Beginner Ballerina Profile: Joy Wrona

A couple of weeks ago, Joy wrote an amazing blog post here on Adult Ballerina Project that was one of our most well-received posts ever, Plus-Sized Ballet. If you want to learn more about Joy, check out our interview with her below:

1.29.2011

When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

Joy: Two years ago, I lamented to my best friend’s mom (who has been a dance teacher her whole life) that I could not find an adult ballet basics class.  She offered to teach one at her studio if I could recruit more students.  It was usually just me though so after a few months, I thanked her and went on the hunt again.  Didn’t seem right to be taking up that studio time every week.  Last year, I finally found my ballet home and am now taking two classes a week.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Joy:  I remember taking a lesson as a wee tot in a school gym.  Then my middle school gave us weekly ballet classes but we spent more time changing into tights and leotards than actually at the barre.  I also took Irish dance for seven years of my childhood.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

Joy:  I began losing weight and felt very clumsy and uncoordinated.  I thought ballet would help me find my grace.  But in truth, it has taught that and so very much more.

Where do you take classes?

Joy:  Festival School of Ballet in Buffalo, NY.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

Joy:  The grace – which leads to my second favourite part, strength.  You don’t realize just how STRONG ballet dancers are until you actual start attempting it yourself.  It looks so effortless (and really, isn’t that the point?)

What is your least favorite part?

Joy:  Slow improvement.  This is probably just me but I struggle with basics like a good second position tendu turnout.  Seems like no matter how hard I try, I never seem to get it!  But I keep trying all the same.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Joy:  My ballet inspiration is my best friend’s mom.  She has been dancing and teaching for what seems like forever.  She’s so healthy and vibrant and she is in her 70s!  I want to be like that when I grow up.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

Joy:  My desire to keep fit, mobile and healthy just like my parents.

Do you take any other dance classes?

Joy:  I’ve taken hip hop and zumba but after knee surgery last year, those went by the wayside.  Though I do miss them and want to try them again.  I am also an avid swing dancer with my fiancée.  And it all started with Irish dancing when I was 6.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Joy: Bike riding is a relatively new obsession.  If I can bike there, I’ll do that before I get in my car.  Better for me and the planet!  I’m also very blessed to be an actor with a day job.  I do anywhere from 2-3 shows a year.  I do better with straight plays but I enjoy the occasional musical too.  My dance abilities do me well at auditions.  I always say, I’m actor who can carry a tune and count to 8.

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

Joy:  If you want to do it, don’t give up!  Keep looking until you find that perfect dance studio.  Don’t think after the first class you can’t do it.  You CAN.  It doesn’t come easy, it takes work but that is the point.  But you can do it if you are willing to put the effort in.  I started dancing with FSB in February 2012 and then found I needed knee surgery in May 2012.  I thought for sure I wouldn’t be able to go back.  But I took class Thursday night, had surgery Friday morning and was back at the barre the following Thursday.  Nothing got in my way once I knew just how much I loved ballet.  Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of doing something you love.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Joy:  Speaking of not letting anyone get in your way – don’t listen to the haters.  Random people on the street feel the need when they see my ballet school tshirt or hoodie, to comment on how I couldn’t be a ballet dancer.  I’m too heavy, I’m too old, whatever.  I’ve had it said to me at the grocery store, in traffic while I’m on my bike, heck even people I know have suggested I might be out of my league with ballet.  DO NOT LISTEN.  Listen to yourself.  I have felt for my entire life that I had a dancer in me.  It took me until I was in my late 30s to truly answer the call and feel good enough to call myself A DANCER.  I’ll be dancing till I die now, no matter what anyone says.

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Guest Post: Plus Sized Ballet

Plus Sized Ballet

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

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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:

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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.

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