Sometimes I feel like I'm crumbling... one day my knees are the problem, another day my back, some days my hips or feet. Sometimes I feel like I can conquer the world, so bendy and free, and other days just taking the barre feels like a challenge. As an adult dancer who takes two to three ballet classes a week, I get sick and tired of my never-ending aches and pains, but unfortunately, that's the reality when you're still taking class and you're over 50...
As we all know, when a person ages their body doesn't perform the way it used to. In the old days, I would take class and worry about the height of a jump or the number of turns. Now, I worry about my stiff back, knees that don't bend deeply enough or shoulders that ache when I move this way or that.
In the "old" days, all "bendy and free..."
Of course, injuries to dancers are common -- ligament tears, overuse injuries, ankle sprains and knee pains... it goes with the territory. (And dancers should always see a doctor if they're dancing with pain and no one should ever come back to class without their approval. Waiting without treating an injury often does more harm than good)!
But this musing is not about handling serious dance injuries -- it's about facing the inevitable stiffness and loss of flexibility that comes with age. When a dancer matures, so does the technical difficulty of the dance class.
So, why do we continue to go? Because we take pleasure in ballet's discipline and enjoy interpreting the beautiful music. We like to work hard and bend our bodies in ways that are unlike any other type of exercise. We feel joy in artistic movement and find satisfaction in that, despite the physical obstacles.
We manage by substituting less flexibility for increased artistry; we use the music differently and phrase our dancing, perhaps, more eloquently; we re-focus on grace and posture. We "mark" when we need to and sometimes alter the combinations to suit. Regardless of our age, we receive gratification from striving to be our personal best.
If a bad left knee means a grand jeté only to the right, that's OK. If, because of that knee, you relevé only on the right foot, that's OK too. So what if your petit allegro isn't what it used to be?
The important thing is that we're there, in ballet class, doing what we love and striving to be our best. That's what I do, and I feel like I still belong.
A version of this post originally appeared on adriaballetbeat.com