Back to the barre

Sep 28, 2018 | 14 comments |

For most of my adult life, a pair of worn ballet slippers has lurked at the back of my wardrobe—a poignant reminder of something that was important to me as a book and dance-loving child and teen, but that I’d lost sight of as the years slipped by. 

Those shoes might have stayed tucked away forever, except when visiting my local library this summer (libraries are resources for things beyond books!), I spotted a leaflet advertising adult ballet classes and began to wonder…what if?

After going through all the reasons why taking ballet again at my age was a bad idea, I finally acknowledged the one reason why it was a supremely good idea. In short, I wanted to!

After several weeks of indecision, I emailed the instructor for more information. Evidently used to anxious prospective students like me, she answered my questions and invited me to ‘drop in’ to the first class to see how things went.

Excellent. No commitment and an escape route if needed.


The next hurdle was that perennial female problem of what to wear. The last time I donned tights and a leotard, I was seventeen, skinnier, and much more confident in exposing my body in public—and in front of unforgiving studio mirrors.

The instructor was clearly used to that question too, and for the adult classes she advised that stretchy dance pants and a close-fitting top were fine.

Off I went to a branch of a dance store I’d last visited in my teens.

As luck would have it (or a sign from the universe nudging me in the right direction), the store was having a sale so I was soon kitted out in black leggings (with an ever-so-helpful tummy control panel), a black vest top (with a similarly helpful built-in bra), and pink ballet slippers that were reassuringly familiar, although half a size bigger than the pair in my cupboard.

Back to class 

By the time the first class arrived, I was set to talk myself out of the venture yet again.

What if I was lumbering mutton amidst a field of frisky, flexible lambs?

What if my muscles had no memory of exercises that used to be as natural as breathing?

And worst of all, what if I fell flat on my face in the middle of the studio floor?

Still, I edged into the class on the appointed day and time.

Unlike the ballet teacher I remembered from my teens, a former principal dancer whose formidable manner was both legendary and terrifying, this teacher was as kind and encouraging in person as she’d been in her emails.

My classmates were as middle-aged as me, as well as friendly and welcoming.

And most important of all, five minutes after I walked into the studio, the old magic I’d once found in the world of ballet was still there, dormant but not gone forever.

Lessons for life and living 

After that first class, ballet is now a highlight of my week.

When the woman next to me muttered during a particularly arduous stretching exercise, “I’m sure not fifteen anymore,” I nodded in agreement.

At fifteen, I was flexible enough to stand on one leg and lift the other one over my head. I didn’t have asthma, sciatica in my lower back, or bursitis in my hip.

But yet…

When I looked at myself in the studio mirror, I didn’t lament what I’d lost, but rather I was grateful for what I have.

After several health scares, I’m still here and able to do ballet, as well as live my life as a wife, mum and author.

My body, with all its bulges, scars, and frailties, has carried me through a number of years and will, I hope, see me through to old age, too.

For a sedentary writer, whose shoulders are usually somewhere near her ears, the physical benefits of working my body have already been significant. Not only have I lost a few excess pounds, but my eagle-eyed teen daughter noted that my posture has improved, and although my joints still creak and groan like an old house in an autumn wind, I’m slowly becoming more flexible, too.

Yet, as I work my body, I’m also working myself in ways that go beyond the physical.

Last week, when the teacher reminded me to focus on one spot to avoid getting dizzy when I spun round, she was talking about dance technique. However, for me, those were also wise words for life.

In addition to pushing me out of my comfort zone, perhaps the greatest gift my middle-aged foray into ballet is giving me is focus.

Because I need to focus on the exercises, my busy brain can’t scurry off in its usual 101 directions. And because of that hour of focus, for most of the rest of the week, I’m calmer, less anxious and more centered in myself.

Now if only that focus would translate into remembering where I left my reading glasses…

(For any of my Canadian readers in the Ottawa or Rideau Valley areas interested in taking up a new hobby or revisiting an old one, I highly recommend Nancy Cowan at the Nancy Cowan School of Dance). 


  1. Lally Brown

    Wonderful, absolutely wonderful …. transported me back to my own ballet days, but I don’t have your courage Jen, it’s tai-chi these days!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks so much, Lally. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s lovely we share an interest in ballet. I’ve never done tai-chi so must look into it. I’m glad I faced my fears to give ballet another go, though! xx

  2. Lynn Folliott

    Wow!Loved this, Jen! Ballet is in my past also but alas, not in my future. So glad you’re enjoying your return to dance!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Lynn. I thought ballet was long in my past too so you never know! Thanks, as always, for reading and supporting my blog.

  3. Jennifer Wilck

    I did ballet for many years as a child and loved it. I wish we had an adult class here. So glad you’re enjoying yourself.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Jennifer. I was happy to find a class for adults here as they seem to be few and far between. It’s great to know that we share an interest in ballet!

  4. Anne Kinch

    Good for you, Jen! It’s great to be able to exercise doing something you love. I never took ballet (Beth did though). Aerobic classes are great but not quite the same and now that we spend most of the time at the cottage those opportunities are also limited. I guess I should take up running instead of walking but……

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Anne. So nice to hear from you here! Walking is wonderful exercise and now we have a dog I do a lot of walking, too. I didn’t realize Beth took ballet–thanks for sharing that. As for running…not for me, either!

  5. Heidi Vanstone

    Congratulations on doing something just for you! Self-care is so, so important, I believe. And, in light of the book I’m presently reading, exercise is a non-negotiable as we enter the second half of our lives. So, what a great investment in yourself and your health!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Heidi. Yes, self-care is very important and I think it’s something mid-life women often neglect because of all the other ‘caring’ we do. The book you’re reading sounds great!

  6. Susanna Bavin

    Taking care of yourself is hugely important – as is having fun. I admire you for starting your dance classes – such a brave thing to do. Clearly it was the right decision. You are not only getting in trim but flexing those focusing muscles, not to mention enjoying it. Good for you!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Susanna. I’m enjoying my return to ballet very much and am glad I ‘conquered’ my initial fears!

  7. Lydia

    I’m so glad you had a good experience at ballet class. It makes me want to take up ballet, too.

    Do you think you’ll keep dancing? If it’s okay to ask, why did you stop?

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks for reading my post and commenting, Lydia. Yes, I do think I’ll keep dancing. It’s good for both my physical and mental health. As for why I stopped, there were various reasons. I had an ankle injury and although not caused by ballet, it made doing ballet more difficult and painful. I also got distracted by ‘life’ including starting university. Then when I wanted to return to dance, I couldn’t find any adult classes near to where I was living.


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