Ballerina Profile: Linmayu Appavu

lin in la esmeralda 2014When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I made my final decision to return to ballet at age 35, and will never quit dancing again.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Yes, a lot of lessons. From age 6 to 25. I was the worst student in class and got yelled at a LOT, until I finally learned the difference between my right and left foot. I think I was 16 by then.

Because I had danced for so many years in the past, I thought it would be easy to come back and wow everyone, but no! I had to start over from square one. My mind knew what to do, but all my ballet muscles had disappeared into the ether from lack of use.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

During the years I wasn’t dancing, I couldn’t even go to a show and watch other people dance–any kind of dance–without feeling like I was being stabbed in the heart. Then I read all the magazines and all the articles that say people over age 20 who have boobs and butts shouldn’t do ballet. But you know what, I decided I don’t care about that. We each have just one life on this Earth, and I couldn’t imagine living out the rest of mine without taking myself to the absolute limits of my ability in dance. With God all things are possible. I’m just getting started.

Where do you take classes?

Currently, I take most of my classes with University Ballet of Chicago, a student group affiliated with University of Chicago. (That’s a tip for budding adult dancers: find a local college or university group that is open to non-students! You’re more likely to find performing opportunities, and it’s easier on the psyche to go to class with college kids than with high schoolers.) If I can’t get to UB, then I take class at the Joffrey Academy or Lou Conte Studio of Dance. Both have great adult classes at all levels, from basic to advanced/professional.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

Where do I begin? I think first and foremost, I love the beauty of the art form and the fact that it carries hundreds of years of human history. I love to move my body. I love to challenge my body, to do something today I couldn’t do yesterday. I love to land a perfect pirouette. I love jumping (a little bit too much; I tend to get crazy and then get injured). I love character dances. I love the music. I love the costumes (most of the time). I love performing, and feel very fortunate that I actually get to do that right now!

What is your least favorite part?

I hate fondus and adagio. I struggled with flexibility even when I was young, and when I returned to ballet at 35, my developpe was about six inches off the floor. I’m not kidding. But I powered through those painful, embarrassing combinations for 3 years and it’s close to 90 degrees now. I find partnering and lifts a little scary since I am a lot heavier than I was in my teens, though I’ve been fortunate to work with some really talented partners recently who make it easy. Perfect timing can cover a multitude of sins.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Between the amazing people I dance with and what’s available on YouTube these days, I never lack for inspiration. I have also been following Misty Copeland, since she went through a lot of the same struggles I am dealing with (though with about 1000 times more natural talent). I’m always on the lookout for dancers and choreographers who make a point of working with bodies that fall outside the ballet ideal, like the Big Ballet from Russia about 5 years ago (, since I struggle so much with my own body. There’s also a man in the UK, John Lowe, who started ballet when he was 79, and he is so graceful! (

What motivates you to keep dancing?

It’s not always easy to get to class while shouldering a full load of adult responsibilities. But if I don’t go to class and don’t practice, then I’ll never get to see the dancer that I could become. That’s my motivation.

Do you take any other dance classes?

In addition to ballet, I am studying ancient Hawaiian hula. I absolutely love it, and find it so beautiful and spiritually moving. When I was younger, I dabbled in just about everything: tap, jazz, modern, bellydance, ballroom, contra dancing, African dance, and Indian dance (bhangra more than classical, but I tried both). They are all fun, and when I was 18 I had a goal to learn EVERY dance style. I now realize no one could ever live long enough to do that, so I am focusing on ballet and hula. One day, in the far-off future, I might have to choose just one; I don’t know what I will do then.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Dancing takes up most of my free time, but I also enjoy fashion, cooking, walking in nature, and gardening with native wildflowers (after the initial planting, they take care of themselves and allow me more time to dance). But I recently moved to a studio apartment so I miss my garden.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

1. JUST DO IT, seriously, do it!!! There are so many people starting ballet as adults now, it isn’t even weird anymore.
2. Don’t beat yourself up if someone else in the class is better than you–watch them and learn from them!
3. If you’re starting ballet as an adult, your muscles WILL be sore afterwards and you’ll discover a lot of new ones you never knew you had. Don’t overdo it and get injured; listen to your body and trust its signals even if it means you have to sit out or modify a combination sometimes.
4. It’s OK to progress slowly, because you do not have to beat out all your classmates for a spot in a professional company by the time you are 18. You have the rest of your life to get as good as you want to be. This should be a comforting fact.
5. If someone tells you that you can’t improve your dancing because of your age, take it with a huge grain of salt and keep on dancing.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Can I say again, JUST DO IT if you are thinking about starting ballet as an adult! The more of us are out there, the more people will pay attention and the easier it will get for everyone. A rising tide lifts all ships.


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