Beginner Ballerina Profile: Helen Mao

HMao2This week’s profile is of Helen Mao, who has been studying ballet for the past three years in addition to take other ballet classes (and tap classes) in the past. Helen will also be writing guest posts for ABP in the future, so be on the look out for those!

When did you start doing ballet as an adult? 

Five years ago, I returned to ballet was when I turned 40. Since then I have been trying to take class consistently, at least twice a week. In college I studied 2 years of ballet in the school’s gym with fine instructors; I also took 1 year of class at a high school where I was teaching when I was 24 years old.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I studied for 1 year when I was in elementary school. I remember wanting to continue ballet after that year but the school’s location was not convenient. In middle and high school, I figure skated and took basic ballet classes in skating camps but nothing serious. In college, I ice danced and ballroom danced, but always missed ballet. Nonetheless, I always felt that ballet was “the real thing” in terms of discipline, flexibility and technique.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult? 

I was thrilled to take an adult tap dancing class when I was 39 years old; I had tapped for 1 year in graduate school and loved it. A tap classmate told me she was taking an adult ballet class near my house. Coincidentally, another friend of mine was in this same adult ballet class. I called the teacher, who was so inviting, went to my first class and was hooked. I now take at another school that offers more technique classes per week.
Where do you take classes?

For the past 3 years, I have been taking technique classes at least twice a week when I can at Maryland Youth Ballet in Silver Spring, MD. Also, this past summer I started adult pointe at Joy of Motion in DC but the class’s timing and location were difficult for me. Now I am in a weekly teenage/adult beginner pointe class at The Ballet Academy in Beltsville, MD.

What is your favorite part about ballet? 

I love all parts of ballet class — barre and center — but my favorite part of ballet is executing (correctly, without relying on following others — my bad habit) a technically interesting and fun combination that covers a lot of studio floor space. I can enjoy the exercise and music while forgetting about everyday stressors/obligations for 90 minutes.

What is your least favorite part? 

My least favorite part is one area that I should work on more: flexibility and stretching exercises. I am embarrassingly not flexible, despite my previous activities. On a good day I can straddle a little beyond 90 degrees; forget splits! Barre stretches feel good but I am NOT one of those people who can pull her foot above her head; I am lucky when my foot is higher than my waist. My cambre back looks like I still standing up straight. My grand plie and demi plie in first position look sadly similar. My fondues/developpes are comfortable at 45 degrees but become a strain nearing 90 degrees.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

I am inspired by ballerinas I’ve seen (mostly through videos of European and American companies) with excellent technique, strength and grace who also are expressive actors. I’ve also been inspired by my teachers as well as other adult ballet dancers whose bodies and spirits make them seem eternally youthful. Finally, I have been truly inspired meeting other adult dancers as well as reading adult ballet dancers’ blogs in continuing to strive and improve myself at any age.

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