Blogging Ballet: How old is too old to begin dancing?

"Am I too old to start ballet?" is a question asked very often (several times this week, alone) so it just seemed like a great time to address the subject. Whether you were bitten by the ballet bug because you saw The Nutcracker, Ballet West's Breaking Pointe or have just always wanted to dance and never had the time or the resources, you may find the answer you seek here.

When people come to me with the above question, I counter with one of my own: "What are your long term goals?" Here are two of the most common answers I get:

"I want to be a professional dancer." 

To answer appropriately for this person, we first need to look at the sequence of events leading up to a "traditional" ballet career. Generally, these dancers begin ballet by age 8 (10 at the latest) in order to dance en pointe (for the girls) by age 12 or 13. Then, the dancer would ideally become a member of a ballet company at age 18. This is the standard for ballet companies everywhere and so beginning ballet any later in life would not allow enough time to become a dancer worthy of a professional career. Exceptions are made seldom to never with emphasis on the never and the only exceptions are generally males because they don't dance en pointe.

The reasons for this are numerous but two stand out as the most important:

1) There's an expiration date to ballet careers. Professional dancers retire by the time they reach their 30's (most often by their late 20's) unless they are a principal of a company. The rigors of ballet training and the toll it takes on the body make this a young person's career. Someone who has never trained this intensely would have a hard time understanding but a lot of the time you just get tired or your hip joints start to remind you that you're not as young as you used to be.

2) Ballet dancers have very specific body types. Therefore, the younger you begin ballet, the more likely you are to develop the appropriate muscles and characteristics necessary to fit the criteria. This may seem like some throwback from the Soviets but there is a method to the madness. Especially in the case of female dancers, being lightweight with a smaller bone configuration is easier on her feet while en pointe and easier on her partner in lifts.

Note: You can look at dancers like Misty Copeland (who began dancing at 13) as one of the exceptions of the rule. However, Misty is incredibly talented and obviously had the "knack" for ballet technique. There are just some people who are not intended to be professional ballet dancers and that is OK.

"I want to dance for recreation." 

The answer in this scenario is easy: It's never too late to start dancing ballet for fun and exercise. The benefits of ballet (strength, flexibility and self esteem) are not age specific.You would be surprised at the number of adults who never got to take ballet classes as a child who are doing so now. More and more people are beginning ballet later in life and entry level classes for adults are more numerous than ever before. Just check with your local studios or ballet companies because the resources are out there, you just need to take advantage of them. More than likely you'll be dancing with a lot of people just like you and you'll have a unique view of the technique (which instructors like me love) because of your maturity and body awareness.

If you don't believe me, check out the blogs Wandering Apricot and Dave Tries Ballet. Both of these folks began dancing later in life and have some interesting insights and tips for others who want to start dancing as a teen or adult.


Eliza said...

I'm 13 and I do jazz tap hip hop and highland . I would like to start ballet again but I don't know if I'm to old. I last did ballet when I was 7 but had to quit.... Help

Jenn said...

Hi Eliza!

Thanks for your comment!

It's never too late to start ballet up, again. Especially because you take so many other techniques (Jazz will be the most helpful). You probably have a little bit of the technique and vocabulary, already.

If you feel too old to take classes with girls at your technique level, an adult beginning ballet class could be your best option. It's a good way to get your technique up to level so you can work to joining your peers. Just let your instructor know what your goals are.

Good luck and happy dancing!

Unknown said...

I'm 14 and never had any ballet training but I want to do it ... Am I too old?

Jenn said...

Hi Naletsana,

It's never too late to dance!

But if you were thinking of a professional career, it probably is a little too late for ballet. You can always enjoy it for fun and recreation, of course. Many people are beginning ballet later in life.

Best wishes to you and happy dancing!

Anonymous said...

I'm 13 and i really want to start dancing but the problem is i have no dance experience and i have no money to take a dance class. Is 13 too old to start dancing?

Charlotte Alice said...

Is it too old to start ballet at the late 20s ?

Jenn said...

Thanks for the comments, All! It's not too late for recreational dance. I highly recommend finding an adult beginner class near you. Best wishes and happy dancing!

Anonymous said...

i'm about to turn 16 and i want to start doing doing recreational dance or maybe something else but i feel like i'm too old. am i too old to start dance?

Jenn said...

It is never too late! As long as you are healthy enough to exercise, you can take ballet classes.

Austeja said...

Im 12 and i go to ballet lessons do you have any tips for me?^_^

Jenn said...


Thanks for commenting. I would say two things: 1) To watch as much ballet as you can online and in person. It will help you to form the picture of a good stage presence in your mind.
2) Make yourself go to class even on those days that you're not feeling it. Build that discipline.

Best of luck!!


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