En Pointe: Adult Ballet

Photo | Pam Schipper Robin Griffin, ballet program director at Urbana Dance Studio, teaches adult “drop-in” ballet classes Monday at 9 a.m. and Thursday at 11 a.m.

Photo | Pam Schipper
Robin Griffin, ballet program director at Urbana Dance Studio, teaches adult “drop-in” ballet classes Monday at 9 a.m. and Thursday at 11 a.m.


I spend all of my time hunched over a laptop, pecking away at the keyboard. I was born with a slight curvature of the spine. I have tendonitis from typing. Now it seems that my ribs are out of whack.

Recently, my doctor told me to see a chiropractor or a rolfer. I don’t even know what a rolfer is.

Since I spend all of my time hunched over my laptop, I did neither. Then a friend suggested drop-in ballet.

Really.

Ballet is the one dance form I have never tried. I mean, don’t you need strength, coordination and, well, grace?

My friend assured me I could do it. I thought back on my checkered career in dance.

I was a founding member of the Modernaires in junior high. We rocked Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” in our leotards and legwarmers. We inspired such awe, people were speechless after our first and only performance.

Then there was tap in high school. I remember many happy hours shuffle-ball-changing my way around our unfinished basement.

Fast forward to adulthood and Arthur Murray. In a misguided attempt to schedule a fun couples’ activity, I purchased some ballroom dance lessons. My husband, the free spirit, went toe to toe with the instructor and somehow managed to throw his signature version of the Irish jig into each new dance. I think he has filed this experience away under “stupid things I did because I love my wife.” I have filed it under “places never to go again.”

Then there was my New Year’s resolution last year to get fit and have fun with Zumba. It was fun all right, but like a hangover, so not worth it afterwards. Week after week, I persisted — and each time, it took my body about a week to recover.

About six weeks into it, I gave up.

So with some trepidation and a lot of curiosity, I “dropped in” to the adult ballet class at Urbana Dance Studio first thing Monday morning at 9 a.m.

Robin Griffin, Urbana Dance’s ballet program director, welcomed me. Attired in hip and flouncy dance clothes, she was patient and supportive. She also somehow managed to choreograph a class on the spot to accommodate a newbie whose toes are still getting over the horizontal shock of first position, a beginner and an experienced dancer whose feet fluttered like butterfly wings in midair.

I learned first, second and third position, plié, demi-plié, rond de jambe and more steps that I can only vaguely imitate at this point, much less spell or pronounce. It was interesting and challenging, set against calming and positive music.

I used muscles that I didn’t know I had, and by the end of the 90-minute class, I felt a little bit taller.

Griffin, who has been teaching ballet for 25 years to all ages and skill levels, explained that the purpose of ballet is to elongate the body. She emphasized proper posture with correct muscular-skeletal alignment, explaining that this can increase flexibility and strengthen core back and stomach muscles.

After all of my hours spent hunched over the computer, I figured this was just what the doctor had ordered.

Many of the class participants are like me, 40 and above. Griffin herself just celebrated the 30th anniversary of her 29th birthday. She said that she draws on “my own experiences with morning stiffness, tendonitis, arthritis and general end of the day aches to develop a class sensitive to the needs of adults.”

Surprisingly, ballet is good for you as you get older. It develops and maintains flexibility, strength and stamina, according to Griffin. It can also help with some common age-related ailments. “Plantar fasciitis as well as meniscus tears in the knee can all be addressed in the way the ballet dancer is asked to point and flex the foot — enhancing the elasticity of the arch,” Griffin said. “Boosting the strength of the quads versus stress on the knees is reinforced with leg extensions such as the classic développé and arabesque.”

All I know is that after the class, I didn’t need a week and lots of Ibuprofen to recover. I also felt the teensiest bit more graceful. What woman hasn’t wanted to be a ballerina at some point in her life, even just a little bit?

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