19 October 2023

It's never too late to get to the barre and discover the many benefits of ballet

| Michele Tydd
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Katrina Samaras demonstrating a ballet pose.

Katrina Samaras says there is a global demand for adult ballet classes, which she will lead at WEA Illawarra next year. Photo: Supplied.

Roll up the yoga mats and store away the exercise bikes, because Wollongong is soon to join a worldwide trend involving a far more elegant form of exercise.

WEA Illawarra for the first time is introducing an adult beginners’ class in classical ballet for people of all ages.

“Traditionally ballet classes were reserved for children or pre-professional teenagers but there is now a global movement to make it more accessible for adult recreational dancers,” said Katrina Samaras, who will take the classes over an eight-week term.

“The benefits are massive including improving core strength, posture, flexibility, coordination, cognitive performance and balance – and balance is important as it tends to decline as we get older.

“I think you can tell l if somebody has put in years at the ballet barre. There is a way they carry themselves with beautiful spinal alignment and dainty turned-out toes,” she said.

Katrina, a retired librarian who studied for 10 years with the British Ballet Organisation and the Royal Academy of Dance, teaches several types of dance, including tap and line dancing, but she said classical ballet is her favourite.

“What makes ballet so different to other forms of exercise and fitness is the aesthetic dimension. You are looking to create beautiful lines and shapes through movement,” she said.

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“And there is a sense of musicality when you are using your body as an expressive instrument. In all ballet classes, whether it’s to live or taped music, you are listening, feeling and expressing the music, which is transformative,” Katrina added.

“I can work with any age, but I’ve noticed a lot of my older students are not keen on spinning or jumping, so it’s just a matter of adapting those moves to something that is safe but still enjoyable for the older body.”

Classes will follow a traditional format.

“The structure – whether you’re going to classes at the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia or the church hall down the road – it is always the same,” she explained.

The hour-long classes will involve warm-ups and traditional exercises at the barre such as the plie and tendu. This will be followed by centre work progressing from the slower steps to the more energetic, and finishing with a short routine and a traditional final curtsey or a bow for men.

“We are sticking to tradition because that’s what people are looking for – that traditional ballet discipline.”

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She is, however, ditching the need for leotards and tutus – “but if a tutu floats your boat, that’s fine with me”, she says with a laugh.

Katrina suggests people wear gym clothing that is stretchy and allows for movement. Socks or ballet slippers are the preferred footwear.

Ballet, she says, seems to intrigue and captivate a lot of people.

“Some of the adults I teach say they wanted to do ballet as a child but there wasn’t the money or it was too hard to get to classes.

“I also have students who did attend ballet classes as kids for a few years and later regretted giving it up, but it is never too late to start or return,” she said.

Classes start in February 2024. Prospective students can register their interest by phoning the WEA on 4226 1622.

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