guess I’ll find out soon enough. Thanks for sharing!

  7. FogFog says:

    Around 6 month ago when I started considering taking ballet classes as a male adult beginner this is the first story I read and it gave me a good laugh and took some of the anxiety off. Well with indsight I’ll leave a few words for the ones who come after me : read more stories about male adult beginners, get some tips on what to do and expect for your first class, and most MOST importantly, try to get first hand accounts on the outfit…just like BK I was told on the phone to go “all classical” and bought the full pack, but his story had made me a bit sceptical, so I decided to wear jazz pants for my first class and brought the rest in case I was told it would be a no-no, but as it happened it was all fine.

    Yup, I looked like A COMPLETE IDIOT, but at least not a complete idiot who bought all the gear and can’t remember where’s left and right.

    The only other guy was wearing sweatpants and an MMA t-shirt. Well apart from the male teacher, in shorts and tank top, both in socks.

    So guys, even if you can’t go watch a class first and you do buy your thighs as a safety, at least go there early and watch the classes before you with more mainstream clothes, just in case (there’s classes all day long where I go).

    • Isn’t it funny how important the outfit is. You’d think that as adults we be all mature and above it, but nope, the outfit is totally important.
      Thanks for sharing and advising, Fogfog!

  8. Ray says:

    Adult ballet is fabulous. Balance, strength, flexibility, aerobic conditioning, musicality, grace are all a part of ballet class. The outfits are a nice extra. Fit, thin, pretty girls in leotards, tights and various little skirts provide an element of motivation to male dancers.

  9. Amadeus says:

    Enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing. Can I ask what ever made you want to take the first class? Did you find yourself standing on your toes as a kid and prancing around with naturally familiar movement- and even as an adult and enjoy?

  10. uniondesign says:

    Thanks for sharing. I took my first class at age 44 I think? I didn’t buy any special clothes. I just wear black running pants and a black shirt. I don’t even have flats, I just wear black women’s “trouser socks” that I get at the dollar store (basically ankle high nylons). The classes I do are mostly barré so I get away with it… but they can be slippery for floor stuff. I should probably break down and get the silly shoes. I took my first class because a few years earlier I discovered I loved skating… and after a few years in hockey skates and adult “learn to skate” group classes a switched to figure skates and a coach because I knew I’d be able to learn a LOT more that way… and the beginner group classes were starting to bore me. And I heard that ballet is good for skaters so I figured… WHAT THE HECK! I’ll give it a go! I’ll try anything once. In fact I LOVE trying new things. I really will try almost anything once. I hear you about the trepidation though. Seems foolish now but as a straight dude who was always into more ‘manly’ activities like surfing, climbing, biking, hiking… I did feel pretty self-conscious that first day. Plus I figured, what the heck… I’m already a figure skater anyway! Haha. It’s all good though. I only took it because of skating but I have to say I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would! It’s been about 3 years now and I’m still going. So there you go. Skating is still by far #1 though. I’m completely addicted to skating. The dance is just cross-training. I have no desire to take the dance stuff anywhere. I wish more people (especially guys and parents) would be more open-minded about so-called “gender specific” sports and activities. It’s so stupid. Life is way too short to impose arbitrary limits on yourself.

  11. Future Dancer says:

    Recently I got the itch to take up ballet, but the kicker is that I am in my mid-40’s and a guy. A month back I worked on a ballroom dance competition and found myself really wanting to take up some type of dance. I had heard that some of the dancers actually have a background in ballet. Most of the guys there were much more mature and might have started really young. However, I now have the bug that I have to take some dance classes. Since I sometimes do acting work I figured it couldn’t hurt to actual know how to dance and ballet has always been so graceful to me. So after talking to several schools by email I have found a few studios in my area that have adult co-ed classes. So I went on Groupon and found a few schools and purchased the classes. After communicating with the schools of interest I found only select ones really had any type of dress code for guys. They did suggest that I wear something that I would be comfortable in but still not too loose. I tend to be a person that really goes all out on anything I put effort in so I have the shirt, tights, dance belt and shoes. I guess now I just have to make it to the first class.

  12. theempris says:

    I started ballet as an adult beginner, after 365 I made an epic ballet+travel video “The Spin Around the World (Ballet Pirouette)”! Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3ZPwS2Ww-k

  13. Kim Sherman says:

    I have got completely used to wearing tights for dance, they give support, keep muscles warm, help to show correct movement during practice. I mostly wear tights from Danskin; although I have worn opaque tights from the supermarket and haven’t had a problem with them.
    Danskin Ballet Tights

  14. Kim, really, that photo is not encouraging for a straight guy contemplating taking up dance…

  15. Kim Sherman says:

    Not sure what you mean by that? Seems to be an odd statement to make.

  16. Abel freeman says:

    the talk of his legs actually reminds me of myself and ballet now interests me even more

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