It's Never Too Late: Does a Teenager Have a Chance to Become a Ballet Dancer?

It's Never Too Late: Does a Teenager Have a Chance to Become a Ballet Dancer?

An early start is a typical story in ballet. However, a great desire and talent can help you become an artist even at an older age. Here are three pieces of evidence to inspire your optimism.  

First: success stories with a late start

The world of big ballet has seen inspiring examples where future artists started their learning late, from the conventional point of view, but still achieved mastery.

At the beginning of the last century, the name of Vera Karalli was well-known to the public both in the capital and abroad: this dancer, a soloist of the Bolshoi Theater, toured with the Sergei Diaghilev company. However, her career in dance began only at the age of 12 - Karalli first entered a theater school, but then realized that the art of classical dance was closer to her and began to practice choreography.

One of the greatest ballerinas of our time, the French dancer Sylvie Guillem also began her ballet career when she was 12. She had a good base by that time - several years in artistic gymnastics - and even plans to prepare for the Olympics. Guillem didn’t become a champion but switched from sports to arts successfully, becoming the youngest prima ballerina of the Grand Opera. 

The modern American ballerina Misty Copeland is believed by many to be a real revolutionary. Firstly, she became the first African American prima ballerina with the American Ballet Theater; secondly, her dance career had a late start. She was 13 years old when she came to her first ballet lesson, and it was not even a choreographic studio but an ordinary children's club. Four years of intense training - and Copeland took the stage with a famous US ballet company.  

There are “late” but talented choreographers as well. Until the age of 22, the Englishman Matthew Bourne worked as a clerk and an usher, distributed tickets and hunted for celebrity autographs. Then he enrolled at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in Deptford and four years later graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Bourne founded his own company and became famous for his outstanding performances. In 1999, he received a Tony Award for his interpretation of the ballet Swan Lake.  

However, the most famous illustration of the hypothesis that talent will make its way despite age is the story of Rudolf Nureyev. Although, giving this example, we should make a disclaimer. The future dancer entered the Vaganova Academy very late - at the age of 17. But before that, Nureyev had time to get acquainted with classical dance: from the age of 10, he received training from the ballerina Anna Udaltsova, who had previously performed in the Sergei Diaghilev company. The young man's start in academic ballet was late, but the classical base, multiplied by talent, did their job, and Nureyev became a great artist. 

Second: opinion of the ballet teacher

It is easier to “see” choreographic talent if a kid is practicing classical dancing from early childhood and by the age of 10-11 has some basic skills and well- developed flexibility to try and take entrance exams to a choreographic school. Moreover, if by this age a young artist has already got several years of experience and performances, then their decision to pursue ballet dancing will be more conscious and realistic than that of their peers who "fall ill" with ballet out of the blue. That is why the practice of starting ballet at 2 or 3 years old and transitioning to the next learning level at about 10 (and sometimes even earlier) is so widespread. 

Is there a chance for those who get into ballet late? Or these cases where age has no power over talent are one in a thousand? And what is a late start in ballet anyway? Maria Allash, a ballet master-repetiteur of the Bolshoi Theater, believes:

“There were cases when people came into ballet late. For example, Rimma Klavdievna Karelskaya, as far as I know, came to study at the choreographic school at the age of 14... But that was a special case. I'm not sure if this is possible nowadays. As ballet is getting younger every year, people come to our art earlier and earlier. Basically, ballet is the art of young people. It seems to me that at this stage, late start is not quite possible in our profession. Unless it turns out that a person has some incredible, fantastic abilities, when they are uniquely gifted. There is no such practice anymore in our time. In my opinion, the younger the body, the more it is loved by the stage. Although experienced artists dance great, of course, and you can always find something to learn and you watch them with pleasure, they are all young people when compared with ordinary people. The ballet has its own age standards - it “ages” the artists early.”

 Third: real-life experience of students

On the ballet forums and in thematic communities on social media, you can often find a topic like "At what age should my child begin ballet classes?" Many parents are in a hurry to introduce their children to the art of classical dance at the age of 2 or 3, before "it is too late". However, there are also real stories where a child suddenly decided to do ballet at school age. Of course, everyone has their own experience and situation - we will share a couple of anonymous comments from mothers who sent their children to ballet later than others. 

The ballet experience of late debutants can be negative, even in spite of a serious gymnastic base:  

“My daughter is 8 years old, she has been practicing rhythmic gymnastics for 3 years. But when auditioning at Eifman's [Boris Eifman Dance Academy], she was rejected "for the lack in turnout". They said: "Turnout can’t be worked out.” She has everything else: flexibility, long legs, endurance, jump, musicality. We are doing gymnastics a lot but she is just not a ballet kid, they said."  

A late start can be successful: there are many such stories in our time too. The same forum has examples showing how the new opportunities open up for children or teenagers who have had a sudden desire to link their life to ballet: 

“My daughter is 9 years old and she has been practicing ballet for six months. Teachers praise her for natural stretching and good turnout. They were honest with us: “You have to work hard, really hard. But in this case, your chances to enter an academy are very high.” I believe the game is worth the candle: my girl is in love with ballet!"