I got an interesting email the other night from a woman, Sarah-Jane, who wanted to take up ballet but wandered if she might be too "fat". I have to confess something. When I first started ballet I wondered if I was too big to.
Ballet dancers are notoriously tiny. Really, really tiny. Whilst I was under no illusion of becoming a dancer, I fully intended on taking ballet as far as it was humanly possible for a 38 year old to take it.
It was back in December, when I first considered doing ballet seriously, that I read an article about Jenifer Ringer, who was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy for the New York City Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, and who had been, essentially, accused of being too fat by ballet critic Alastair MaCaulay, who proclaimed Ringer 'looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many.' Harsh words indeed.
I looked at her and did not see anyone anything near fat...and I knew I was much bigger. So I had to wonder if there were real, technical reasons for dancers being so thin. Like I said, I knew I would never be professional but I was intending on taking it very, very seriously.
I have managed to get through life being reasonably unscathed by weight issues. As a previously very skinny person I have been called anorexic more times than I would care to count. But I have a thick skin and can, generally, just roll my eyes at comments or give them a mouthful and move on. But for the first time, my weight could have become an issue.
I felt crushed that strength and determination might not be enough with this one.
As I learn about ballet, I do realise that there are some legitimate reasons for dancers being small - going en pointe hurts and the more weight you're carrying the more strain you are putting on your ankles and feet. But not many adult dancers are going to want to go en pointe anyway, so not sure if that's relevant to us adult ballet beginners. Unless you're me!
It is entirely possible I will watch my weight to ensure it doesn't go up any, but the problem I am encountering so far is that as my muscles build, which they are doing at a rather alarming rate, I am naturally getting heavier. It's unavoidable. I also find that doing my développés, carrying a little extra ass and waist fat, is making getting my leg high actually quite tricky - all the middle fat has nowhere to go!
It was with trepidation I began my class wondering if I would be the 'big' girl in a class of tiny little creatures. Thankfully that was not the case. The class was filled with all shapes, sizes and ages. There was a girl who was obese in our class and she gave it everything she had. Sadly she never made it past three classes, however I think it was more down to not enjoying the class as a whole rather than because she was struggling with the exercises.
In truth though, I think I am just trying much too hard. I criticise myself over and over and over for not being good enough. Berating myself endlessly for not remembering the combinations. Make no mistake, I think perhaps it's this striving to be something I will never be is what's making me enjoy it so much. I, for the first time in along time, feel I actually have a sense of purpose but I think other people might manage to have more fun with it.
(a photographer came to our class and photographed us afew weeks ago, so this is me in my actual class! I'm doing some barre stretches having my hip placement adjusted and in the arabesque position. I wish I could have shown you the whole class though, but I don't think I would be able to post images of the other people without their permission.)
So to everyone, Sarah-Jane and anyone else who might be wondering the same thing, PLEASE don't let it put you off. For the most part teachers are welcoming and do not make less effort because those in their class might not have balletic physiques. ballets truly is for everyone.
I realise this a huge post, and probably of little interest to many, but I needed to share my experiences and worries as I know some are considering ballet as adults and might have the same concerns as myself and Sarah-Jane.
So don't worry. Just go for it. You won't regret it for a second. Even if you need to wear a leotard and tights!
Edit: Scottish Ballet just sent me over the image from class and as you can see, I am in no way built like a dancer. Am I utterly horrified by how I look in the photos? I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't. But, in the spirit of sharing, I'm showing you them!