What makes a guy decide, at 23, to take a ballet class for the first time? A year-and-a-half later and I’m still struggling to find an answer. I was studying in the US and wanted a new challenge, something completely outside my comfort zone. Ballet sprang to mind from nowhere and I’m hugely grateful it did.
It’s not exactly easy to start ballet at such a late (relatively speaking) age. Most people taking adult classes have danced as a child, even if they haven’t taken a class in years. As well as not having this previous experience, I felt my presence was particularly distinctive as I was a guy in a female-dominated activity. I was lucky to find some ‘absolute beginner’ adult classes and approached them with more than a hint of trepidation. My teacher told me to just follow along and do my best. I relished the challenge and emerged from the class feeling as if I’d accomplished something (even if it was just a quarter-turn pirouette), and was eager to try more. Soon, I was taking five classes a week and travelling to New York at weekends to get my fix.
Obviously being a 24-year-old guy doing ballet is not ‘the norm’. It’s rare to see other guys dance and can be hard to find adult classes. In fact, one of my weekly classes is at a local dance school and mainly consists of teenage girls, which took a little getting used to! It’s certainly humbling when someone half your age is leagues ahead of you.
I think the most frustrating thing about starting dance as an adult is that, whilst your brain can visualise a certain movement, your body doesn’t necessarily respond how you want it to. Whilst our brains are more analytical than a child’s, this can be as detrimental as it is beneficial. I have teachers telling me to “just go for it” when attempting something difficult like triple pirouettes or tours en l’air (a male move involving turning full-circle whilst mid-air), but often my over-analytical brain tenses me up and hinders me. At times I wish I had the fearlessness that children have to try anything, not afraid to fail or fall.
One thing that people assume when I tell them that I dance is that I’m going to try to be a professional. I find this rather strange; playing tennis doesn’t imply you’re aiming for Wimbledon. That said, I am still serious about becoming the best dancer I can be. I currently take, on average, three or four classes a week and rent out a studio at least twice a week to practice. I also dance with a group of other recreational adult dancers (including some former professionals), which involves weekly repertoire sessions and performances.
There is also the male ballet stereotype to deal with: camp, effeminate and enjoys wearing tutus. This is, obviously, inaccurate and hasn’t stopped me doing ballet, as I think it is important to show the world that being masculine and dancing are not mutually exclusive. Great strides have been made by introducing high-profile male dancers into the media, such as with Billy Elliot and, more recently, Harry Judd’s victory on Strictly Come Dancing. Add to this the work of all-male companies such as BalletBoyz and it is becoming more socially acceptable for men to dance. Being an outnumbered guy has its perks too: the last piece I performed involved three gorgeous women fighting for my attention. It’s a hard life!
Since starting classes I’ve also started to watch more ballet. I appreciate seeing dance more now that I realise just how hard it is. A professional can make steps I can only dream of doing seem utterly effortless, which adds its own magic. We are very lucky in the UK to have some of the world’s greatest dance companies and, contrary to popular belief, it can be very affordable to see them. On top of youth discounts and promotions, there are shockingly cheap tickets up for grabs if you don’t mind standing or sitting (with binoculars) at the top of a theatre. For example, I recently saw the Royal Ballet in a matinee and evening performance, and the total cost for both tickets was £10. I don’t think I need to add that taking someone to a ballet is a distinctively romantic gesture!
I think what keeps me dancing is that ballet is so much more than just working through steps. It teaches you grace, posture and respect. It develops lean muscle, core strength and agility. But on top of all these things are the moments when everything comes together, when you stop concentrating on technique or extension and get lost in the moment. And when that happens it truly feels like you’re flying. Why not try it and see for yourself?
You can read more about David’s ballet-based adventures here: Dave Tries Ballet.