Note to self: it's not too late to start

When Emma Smith apprehensively stepped into her first-ever beginners' ballet class in 2012, she was unaware of the fact that nine years later she would still be dancing, and that ballet would become one of her greatest passions.

When thinking of a beginners' ballet class you might lean towards picturing a gaggle of four-year-old girls in pastel pink tutus, however, for Smith, who was 28 at the time, this was certainly not the case.

Illustration ballet ballet dance hobby dancing
Illustration: Ren Shiyuan

Having never danced as a child, she was inspired after her close friend opened a dance school offering adult ballet classes once a week.

"I was intimidated when I first started. I was a complete beginner and had zero coordination, but it just sounded super fun," she says.

As children, many try out new hobbies, however as we age, the idea of being a novice sounds less appealing. This is an idea that Smith thinks is completely ridiculous.

She says: "The scariest thing is walking through the door for the first time. Once you’ve done that, there’s nothing to fear."

Not only did Smith find a new passion, but she also found it to be the perfect escape from her busy life as a bookseller and mum to her five-year-old son.

"It’s my sacred two hours a week where I can just be myself," she says. "I can stop thinking about everything else and just focus on me. Sometimes we chat more than we dance, but that’s just as important. Classes are our safe space. We can vent, rant, cry and laugh."

This is just one of the numerous benefits that having a hobby as an adult can provide.

Life coach Julie Leonard says that taking up a hobby can dramatically boost your self-esteem and confidence.

Leonard says: "It can give us a sense of great accomplishment and leads to meeting new people.

"They are flow state activities that move your attention away from the overthinking, worrying part of your brain. This allows you to get into the zone, be more present and reduce stress."

Smith relates to this on a personal level, having felt the impact of not being able to go to her classes during the lockdown.

"Ballet has been really vital to my mental health, and I really noticed that when I couldn’t go due to Covid-19," she says.

GemmaBFitness fitness trainer dancing ballet
Gemma believes having a hobby has a variety of benefits

Gemma Barlow, the owner of GemmaBFitness, sees another side to the benefits that having a hobby as an adult can bring. Barlow, who has been teaching adult ballet classes for over six years and offers classes for a variety of abilities, has seen first-hand the growth of her clients in both confidence and ability.

"I love teaching adults ballet, as it’s so wonderful to see my clients grow from where they began and how much they have achieved. You can see how they fall in love with this beautiful art form; they become stronger, more flexible and confident," says Barlow.

However, Barlow does understand how intimidating it can be to start something new, particularly as an adult.

"Like anything, trying something new can be scary and intimidating," she says. "But remember we all have to start somewhere, and you don’t lose anything from trying and giving it a go. No one is judging you, and we are all there to grow and learn."

ballet class dance dancing fitness GemmaBFitness
Gemma has been teaching ballet for over six years

It’s not only ballet that is popular amongst adults starting a new hobby. Tessa Deterding, 27, took up an introductory class in aerial and circus tricks last year after seeing a Cirque du Soleil show.

"I looked to see if there was a course in my area and there was, so I tried a taster session. I ended up loving it so much that I did the full course," she says.

Deterding says that she’s always had a love-hate relationship with exercise, but she finally found her calling with aerial and circus tricks.

"I’d never found something I really enjoyed or connected with. This is the first time I’ve really looked forward to doing physical exercise every week," she says. "You can really feel the improvement over time, and it’s wonderful to have some goals to work towards outside of work."

Smith says the same thing about ballet and believes that the goals you have for yourself as an adult with a hobby are very different to the types of goals you have as a child.

"These adult ballet classes aren’t about exams or performances. They are about you, your progress and doing something that makes you happy," she says.

Not only can it be valuable for your mental health as an adult to start a new hobby, but this can also help heal your inner child.

This is something that 32-year-old Tasha Bailey found recently, having taken up roller-skating.

"I was always fearful of roller-skating as a child. I hated the idea of falling down and how embarrassing that would be, so I always avoided it," says Bailey.

It wasn’t until a friend brought up the idea of learning to roller-skate to her last year, that she finally decided to give it a shot.

"My initial thought was, 'Why the hell would anyone ever want to do that?' But then it occurred to me that the reason I rejected the idea of roller-skating was because of my childhood fear and I felt inclined to disrupt that narrative," she says.

After taking her first class, Bailey says she found a new appreciation and gratification for her body and its ability to learn new skills. She is also aware that the fear of trying something new as adults is often deeper-rooted than we would like to think.

"I think as humans, we often fear the things that we want the most because we hate disappointment. This is why as adults, many of us hate the idea of learning a new skill because being a beginner is hard and gruelling. Children, on the other hand, are less worried about mistakes or falling over," she says.

Looking back on her ballet journey, Smith reflects on how far she has come. "I’m doing things I never, ever thought I would do because I came to ballet late in life," she says. "Going En Pointe was a dream and even though I’ll never be the best dancer, pushing myself has proved that I can still achieve my dreams, even as an adult."

This is from the Kindred. Identity issue, out now. Purchase the copy through the link here.