How does it work?
Ballet has its own vocabulary, beginning with the 'barre', a wooden support attached to the walls of the studio. The barre is used to stay balanced while performing various steps, such as the Plie, Eleve and Rond de Jambe, which stretch the legs and warm them up so that you're ready to dance your tights off.
You don't have to be fluent in French, however, to understand ballet. The five key positions are named First Position, Second Position, Third Position... you get the gist. These are the basics of the dance - the essential steps before any budding Billy Elliot out there can advance to pirouettes and jumps.
Ballet's disciplined positions give you better posture, which is great for your spine as well as your appearance (hurrah!). It also develops your strength and muscles, keeping you fit and trim at the same time. Importantly, it also builds bone density which is an advantage in later life to keep you chassé-ing and arabesque-ing into old age.
Beginner's classes will usually last up to an hour to get you into the swing of things, and most lessons are an hour or 90 minutes thereafter. As a serious beginner, you should aim for two or three classes a week - just make sure you give your body a rest for a day in between. If you are afraid of showing off your lumps and bumps, this may not be for you. Classes are in groups, and the usual dress code is tights and a leotard (sorry guys), with soft ballet slippers to start with. However, being fully grown adults and not six year old girls, many studios will allow for you to cover up with leggings or a t-shirt - but it's best to check beforehand to make sure you have the right kit.
As you advance, you might want to invest in pointe shoes to make you look even more graceful as you stand on the tip of your toes, and professionals will don the infamous tutu. The reality is that the less you wear, the more you can see what you're doing - in a good way. The well-known pink tights are not worn to make you look pretty; they're the best thing for seeing what your muscles are up to, which helps you and the teacher to improve your dancing.
Is it for me?
Ballet is not just one for girls who love pink. Men and women, boys and girls can take part in this toe-pointing, thigh-stretching dance, with beginner's classes for all age groups. Age, unlike the Lycra, is no restriction so long as you are fairly fit with no dodgy backs or ankles. If fitness isn't your forté, it might be an idea to take up another form of exercise to get yourself in shape before starting your classes - you'll thank yourself for it when you're turning and leaping rather than puffing and panting.
For kids, ballet is a great way to teach discipline and control, as well as keeping them fit and healthy with strong bones. For dancers of all ages, the regular exercise is good for all-over muscle tone, flexibility and strength, as well as keeping your heart in good shape. It's also a great stress buster So if you're looking to shape up and trade in your clumsy clogs for a pair of pumps, ballet could be perfect for you.