Ballet for Oldies!
Ok! I am ready now to write objectively about ballet classes and their value in regard to exercising. See, ballet is laden with so many issues that it is difficult to find an objective point of view. Firstly there are still social implications; meaning that ballet is not exactly mainstream. Coming from a working class background ballet classes would have been pretty much out of the question. Gymnastic dance – probably. Ballet however has quite an elite touch, and that is still the case today.
Then there is this typecasting thing; if you are a bit of a tomboy you just don’t do ballet… turns out: You better should!
Well, and last but not least there is the age thing. If you are for the various reasons not suitable for ballet at a young age – how on earth should you be at an older age?
This was the kind of perception I had about ballet, and all the adults I know who did ballet when they were young and all the kids doing ballet now are confirming this picture. So you can imagine my surprise to read the programme of the dance school in our town and to find a course called:
Given that the dance school is a business, then there must be a demand for that sort of thing, otherwise they wouldn’t bother, and hence one wouldn’t look all too silly amongst others of similar background.
So that put the first obstacle on my way to objectivity behind me. The next one was the teacher! Oh my goodness, all my life I was so dependent on the type of teacher. When I was younger I was blaming them to be bad teachers, I now know that they just were not a match to my learning needs.
See, people are different, approaching things differently – I referred to that in the article on ‘Intelligence’ – and teachers are as different in their approaches as their pupils. And in teaching groups they evidently will come across some people whose needs they don’t match. That however has nothing to do with the sport itself. If we don’t like the lesson with one teacher we very well might like it with another, and that is the reason why I told you at the beginning: Eventually I have an objective point of view! Last time I had a different teacher.
The first two lessons with the lady were ok, but I didn’t feel like working out; I hardly broke into sweat while she was worried that we might overdo it. She was too polite to correct, she didn’t want to overwhelm with technical information and hence she was teaching in a ‘you will pick it up as you go along’ kind of way. Not my cup of tea, I have to say. I felt lost and stupid. And I am very bad in ‘picking up as I go along’. I am not a musical or linguistic person. I have to see and touch, make a mental picture of it. My pictures were all blurred.
Now, last time we had this guy – and he was not shy! Explaining slowly while doing the movements he was giving me all the pictures I needed. My brain was like a camera clicking away. Secondly he came round to each of us correcting. Feeling somebody touching and correcting is adding impact to the mental picture. I could tell that some of the others were not as comfortable as I was with this method. But in the end I felt that I had been given more information than in the two lessons before, and had practiced more at the same time. That was a good workout for me.
So now that the second obstacle obscuring objectivity is out of the way I can eventually pass my verdict:
Ballet is brilliant!
I now got me a dance card committing to 12 lessons, and I decided to not bother who would teach but just take the best out of each lesson. Because even if it is a lesser effective hour spent for ballet, it is a fabulous hour spent for life.
With every lesson I feel that I am getting more flexible and balanced. I am using muscles I have not used before in this specific way, and for me as a non-musical person it is quite an experience to learn how music can help to stay on track; something that might come in handy later in life when things are not running as smoothly anymore.
See, when I started out with IL I had all these pains and I was weak and sluggish. Luckily I already knew how to get my strength back and during all my experiments for IL I found three main columns of physical health which can be achieved by exercising:
I found that as we get older we tend to accept that one becomes a bit more wonky, that bending becomes a bit more difficult and of course the shopping bag feels a bit heavier. That however will have huge implications on the quality of our old age. Apart from the big killers like heart diseases and cancer, a very common cause of deteriorating health begins with tripping over things and falling.
All too often older people of rather good health have a fall and from then on becoming ‘really old’ very quickly. It is frightening how quickly one can age when having to rest for just a short while and in the progress being scared to move. According to an article in the German magazine GEO we lose one tenth of our strength per decade as we age if we don’t do anything against it. On top of it all: Bed rest for only three weeks in case of an illness will weaken us for as much as two decades of normal ageing.
That is scary!
And that is why I think that strength training is essential but only one part of the solution. I just feel that the more flexible I am and the more I am able to keep my balance the less likely I am to fall, breaking something, having to rest and thus loosing strength, and from there spiralling into a vicious circle.
Additionally it doesn’t help that since I am fast approaching the big 5-0, my eyes are going downhill as well. Ever tried elevators and stairs with varifocal glasses? That’s fun! Steps are always a bit all over the place. Now I am still fit enough to compensate, but what about in 10 years time? My grandma was the best positive example! One day we visited and she had her nose plastered as well as her glasses which were sitting somewhat awkwardly on top of all that padding.
Turns out she was carrying her shopping – and she used to carry her stuff well distributed in two bags for a good mile – and was crossing a street. Nosey as she was, she heard voices she thought she knew, turned and missed the step of the pavement. Having both hands occupied with bags she stopped the fall with her nose, the glasses leaving a clean cut before breaking. This women who never missed her gymnastics class twice a week and only rarely used a car or bus, got up, fretting about the broken glasses not even realising that the nose had a cut, collected her shopping, went home and patched everything up with plaster. At that time she was in her early 70s, and she didn’t even feel the necessity to tell someone about it. She was strong, flexible, and rather well balanced in her fall. When she got older we heard more stories of her falling, like washing one foot in the sink and slipping with the other. We were worried sick about what to expect next, but she never broke a bone and showed off her bruises like veteran scars…, bless her!
So anything that helps to keep a body flexible and balanced is a major contribution to a long life worthwhile living, and be it a few stretches in the morning. There are two types of exercises, though which are beating all the others. One is everything that goes along the lines of Yoga and Tai Chi and the other is ballet. The first two I haven’t tried myself, but my mum is a Yoga addict and it helped her to combat medication induced imbalance, and a friend is combining Tai Chi with weight exercises and is highly recommending it.
… and I am your reference for ballet: It is unusual, it is dance, what gives it a nice twist, and it is something that gives a bit of elegance to an ol’ tomboy. To see the grace with which this trainer was moving – and not looking gay at all – and then me stomping like an elephant and sounding a bit like it as well… no comment needed!
For now I wish you all the best for a bendy future, and remember…It turns out that it is never too late to start!