Ballet Benefits for Adults -The Emotional Realm
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
This is the last post in the “Ballet Benefits” series, where I talk about different areas of the adult life that can be enhanced by taking ballet. If you haven’t read it the previous posts, check them out! This week, I take a look at the benefits of Ballet in the emotional realm for adult, non-professional dancers. I will discuss a few studies that have relevant findings in the matter and talk about my own journey back to joy with ballet as my guide. I will be taking a break from blogging next week to do the initial filming for my new YouTube Channel, Loft Ballerina, coming to you shortly!
Oh joy. Without it, we are just shells of ourselves. When it comes to emotions, joy is the one we covet, and anything that purveys joy, we crave instantly. Sadly, for many adults, pure, unadulterated joy is rare and elusive. Caught up in the day to day; going to work, dropping the kids off and picking them up, keeping a house, keeping up with everyone’s expectations, keeping afloat. There is so little time left for joy that is personal, not shared with family, but deeply one’s own. Adults experience a lot of joy raising a family and pursuing a satisfying career, but that play time, that opportunity to move freely, to lose yourself in the moment without a practical purpose, is definitely lacking in the average adult’s life. And here is where ballet practice can help, because it provides the opportunity to enjoy a time allotted for the experience of personal joy, by participating in an activity that is both physical and mental, challenging and enjoyable, introspective and social.
Let’s look at what the peer reviewed science behind adult ballet in the emotional realm has to say;
· Scott (2018), Studied the importance of “play groups” for adults. By this they mean activities that are for leisure and also communal. They found that adults involved in these types of groups tend to stay involved in the activities longer than those that participate in other leisure activities that do not have the aspect of being an “adult play group”. Finally, the author concludes that participating in adult play groups of this sort provides adults with a safe space to express themselves and feel free from common dominant ideologies or discourses (Scott, 2018).
· Researchers involved with the Royal Academy of Dance in Great Britain (RAD) and their Silver Swans program, designed especially for older adults to learn and practice ballet, confirmed that practicing ballet dance regularly helped older adults fight feelings of depression and isolation, and allowed them a great opportunity for social interaction.
· Peter Lovatt (2016) reviewed a large number of studies related to dance, to come to the conclusion that dance increases self-esteem, helps to reduce depression by being conducive to endorphin production, which in turn turns down pain signals, and makes dance practitioners more desirable as a mate (Lovatt, 2016).
My experience with adult ballet and the emotional realm has been incredibly transforming; I started going to classes to experience the joy of music and movement, and I was given that. Yet the demands of classical technique asked of me something in return; if I was going to get the joy of experiencing dancing at my best, I was to pay for that with dedication, consistence, commitment, and taking care of my body. This put me on a path that led to deeper and deeper self-improvement. I mean, we are all fiends for joy, and if ballet was providing, then I would do what it needed me to do.
But then I found another source of joy that was unexpected; the sharing and the teaching of ballet to other adults. When I started going to adult classes, I never imagined I would want to become a teacher. And when I first started teaching, it was very unexpected to me how much joy I experienced from every little success a student experienced because of my teaching. This led me to dig deeper into finding ways to make the learning experience more enjoyable, profound and efficient. I experimented with different methods. I am so glad that I had a friend that was willing to be my guinea pig, she had always wanted to learn ballet but never had the chance as a kid. I learned to teach adults by teaching her. I was such an amazing time. We would meet at my loft, tiny studio, walk downstairs to get caffeinated at the coffee shop, then dive in. When I felt she was not following, I would find ways to explain, and make ballet speak accessible. This exploration process was filled with flow and joy in itself. That is when I realized that being a teacher was as satisfying to me as dancing, but in a slightly different way. Dancing is sharing the joy of dancing with the audience but enabling someone that never knew how to experience dancing to do it, it was such a deep, rich experience in itself.
From the point of view of all the students I have had so far, I can summarize their experience of ballet benefits in the physical realm to two key points; they enjoy moving to music in a structured environment, that gives purpose and artistry to the movement, and they feel the exhilaration of physicality, of sweat gained from purposeful effort, or like I like to call it the “ballet glisten”.
This is why I believe in adult ballet as a practice that is way more effective to bring people not only physical and cognitive benefits. The reason I think adult ballet is superior to cookie cutter work out regimens, is because it acknowledges the potential everyone has for artistic expression. If you take a “dance-inspired” workout class, it is a tacit assumption that you are not capable to actually dance. I do not believe that. I believe that all people that feel inclined to dance should be given the opportunity to actually do so, in an encouraging, professional and friendly environment. They should be coached in the way to properly dance. I believe that this is how they will grow and encounter their best self. Not by doing a “30-day challenge” of any sort, not by participating in a dumbed down version of a “dance exercise class” but by actually challenging themselves to find the dancer within. One way we do this in my class is by having a few minutes of free flow ballet improv at the end of class once or twice a week. I will start a song, usually something well known from a ballet like Swan Lake or Giselle, or something by Phillip Glass if we are feeling modern, and I tell them “ I am not looking at you, do not look at your classmates, do not look at me, just dance. Close your eyes if you have to but just dance. Dance the steps we just did in class, then add your soul, add how you feel right now. Nobody is looking”. I have to say I have seen people transformed after these little sessions. I cheated a little, I stole little glances at them lost in their dancing. They were smiling so hard!
There are a couple of other extremely important emotional benefits to adult ballet practice; first, since it makes participants deeply connect mind to body, brain to muscle, they not only feel, but act more graceful in their movement, in and out of the studio. Second, the friendship that develop in class are strong bonds with like minded people, that often blossom into deeper connections, and most of all, they provide a sense of belonging to a community outside of one’s family or work peers. A community of artists, of athletes, of achievers. That is so very positive and transcendent. And the power of social media lets us deepen this community connection by sharing our experiences and learning from each other, inspiring and supporting each other. Yes, other exercise modalities like CrossFit also are big on creating community, and for some people they are ideal. But for those that want to honor their inner dancer, ballet provides an ideal outlet.
If you find this information useful, and know someone else that might, please share it with your tribe, and leave a comment. Let me know if there is anything in particular you want me to write about! Let’s connect the Adult Ballet Community and share our knowledge and experiences!!!
Keep Dancing, Keep Transcending and dancing like your life depends on it, because it sort of does!
References for the fellow nerds
Scott, D. (2018). Rediscovering the adult play group. Leisure/Loisir, 42(2), 231-242.
Lovatt, P. (2016). This is why we dance. BBC Science Focus