This week I begin by exploring Ballet benefits in the physical realm, when it comes to adult, non-professional dancers. I will present some peer reviewed evidence, as well as my own personal experience, as a teacher and student of adult ballet. I will look at cognitive and psychological ballet benefits in further blog posts.
The benefits of exercise in general are well known as a strategy to stay young and vital as we age. And the particular benefits of ballet as a viable way for adults to exercise, are also being studied, and the results are super positive! Dancer’s bodies are a paragon of beauty with their long, lean, strong limbs and powerful cores. But is not only about looking good, is about feeling good, and staying healthy for as long as we can.
Let’s look at the science behind adult ballet in the physical realm;
· A study by Ali-Haapala, Moyle, & Kerr, (2018), found that practicing adult ballet had positive outcomes such as increased energy, feeling in control of one’s body, posture, flexibility, and overall feelings of well-being.
A systematic review by Patterson et al.(2018), found evidence for the use of dance as a therapy modality for adults with neurological conditions such as stroke, MS, SCI and Huntington’s disease, and with no adverse effects. Neurological conditions involve damage to areas of the nervous system that control gait, balance and mobility, and the combination of the challenges of a ballet class, seems to work well to reverse some of this damage. Improvement of the cardiovascular function was also observed (Patterson, Wong, Prout & Brooks, (2018).
· Dance based interventions have been widely studied in the context of helping Parkinson’s disease patients in managing their symptoms (Haputhanthirige, 2019). Positive effects have been observed on gait (in the physical realm) and cognition and dual tasking (more of that in next blog post).
· Keogh, Kilding, Pidgeon and their colleagues (2009), found that dancing helps older adults improve their aerobic capacity, lower body muscular endurance, strength and flexibility, bone density, and muscular power. In addition, they found that participation in dance reduces the risks involved with falls and resulting injuries.
· Van Camp used the principles of exercise physiology to develop a balance training programme for older adults that focused on modified ballet exercises. The programme offers multimodal training that includes strength training, mobility, agility, body awareness and multitasking, all areas that seem to decline with age, if no action is taken (Van Camp,2015).
As undeniable as the science is, my own experience with the matter is what makes me such a strong believer in the power of ballet for adults; I have seen how ballet has changed the lives of many of my students, and it has undeniably changed mine.
When I decided to bring ballet back into my life in my late 30”s, I was not by any means out of shape; I lifted weights 4 to 5 times a week, ran half-marathons on a monthly basis and did whatever the Army required of me physically, like 12 mile ruck marches, and jumping out of airplanes. Yet when I began ballet classes, it was humbling to see how my flexibility was greatly reduced by then. I took a serious approach to regaining said flexibility, stretching every morning and evening, and marveled at how much it improved. It was not overnight, and I was not by any means fully consistent until last year, but now I again have full splits, and excellent mobility all around.
The most dramatic effects on physical well-being, I observed in students that were older, who led a mostly sedentary life before becoming adult ballet dancers. Many of them expressed that not only they were experiencing gains in balance, strength and flexibility, but that others noticed and complimented them as well on their posture and presentation.
I heard a lot of success stories; they boil down to something like this:
“People at work said they notice the difference in me, that I look taller, walk straighter, and that I am more graceful all around! I never thought I would hear this at 60+years of age!”
Another theme also appeared quite often in my adult ballet classroom; men in great athletic shape would sometimes drop-in, either with their wife or girlfriend or mom, or just out of curiosity. They were always surprised by how physically challenged they felt in class, and by how much sweat is involved!
Their comments went along the lines of;
“Dude, I lift heavy weights in the gym every day no problem, and these plies and releves are kicking my ass!!”
On a personal note, I had some trouble reconciling that in order for my ballet technique to improve, heavy weights were not beneficial. I do believe cross training with some resistance is important, so now I am the proud owner of a Pilates Reformer that I use every morning, and I am going to explore Gyrotonics. I also ride my hybrid bike twice a week . As a result, my body is reshaping, my muscles are more elongated and leaner, losing some of the bulk size that I worked hard to acquire in my army and fitness trainer days.
For those that still want to maintain rather large muscles, you can still do ballet! I did that for years. You just do less, maybe one or 2 classes per week, in addition to your gym routine.
For those looking to lose weight, ballet is also an excellent form of exercise. You will burn a lot of calories, shape and tone your body, and train your cardiovascular system at the same type. Just one thing! If you are in need of losing a significant amount of weight, avoid a lot of jumps, in order to not put excessive pressure on your joints! I keep a mini trampoline in my studio, to let the students that are heavier experience the petit allegro jumps, without the floor. A good teacher will be able to guide you in this as well!
A side benefit of adult ballet when it comes to the physical; professional ballet dancers train with such rigor and intensity, that usually by the age of 40, they have sustained a plethora of injuries and can no longer continue to dance full time. As an adult ballet dancer, you do not have to worry about that, because you did not spend your teens, twenties and thirties grinding away in the ballet studio. So, you can reap all the benefits, without the problems that come from doing too much of a good thing. It almost makes you feel guilty!
Lastly, make sure you pace yourself as you begin your ballet practice; tell you teacher of any injuries or limitations, do not compare yourself to other students in the class and know your limits! As you progress, you will see how your body responds and becomes capable of more and more!
Up Next, I will be talking about the ballet benefits for adult cognition, and how learning dance steps makes you smarter!!!
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, Swan Queens and Princes!
References for the fellow nerds
Ali-Haapala, A., Moyle, G. M., & Kerr, G. K. (2018). Ballet Moves for Adult Creative Health.
Haputhanthirige, N. K. H., Sullivan, K., Moyle, G., Brauer, S., Jeffrey, E. R., Roeder, L., ... & Kerr, G. (2019). Effects of Dance on Gait, Cognition, and Dual-Tasking in Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Parkinson's disease, (Preprint), 1-3.
Keogh, J. W., Kilding, A., Pidgeon, P., Ashley, L., & Gillis, D. (2009). Physical benefits of dancing for healthy older adults: a review. Journal of aging and physical activity, 17(4), 479-500.
Patterson, K. K., Wong, J. S., Prout, E. C., & Brooks, D. (2018). Dance for the rehabilitation of balance and gait in adults with neurological conditions other than Parkinson's disease: A systematic review. Heliyon, 4(3), e00584.
Van Camp, J. (2015). A rationale for a ballet exercise-based balance training programme for older adults with balance impairments: an alternative approach to a group-based balance training in physiotherapy.