Becoming a ballet student as an adult is:
a) A good way to exercise. It improves posture and flexibility, builds muscles and burns calories.
b) Easy to do. There are at least two professional studios in Salt Lake that offer beginning classes for adults.
c) Exciting. You never took ballet as a child, and your inner ballerina yearns for a pair of pink slippers with crisscross straps.
d) Scary. You might look awkward and foolish.
These are the practical and intimidating thoughts that play in your head when you decide to “battle the bulge” with a new beginning ballet class for adults.
Eliminating the intimidation factor that surrounds ballet is the reason Ballet West Academy launched the classes last month in Salt Lake City and Park City.
“We are not watering it down or rebranding it,” academy director Peter Merz said of the technique classes. “We want to make Ballet West instruction as accessible as possible to people.”
On a recent evening, Nikki Bybee, the Salt Lake City instructor, moved students through a series of beginning ballet positions, from plié and relevé to jeté and chassé. First-timers kept their eyes glued to her feet as she demonstrated the steps.
Then, as the piano played, Bybee walked around the room helping students with posture and hand and toe positions.
“I like teaching the adults,” she said after the class. “They find humor in themselves and there is a more relaxed environment and camaraderie.”
Unlike her younger, easily distracted students, the adult “response time is much quicker,” she added. “They really make it look good.”
While the atmosphere is casual, the class is a workout, said Aleksandra Jovanovic-Hacon. “It might be harder than going to the gym and using one of the machines.”
Jovanovic-Hacon attended her first class for “exercise, flexibility and fun.” Her 16-year-old daughter, Ana, who takes ballet, came along for moral support.
“Ballet dancers make it look very easy, almost effortless,” she said. “But it’s hard. We need to give dancers more credit.”
Merz said he hopes that is a secondary effect of the classes. “My hope is it deepens your appreciation when you see the dancers onstage,” he said. “It makes it more rich of an experience watching them perform.”
The first chance for that comes this week, when Ballet West performs Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella,” often considered the greatest interpretation of the timeless fairytale. Set to Prokofiev’s classic score, it runs Feb. 9-25 at the Capitol Theatre.
Mark Love of North Salt Lake finds the Ballet West class therapeutic — helping the double amputee manage the pain of a neurological condition. “It’s the expression for me. I find joy in that,” he said. “It’s an option I didn’t think I had.”
Repertory Dance Theatre also offers a dozen adult dance classes each week at its home at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. The Saturday morning African dance with live drummers is the most popular, but other offerings include beginning ballet, flamenco, hip-hop and prime movement, said Stephanie Perkins, RDT’s public-relations and marketing director.
The classes are for all ability levels. “People get a professional experience because the classes are based on those our dancers take every day,” she said.
The tuition provides a small amount of income for the company; the classes also introduce new people to RDT. “If they find the dance classes first, then realize they want to see these people perform.”
Of course, if you’re new to adult ballet, there always are a few more questions you’ll need to ask, such as:
What do I wear? • “We don’t usually wear tutus in technique class,” said Merz. No need for a leotard and tights, either. Wear something comfortable but close-fitting — like yoga or pilates gear — so you can see the alignment of your body in the mirror. “You really want to be able to see where your spine, hips and knees are.”
What about my feet? • The studio has a special nonslip surface, which means you can wear socks during class. But getting the cute slippers with the skid-proof soles is part of the fun. They cost $18-$25 at local dance stores.
What does it cost? • The Ballet West drop-in classes are 90 minutes and cost $15 each; RDT’s classes last 75 minutes and cost $12 each.
How strenuous is it? • Students are encouraged to listen to their bodies and make the moves as easy or difficult as they need. But you can expect your heart rate to go up; you will sweat and the next day your arms, calves and hips will feel worked.
Where do I go? • Classes are held Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. in the Ballet West Academy studios inside Trolley Square, 602 S. 700 East, Salt Lake City. Classes also are held Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. in the Ballet West Academy’s Park City campus, 6554 Creekside Lane. RDT classes are held weeknights and Saturday mornings at dance center at 138 W. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City.