Guest Post: Plus Sized Ballet

Plus Sized Ballet

When most people picture ballerinas in their head, this is what they see:

test

 

It intimidates a lot of people.  Can you blame them?  Look at the strength, the balance, the grace.

But this is what I see when I think of ballerinas:

joy

picture courtesy of Festival School of Ballet

That’s me on the right. All 200+ pounds of me.  At my heaviest I was 260 pounds.  I never saw myself as that heavy but I also never thought of myself as ballerina material either.  Boy was I wrong.

When I first started my weight loss journey, I felt like I didn’t know my body anymore.  When I lost 30 pounds I knew I had to do something.  I felt like a clutz.  Not at all like the graceful person I knew I was.  So I started searching for an adult ballet class hoping to reclaim some of that grace. I just wanted to go through the basic positions, do some barre work and maybe, one day, try some floor combinations.  But please, don’t make me wear a leotard and tights.

Do you know how hard it can be to find an adult ballet class like this?  Well around me, it took me well over a year.  Every time I called a studio that had an adult class, I would ask the same two questions:

How advanced is your adult class? 

Most of the time they were full of former dancers.  I was told as a beginner I was welcome to try and keep up or I could take their little ones basic ballet.

Do you have a dress code for the adult class? 

The minute they said yes, leotard and tights, I said thank you very much and hung up the phone.  I wanted to try ballet and I was insecure enough about that.  But throw in my insecurities about being in a leotard and tights at my size and it was just too much to overcome.

I was lucky though and finally found a studio that said, come as you are! Yes, there are former dancers in the class but also people who have never danced before.  Come, try it!

I have never felt more at home than I did at that first class.  I wore my workout capris and a t-shirt.  I did invest in a pair of ballet shoes since I wanted to make the point, I wanted to work my way up to dance.  I didn’t just want the barre workout or a ballet booty class.  Those are great options, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted the grace of ballet to help me learn my now rapidly changing body.

I started with one 90 minute class a week.  Turns out floor combinations were always part of the class so I stumbled, tripped and slouched through my first weeks.  Slowly but surely, however, I got the hang of it.  I was doing floor combinations!  Already!  Next thing I knew it was two classes a week and hoping for more.

I found ballet was seeping into my everyday life.  I stood taller and in better alignment which in turn made lots of other things take on a whole different meaning.  My walk became more efficient since I was standing taller and using more of my lower core.  My biking became more challenging.  I had to add more tension to the stationary bike to accommodate my stronger legs.  And something very simple, but major happened – I don’t slouch anymore.  My core and back feel so much better.

Leaving class is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.  I spend 90 minutes stretching, lengthening, reaching.  I feel so tall and lean at the end of it all.  I feel so confident and self-assured.  And let me tell you, THAT feeling will change your life in ways you could never imagine.

Why should plus size people try ballet?  It’s a great way to build lean muscle mass.  The entire class focuses on your core and the large muscle groups of your legs.  So even at the barre, you will burn lots of calories.  It’s an excellent way to build your lung capacity and stamina.  It teaches you about your body and how it works.  So no matter how big or small you are, your body will work better for you.  If you think your weight makes you appear clumsy, ballet will teach you to control your body better.  Even if you never lose an ounce, you will naturally become more graceful and self-controlled.

And most importantly, it is empowering.  When you feel confident, graceful and in control, nothing can stop you.   Anyone can do ballet.  There is nothing special required.  But ballet can certainly make you feel special.  There is nothing holding you back from trying it except you!  So get thee to a ballet studio and start dancing!

PS:  I’ve been doing ballet now for almost two years and I’m still not wearing leotard and tights.  But I’m starting to consider tights, believe it or not.  And maybe a leotard under a big tshirt?  I think I might becoming confident enough to try.

__________________________________________________
  • This is a fantastic entry. Fantastic. I am reposting on my blog. People need to read this, and be encouraged to follow their hearts and enjoy ballet. Just as old people, like me, are enjoying ballet. I loved this! Thank you!

    • Joy

      Thank you so much Janet! I truly believe nothing should get in the way of someone trying something new. Especially not ourselves! Dance on!

  • Sadly, at age 47, I am still the “typical ballet size” that many people think of when they consider ballet. I took ballet from ages 9-12 and quit; I didn’t come back to it until I was age 42. It’s a little annoying to me that when people find out that I am taking ballet classes, the first thing they say is, “Oh, you could do that–you’re the perfect size for ballet!” They don’t even consider going to a class to see the diversity of women there.

    In my adult ballet classes, there are women in a range of ages, sizes, and shapes. Several of my more voluptuous classmates are in advanced classes and when I happen to take an ‘all-level’ class with them, I feel honored to be in the same class as these ladies.

    I consider ballet to be for everybody and every ‘body’–you are so right about all of the wonderful benefits of ballet!

    • Joy

      Thank you so much! I love hearing this! If people would see past their preconceived notions, there would be so much more variety in their lives. I’m turning 40 in just a few weeks but my class covers ages 20-60+ and all shapes and sizes to boot! And like you said, its an honour to dance with all of them. Dance on!

  • Kelly Gleine

    Good for you!!! I am not as tiny as the others in my class either, and that really was the intimidating part of starting for me too, besides being 2x most their ages. And it turns out no one noticed but me. I did jump in in leotard and tights, but I wear skirts, and my instructor even said if I felt better in yoga pants go for it. For me it was finding a small studio. keep up the good work!!

    • Joy

      “No one noticed but me” – That’s the key Kelly! Perfectly put! Dance on!

  • Love this post. I don’t have the ripped male dancer body, either ( a little chunky I guess). Good for you. A very inspirational post.

    • Joy

      So glad you found it to be inspirational Scott! Dance on!

  • Courtney

    Joy, you are an inspiration to me! <3 I will defiantly consider this as I start losing weight!

    • Joy

      You definitely should Courtney! It’s been great for me so it could be for you too! Dance on!

  • loved this interview, I love hearing of other adult students pursuing ballet, at any size or shape!

    I just had a thought on the attire… there are bigger ladies at my studio, I’m technically one of them. I totally understand your aversion to the tights and leo, but I always feel thinner in the right leo and tights. I bought body tights for my recital this last June after struggling to find a pair that didn’t accentuate my muffin top, they are a godsend! A good leotard will suck you in, I cant imagine doing center allegro work without a leo, my rolls would be bouncing all over the place! I think they especially help keep me covered in the midsection which is my flabbiest part from having a baby. Give it a shot! Both sound terrible but really suck you in and help smooth out your line.

    welovecolors.com has awesome leos and tights in lots of sizes! I haven’t had good luck finding what I need in local shops. im 6’1 and need the biggest tights I can find for length, or was kind of a nightmare.

    Good luck and happy dancing!

    • Joy

      I have often perused welovecolors.com and debated about purchasing there. And your recommendation as to why to try a leotard and tights is one I have not yet heard. Oddly enough, I was considering wearing some of my Spanx products to class. But you are right, leotard and tights would have the same effect. Definitely something to consider…..THANK YOU! Dance on!

  • Kathleen

    This is a great post! I’m not plus size myself but I’m definitely not built like the gal in the pink. 🙂 I take an adult ballet class (managed to somehow find one in Montana) and I have to say that one of the best dancers in our class is plus size. I hate to think of what would happen if a person with that kind of talent decided not to pursue dance just because she didn’t think she would fit the mold. I guess when you finally find a class you realize that most of your fellow students look a lot like you.