How Old is Too Old for Ballet

How old is too old for ballet? Should you ever hang up your ballet shoes for good? I swallowed my pride and went to ballet class to find out.

I nearly had an anxiety attack the day I walked up the stairs to my first ballet class in 6 years. Up until that point, I had spent hours in my stuffy corporate job daydreaming about being back in my ballet slippers, pirouetting across the stage, and dancing without a care in the world. Now that I was about to make that daydream a reality, I began to have second thoughts. I'm too old for ballet. I pictured myself standing out like a sore thumb in a classroom full of 12 year olds. With a pang of envy, I thought about how excited they must feel to receive their first pointe shoes. I'll never make it en pointe. I thought about how much flexibility I'd probably lost over the years and how much more difficult the steps would be now that I was older.

In the locker room, I pulled on my ballet tights and my old pink ballet slippers. They were wrinkled from hiding in my closet for 6 years, yet scuffed and worn from my youthful dancing days a long time ago.

The ballet barre in the classroom was exactly as I'd remembered it. I stared at my reflection in the enormous mirrors. My hips and bust had grown since I last danced. My face had changed, too. There used to be an ambitious teenager staring back at me from within those mirrors and I didn't recognize the sad eyes of this insecure woman. I tried to ignore my younger classmates and their smaller, thinner ballet bodies and focused instead on stretching.

A man in his fifties walked into the room and took his place next to me at the barre. Although his face was lined with age and his hair was silver gray, he was clearly here to dance. From his tights all the way down to his ballet slippers, his body was nothing but pure muscle. I watched him plié with awe. He was old enough to be my father, yet he had the grace of an accomplished ballet dancer. His legs were powerful enough to lift him high off the floor and his ballet turnout was something to envy. Not only was he talented, but he carried himself in such a way that he clearly didn't give a darn about what anybody else thought.

I turned back to my reflection and suddenly saw the fire in my eyes that I somehow lost 6 years ago. When I stopped thinking about how old I was and how much I didn't belong, my body seemed to take on a mind of its own. I could still pirouette. I could still do piqué turns. Maybe I wasn't as flexible as I used to be, but that didn't mean that I shouldn't try. And maybe I didn't have a stick thin ballet body, but at that moment, as I watched myself leap and piqué arabesque with the rest of my classmates, I realized that I was still a beautiful ballet dancer.

Being an older dancer, I have to be honest with myself. I will never be a professional ballet dancer. Unless I work extremely hard, it's unlikely that I'll ever dance en pointe. However, as strong and beautiful as the younger dancers are, I realized that day that I would not trade places with any of them. Ballet has no age limit, nor do ballet dancers have expiration dates. I can only hope that one day I'll be as strong and as confident as that older man in my ballet class. I'm guessing that sort of grace comes with age.