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Celebrating 10 Years
two ballerinas

Making a Pointe

A popular pastime for generations of poised, pre-teen girls, ballet is now attracting a new following of adults keen to become fit and recapture the grace and charm of this refined yet demanding art form. Lucy Brooks reports:

"How long since you did it?" A girl with a South African accent smiles at me. I have to count on my fingers. "Five years," I say, realising how dreadful my third position is going to be.

"Me too," she says, relieved. "I really miss it."

We are perched nervously on our seats in Bardon's Dancing Studios, fiddling with the elastic bows on our pristine, pink ballet shoes, waiting to pick up where we'd left off.

Former principal ballerinas of the Queensland Ballet, Rosetta Cook and Michelle Giammichele, started 2ballerinas three months ago, and the response has been huge. Catering for adults who did ballet when they were young, or who always wanted to learn, the classes aim to eliminate dance school rigidity and politics so that women (and men) can dance at their own pace.

The demand for adult ballet lessons has spiked in recent years, as Pilates devotees have grown weary and the New Year's resolve to hit the gym has worn thin. Adult classes have cropped up across Brisbane, and they are appealing to a broad spectrum or women - from the middle-aged mum who wants to relive childhood memories to the 20-something graduate who wants to kick a kilo or two.

It's easy to get swept up in dancing again. Whether we were good at it or not back then, the class is full or women pointing, squeezing, kicking and lifting. The music, the concentration and Rosetta's chanting; "One, two, three, four. First position, plie, point and place" are enough to wipe the day's slate clean. It's hard work - I'm drenched with sweat halfway into the lcass - but ballet brings a freedom that exercise rarely does these days. It's expressive, dramatic and satisfying. It is French, after all.

"The main aim of ballet is harmony of movement." say Robyn White, artistic associate at the Queensland Ballet, who lists better posture, heightened awareness of one's physicality, confidence and a boost to general health and fitness among the benefits of ballet.

"Any art, be it ballet, music, painting or theatre, is complex and challenging. But the study of our art form can be very fulfilling, and uncovering all the layers of ballet is what makes it so interesting."

In a culture littered with quick-fixes such as 30-minutes circuit gyms, as-see-on-TV Ab Blasters, and tough-love boot camps, ballet's reputation as a form of exercise is unlikely to wane.

Dr Anthony Leicht, from James Cook University's Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, says ballet is a whole-body workout that combines strength and cardio training and promotes flexibility and agility.

"Most adults in the community have poor muscular strength and flexibility because they are doing very little exercise. We lose muscle mass, flexibility and strength as we age, so ballet is ideal in that sense," Dr Leicht says. We work our large muscle groups when we dance, he says, and while ballet apears achingly slow to treadmill aficionados, he feels it's essential for the "no pain, no gain" mentality to be reassessed.

"From a health point of view, it doesn't matter if it's running or lifting weights, or tai chi and ballet, as long as we make time to exercise."

A typical ballet class is designed to build from the ground up, beginning wiht basic barre techniques and progressing to exercises and choreographed routines in the centre.

"A ballet class is really perfectly designed because you get stretching, strength work, then cardio and a warm down." say Rosetta, of 2ballerinas.

"It's a classic art from that will never go out of fashion. Ballet has been around for centuries; it just hasn't been as the the forefront of adult exercise. There simply haven't been the places for people to go as adults."

Vivianne Sayers, life member of the Royal Academy of Dance and founder of one of Brisbane's oldest dance acedemies, Sayers Dance Centre in Kenmore, introduced adult ballet classes to her timetable after several parents of students expressed their interest.

Sayers says the misconception that you have missed the ballet boat if you didn't begin at age five is being rewritten by adult classes, which provide an opportunity for closet dancers to twinkle their toes in an environment that allows them to fulfil thier individual needs.

"We aren't going to produce any dancers out of these classes, but that's not the point" Sayers says.

"These people don't want to be dancers. They want to exercise in a away that is expressive and artistic because they love it, and as long as they want to do it they will enjoy it."

Biddy Seymour, a 51-year-old school teacher, was the driving force behind the adult ballet classes at Sayer, and thinks the resurgence in dance as an exercise form comes down to women who want to add an artistic flair to their lives.

"I have always preferred to exercise through dance because I enjoy the artistic side of it and it never feels like a slog. I think most of the participants in the group feel this way," she says.

"We are a diverse group, both in age and dance experience, but our common love of dance generates a camaraderie that we all appreciate and value. As I grow older I realise even more how ballet keeps my brain as well as my body active."

Breaking down preconceived notions about ballet was always going to be tough, but adult classes have shone a light on an art form that is often misconstrued. That all beginners' classes consist of leotard-clad four year olds has taken a while to amend, and ideas about ballet as a snooty art form with iron-clad rules about dress, aesthetics and body weight are beginning to dissolve.

"Adult classes are a great idea because they make ballet available to everybody," say Evan Jones, a former dancer and ballet master who has worked with tsome of the world's most prestigious ballet companies and now lectures in ballet at QUT.

"There are a lot of preconceptions. Ballet is an eleite form of art, but I think the snootiness is diminishing as more people gain access to it. We need more generous people with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share it with the community reather than keep it to themselves."

Rosetta and Michelle, of 2ballerinas, insist it's a waste for people to grow up with ballet, only to let it slip away as they age.

"Ballet is like a common link between women," says Rosetta.

"We have some ladies who only did a term of ballet when they were little but they've had that influence in their lives (and) they've never forgotten it."

Image Captions: Grace and harmony ... opposite, Rosetta Cook and Michelle Giammichele are helping to bring ballet down to earth; from top, at Sayers Dance Centre students Christine Bullock, Helene Wiley, Sherazard Christian, Sarah Rowles and Rhonda Ganko warm up with instructor Trudy Skippen; Biddy Seymour in form at Sayers; and dancers in full flight with the Queensland Ballet.

Photographs // Justine Walpole and courtesy Queensland Ballet.

top Last modified: Fri 4 Nov 2011