UNTIL two years ago, the closest I had come to what normal people call ‘dancing’ was the frenetic, arm-pumping routine I bust out while listening to drum and bass.
And while I have always more than made up for in enthusiasm what I lack in technique (I once got told by a nightclub bouncer that I was “physically exhausting” to watch), my beer-fuelled rave shapes could hardly be described as an art form.
But when a new ballet class for adults opened up five minutes from my house, I decided to act on a decade-long desire and learn to dance – properly.
Dance teacher Hannah La Trobe has taught for 18 years, and in that time has picked up a thing or two about what women (and men) want when learning to dance in later life.
While sticking to the dance’s core principles – building strength, poise and discipline - she has done away with the “needless perfectionism” that young dancers dreaming of a career in ballet are required to achieve.
That means no tutus, no concerts, and no being screamed at if your hair isn’t in a bun.
Instead, the hour-long classes she teaches in Haverfordwest and Cardigan focus on strengthening core muscles, improving flexibility, and learning the basics.
Classes start with a gentle warm-up, followed by a series of stretches – each with its own hilarious and memorable name.
Contorting yourself into a variety of unflattering poses in front of a room full of strangers should be among the most embarrassing things in the world, but when you’re told to stop ‘doing the mermaid’ and start ‘stroking the polar bear’ it’s hard to take yourself too seriously.
Once you’re warmed up, it’s on to the bar, where those freshly re-awakened muscles are put to work.
Hannah’s approach means you will rarely do something at the bar that you haven’t already done – in one shape or another – during the warm-up.
By working these muscles on the floor first, you start to understand how even the simplest of positions involves engaging several bits of your body at once, and how much of a ballet dancer’s seemingly effortless grace and balance is actually the result of hours of hard work.
As a mum of three, Hannah knows that not everyone has had the time, or energy, to maintain a ‘perfect’ physique, so each step is tailored to people’s abilities.
She also goes to great lengths to explain each move in simple terms, making sure people don’t push themselves too hard too fast, and encourages students to focus on the process, not the result.
While many other gym classes are huge, impersonal sweat boxes filled with immaculately Lycra-clad fitness freaks, all pounding relentlessly towards some mythical ideal of what a woman should look like, Hannah’s holistic approach (and seemingly unlimited patience) make every lesson a pleasure.
Perhaps this is why the age range of her students varies so widely, from those in their late teens to her oldest student in her 80s.
Adult ballet isn’t about competition, about being the prettiest, the thinnest or the fastest.
It’s about people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities learning on a level playing field, where the only goal is feeling better about yourself.
In less than a year, I re-discovered that childhood knowledge of what a body is capable of, given time, practice and the right help.
I sit up straight and hold my head higher. My balance and co-ordination have improved, I am fitter, stronger, and I hardly ever fall over for no reason anymore.
But more importantly, I have come to realise that dancers aren’t born, they’re made.
Yes, some people may pick it up quicker than others, but in time anyone can learn to improve their rhythm, fitness, posture and – as a result - their confidence.
I have discovered that a love of movement and music is reason enough to try something new, no matter how old you are.
Adult ballet conditioning classes are held at the Tabernacle Hall, Barn, Street, Haverfordwest, every Thursday at 10am and again at 5.30pm, and in Cardigan Guild Hall, Wednesdays at 10am.
To find out more, contact Hannah on 01239 831126, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ‘On Your Toes School Of Dancing’ on Facebook.
- An earlier version of this article was first published in the Pembrokeshire County Living magazine.