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Why adults do ballet: Ballet student Van shares her journey

Why adults do ballet. Ballet student Van Ngo in ballet class at Dragonfly Dance
photo by Kevin Taylor

Van Ngo joined Dragonfly Dance in January 2023 during our inaugural Summer Dance Program. In October 2023, Dragonfly Dance founder, Jo McDonald, sat down with Van to get her take on why adults do ballet.

Van is an optometrist by trade, but she has always enjoyed dancing.

“I did a lot of cultural/ethnic dancing as a child, so I’ve always performed. Then I moved to Melbourne for university and joined Flare Dance, a student-run dance group.”

Van was part of Flare Dance for four years, from the second to the fifth year, where she had the opportunity to try a range of different dance styles, like hip hop (her favourite), contemporary, and Broadway jazz. While there, exposure to adult dancers with a ballet background piqued her interest.

“Flare is run by students, and it depends on who is there for what dance styles are offered. There wasn’t ballet offered when I was there, but a lot of the students had done ballet as children, so they had a ballet background, and I always thought it would be cool to do.”

Finding a place to start

Van searched for beginner ballet classes for a while before she found one that suited her schedule. It wasn’t a Dragonfly Dance class because our classes didn’t suit her timetable. Finally, in October 2021, she found one. It was a beginner class, but not an absolute beginner class, which meant the others in the class had several months more experience than her.

“You miss the basics when you’re an absolute beginner. You try to copy, but then you pick things up wrong and have to unlearn them.”

Discovering Dragonfly Dance

Finally, the Dragonfly Dance summer program in 2023 offered a timetable that suited Van. She’d been following us for a while but was looking for a class at the suitable time and level.

“I wasn’t actually sure which level I would be at because I could only make level 3; I couldn’t make the level 2. I thought to myself 'It’s a summer intensive, and I’ll see how I go. If I die, I die',” Van explains. “It was hard, but in some ways, it was good that I didn’t just settle but pushed myself to do a higher level.”

During the summer program, Van did a level 3 ballet class with Jo and ballet repertoire with Tracee. She had tasted repertoire at previous dance intensives, but Dragonfly Dance classes was her first opportunity to really learn ballet repertoire.

“I’d done day intensives before, where I struggled because a whole day of ballet is a struggle. There were repertoire classes, but those kinds of intensives were an open level, so it was really rushed. I didn’t actually ‘learn repertoire.’

Why adults do ballet. Ballet student Van Ngo in ballet class at Dragonfly Dance
Photo by Kevin Taylor

A shared love of ballet

Van has loved her experience at Dragonfly Dance because of the quality and philosophy of our teaching.

“My teachers at Dragonfly Dance have been great teachers. My old teacher was really good as well, but I’ve had teachers in the day intensive or substituting classes who weren’t as encouraging and didn’t share a love of ballet. It was more like ‘come on, just get these techniques right.’ I could understand that if I was in professional training. But I’m an advanced beginner. I joined this because I want to learn more about ballet. I don’t want to feel like it’s not good enough. I like the way at Dragonfly the teachers encourage us to improve, rather than telling us we’re not good enough.”

A love of performance

Van enjoys the friendly community at Dragonfly Dance and enjoys seeing what everyone else does and learning from watching and talking with them. She finds everyone to be welcoming and loves that they are all there because that’s where they want to be.

But the thing that keeps her coming back is simply because she loves dancing, which is a common reason why adutls do ballet. And she loves to perform.

“I really enjoy dancing and performing. I don’t get to do it enough,” she explains. “When I was younger, in my church years, every year we used to put on a concert, and I used to be part of it. But now that I’m a leader, I can’t be part of the concert anymore. Like when I was teaching younger kids, I’d have to learn the dance to teach them. Now I work with older kids, I don’t get to do it as much anymore.

Van is preparing for her first performance with Dragonfly Dance in our Student Showcase for 2023, and explains how her childhood experience of dancing helps her confidence.

“With a lot of ethnic dancing, it’s not technically difficult, but you have to look good doing it. So it’s about presentation. It’s simple. You raise your arms. You stand in different formations. But you have to look nice doing it.”

Enjoying the challenge

Why adults do ballet. Ballet student Van Ngo in ballet class at Dragonfly Dance
Photo by Kevin Taylor

Van loves the way ballet can be a challenge (another common reason why adults do ballet), which makes it even more satisfying when she does achieve something she’s struggled with.

“I love that moment when learning a technique, and it just clicks. Sometimes it can take a long time, but I enjoy what I’m able to do. As I progress, I can do more, understand more. When the teacher says something in French, I understand what it means now. In repertoire, in particular, I love that you don’t just learn technique, but a complete dance sequence. You spend weeks learning it, and then finally, you know the dance and you can just enjoy it.”

Van is pretty happy just coming to class, but she does enjoy the performance aspect because she loves the challenge.

“I need to challenge myself more because I just tend to stroll through life and be pretty comfortable. But I don’t think I should stay comfortable. And pushing myself to perform is part of that.”

Before starting ballet, Van’s biggest worries were whether she’d have the strength and flexibility for it, and whether she’d be able to keep up.

“I found I had to work really hard, but I could keep up. I enjoy working hard. It’s a good challenge. The most challenging thing is getting my body to do what I wanted it to do,” Van laughed. “I’ve never been a flexible person, trying to get that flexibility, to get the turnout, to understand where I need my body to be. I can visualize it, but then I look and it’s not right.

Ballet mindset

For Van, a part of the appeal of the challenges associated with ballet is the mental challenge, and her mindset helps her break through her barriers when things get tough.

“It’s a mental game. Trying not to be too hard on myself. Trying to encourage myself to improve rather than going down the path of ‘why can’t I do this yet, why can’t I do that.’

“With the hustle culture these days, you have to do something for a reason, for a monetary reason. Why are you doing this if you are not getting something out of it? But I just do ballet because I enjoy it. There are some basic things I struggle to do, but it’s getting past that, working towards it, figuring out how to improve. Instead of thinking ‘I should be able to do this by now.’

In explaining how she manages to keep her positive mindset, she says logic helps her.

“I do get frustrated. I know that if I let that frustration take over then I’ll stop, and I don’t want to stop. I’ve always been a logical thinker. And logically, I’ve never done this before, so why would I be able to do it?”

Van has brought her positive mindset to ballet, but she also says ballet helps her to strengthen that mindset.

“Ballet helps my mindset because there are a lot of things I can’t do in ballet. It’s satisfying

Are you ready to start?

Van's encouragement echoes a straightforward yet compelling message: "Do it. Just do it." If you're contemplating dipping your toes into ballet or any dance class, let Van's genuine enthusiasm be your guide. As Van wisely suggests, if time and budget allow, explore various dance styles to find what resonates with you. We’ve got plenty to choose from at Dragonfly Dance. Some styles may be a blast, others not so much, but the experience is invaluable. So, in the spirit of Van's advice, embrace the opportunity to learn, move, and discover the joy of dance—no frills, no fuss, just the pure satisfaction of taking that first step onto the dance floor, and finding out the answers to that question of why adults do ballet.


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