When I first stumbled upon Katie’s Instagram account, I assumed that she was a professional dancer. Then I took a closer look at her profile and was shocked to find that—not only is she not a professional—she has only been dancing regularly for the last four years.
Four years. Incredible.
The technical progress she has made is astounding, and it is clear that her passion for dance is the driving force behind it. After all, there are no shortcuts in ballet—no hacks or fast-tracks to improvement, save for more hours of practice. Even then, practice is no guarantee. But Katie has made the most out of her time in the studio.
“I’ll seize every opportunity to dance until I can’t,” she says.
Katie is almost 32 years old, hails from Taiwan, and, like many of us recreational dancers, she must schedule dance around her career. By day, she works as a sales manager for a local company, where she handles international sales and marketing. When she’s not travelling for work, you can find her in the studio on evenings and weekends, wearing the most fashionable dancewear and balancing en pointe with the poise of a seasoned ballerina. (She can even do Italian fouettés.) Her technique is seriously impressive, her discipline and determination perhaps even more so.
Given her professional attitude, it is no surprise that she takes ballet very seriously—so seriously that she hopes to raise support for other dedicated recreational dancers, who are rarely afforded opportunities to perform.
“I believe many of us have the same passion as professionals do,” she says, proceeding to explain the sacrifices that adult students make to attend class. “[Their] devotion to ballet is incredible, and they deserve a stage to shine.”
Katie has been fortunate enough to perform solo variations on stage, herself. Despite having to overcome fear and self-doubt, she treasures the opportunity to share her passion with others. Indeed, her love for ballet is too profound not to share, and she has a lot to say about the subject. I hope you will find her words as fascinating and inspiring as I do!
Q & A with Katie
Q. What first drew you to ballet? What do you still love about it?
Ballet first caught my eye when I was five years old when I accompanied my friends to their ballet class in the US. Although I knew nothing about it, it was love at first sight. Now that I have taken ballet class more in depth as an adult, I think what fascinates me the most about ballet is the incredible strength hidden underneath the effortless elegant exterior. I love howballet to me is so irresistible yet so unattainable and it has no end to the pursuit of perfection.
Q. When and where did you begin your dance training?
I took ballet lessons once a week at a local studio near home for a few years (definitely not professional training) when I was young and stopped at the age of 12 to focus on school work. I did pick up ballet several months when I was 20, but stopped again due to injury caused by improper stretching. I came back to ballet at the age of 28 and am now in my fourth year of adult ballet journey.
Q. How do you prep for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?
Not really, but I do care a lot about what I wear in class so I’ll always have that planned out beforehand.
Q. What is your typical class attire?
I always wear a leotard, tights and either shorts or wrap/pull on skirts (I’m still insecure of wearing only leotards and tights). In the winter, I wear rompers, warm up knit pants and leg warmers. I’m a big fan of leotards with three-quarter sleeves and those with mesh and laces that are elegant and feminine.
Q. Do you have a favorite step or part of class? Least favorite?
I love adagio and also turns and grand allegro where you can travel/fly across the studio freely. Petit allegro is my least favorite since my body and brain can never connect fast enough; it will take me a lot of practice to get the same combination correct and smooth.
Q. What is your favorite ballet to watch?
Since we don’t have many opportunities to see full act ballets in Taiwan (only on YouTube), it’s hard for me to really say which in particular is my favorite. But I love many variations from various ballets such as Don Q, La Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, etc.
Q. Studying ballet as an adult can be frustrating. What do you do to stay positive?
It could indeed be very frustrating sometimes. I think besides learning to adjust my mindset and trying to find some positivity within tiny progress, I’m also lucky that I have positive fellow adult ballet students around (in the studio or on social media) to discuss the problems we face, to share our own solutions, our experiences, and to encourage and cheer each other up.
Q. Do you have any other advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet?
Be focused, listen and really think over about all the tips and corrections the ballet master gives, try absorbing as much as you can and feel your muscles. Also, try developing a sensitive body with the collaboration of the brain. As adults, there is much less that our bodies can give, but a lot more that we can gain from the brain to even up. And most importantly, never forget why you started it in the first place, as that’s what keeps you going and moves you forward. Life is short; if you love it, just go for it!
Q. You’ve had opportunities to perform (wearing gorgeous tutus, no less!) What have you learned from your performances? Do you prefer the stage to class?
I love being on stage wearing beautiful tutus and tiaras (well, who doesn’t?) although at the same time feeling nervous and often overwhelmed by fear due to the lack of confidence. But I also know that true confidence is built in class to give you the power to enjoy that magical moment on stage so I cherish every dancing opportunity no matter onstage or offstage.
Q. What are your goals for your dance training and for your life in general?
I’ll seize any opportunity to dance until I can’t. I hope there is the day that I can really feel my dance without being distracted by worrying about technique or body limitations, which is when I can really show my passion and love for ballet.
Q. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
As an adult ballet dancer, we have far fewer opportunities to perform on stage and to really experience the life of professional dancers, but I believe many of us have the same passion as professionals do and if not show even more by trying to pursue our dreams as much as we can while juggling a full-time job (the real salary that financially supports our interest), family responsibilities (at the most awkward age having to take care of both our parents and kids) and still struggling to make improvements.
I know some determined adult ballet dancers around me (including myself) who wouldn’t mind taking a huge commute and rush to ballet classes after a long day of work, or even return to the office late after finishing the class just because they wouldn’t want to miss the chance to dance. They sacrifice the tiny free time left to relax just hoping to have a little bit more practice to improve their techniques. That kind of devotion to ballet is incredible, and they deserve a stage to shine.
I do hope that there is the chance that soon we can come up with a project to find a way of gathering financial support (as we know how overwhelming the cost of renting studio, hiring teachers for choreography, training, rehearsals and all kinds of stage costs could be) for these serious passionate adult ballet dancers to have the opportunity to pull together decent annual performances of their own, to inspire and show the world their love for ballet, and their courage and determination to pursue their dreams.