Silver Lining for Dying Swans

Just when I thought my dancing days were dead and buried, along comes my ballet teacher friend to invite me along to a mature-aged ballet class. Silver Swans, to be precise.

Not dying swans, note, but Silver Swans. Swans past their prime as it were—swans who perhaps missed their balletic boat and now want another crack at it. I jokingly asked if I could wear a tutu or pink tights and leotard, but my friend assured me that the dress code was comfortable exercise gear. My Lululemons and Kmart t-shirt would suffice. There was clearly more stretching than staggering ‘en pointe’. 

I invited my tall, slim and slightly Margot Fonteyn-ish friend to come along for support, although she warned she was ‘lomp’ which is the English equivalent of clumsy. I was secretly delighted that someone would be slightly less coordinated than me. It’s always good to be accompanied to any new exercise class by someone who has even a vague inclination to fall over.

That said, my own dancing prowess was, quite frankly, questionable. My last foray into formal classes was way back in high school when ‘modern dance’ was all the rage. The sole dance teacher in our country town was the raven-haired and off-the-scale vivacious Morag de Souza. So magnetic was she that we all wanted to be just like her when we grew up. 

Mrs de Souza, as she was known, taught every genre from ballet to Highland Dance, which, together with ‘modern dance’, I briefly embraced. My Scottish fling ended badly at our end of year performance in the local country school hall. I was teamed up with my more proficient Highland dancing and childhood friend Bridget, and the two of us were to perform the sword dance at opposite ends of the sword. We were centre stage because of her competence, not mine. Blame it on stage fright or pure lack of co-ords, but I negotiated the sword the wrong way around and tumbled into her mid-flight. The audience thought it rather funny, but Bridget was understandably incensed. I’m sure she’s forgiven me by now, but back then, it was traumatic. So much so that I hung up my kilt (having fallen on said sword) for good. There was slightly more hope with modern dance but ballet? Let’s say I was definitely not destined for glory.

Agility aside, there was the small question of sight—or lack thereof. I could be wrong, but I’ve personally never seen a ballerina pirouetting in bifocals. I decided I didn’t need glasses, given that we were hardly likely to be leaping into the sculpted arms of a Baryshnikov equivalent (the notion, while perilous, was not entirely unpleasant). I opted to view my fellow class attendees and teacher in soft focus. Spectacle free.

And this is probably why the entire hour’s class was a bit of a blur. And sadly, sans slightly ungainly friend, who rather inconveniently was moving house. Ensconced in a beautiful church hall complete with sprung wooden floors, well-hewn barre and stage (momentary scary sword dance flashback), my fellow slightly more balletic looking Silver Swans and I awaited instruction. Led by our enviably graceful and perfectly postured teacher, we did indeed learn some basic dance steps.

We learned how to point and slide, position our arms in a graceful arc, and concentrate on posture, posture, and posture. We performed barre exercises which made me feel positively professional. And the music! Heavenly renditions from all the famous ballets—music that made us all imagine for an entire hour that we were real-life ballerinas, not bumbling off-balance, slightly cramping imposters (me). We even learnt an adapted little dance from Don Quixote, playing the coquettish ‘Kitri’, complete with a bright pink fan—the fanning of which was a sweat-inducing exercise on its own. Point and slide, point and slide didn’t have quite the same look and feel in my sports socks, but in my head, I was pure swan. No ugly duckling here.

It turns out that there are mature aged swans around the world going through the same routine. Women considered past their prime are donning exercise gear, dusting off their pink ballet pumps and finding their inner prima ballerina, as it were. The movement has auspicious roots. It was started by the Royal Academy of Dance, no less after an increasing number of older learners wanted to take up ballet classes. Lessons are geared for the over 55’s, but younger participants are more than welcome. Ballet teachers train and follow a formal programme and are specifically accredited to run the classes. The programme has become so successful in Australia that it even has its own ambassador, Caroline O’Connor (AM).

She explains it thus: “Dance is a beautiful form of human expression and a wonderful way to maintain a social connection. In my opinion, there is nothing that compares to the joy you feel when you hear music, and you begin to dance. Silver Swans ballet classes are the perfect way to enjoy your ‘silver years’to still embrace movement, to keep your body supple, and to engage your brain and feel young and joyful.”

And as American author and columnist Dave Barry once said: “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.” 

Also, be prepared to laugh. A lot. And that in itself was a pure tonic for this dying swan.

For further details, contact Dancetra, Susan Johnstone School of Dancing.

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