Am I Too Old to Start Ballet?
What age is too old to start ballet?
First of all, let's be clear what you're asking. If you want to take up dancing as a hobby, you're never too old! I've known people who've started dancing in their 50's and 60's. However, I'm going to assume you're asking,
What age is too old to start serious ballet training, if you want a career as a dancer?
Because so many girls start dance lessons as tiny tots, some people get the idea they've missed the boat if they've got to 12 or 13 and haven't done any dance study. Not so! In fact, before the age of about 10 years old, no responsible ballet school will teach a child real technique - it's too hard on the body and could damage the skeleton at that tender age.
That means that if you take up ballet at the age of 12 or 13, you've missed only two or three years of serious ballet training. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? And if you've done other sports or dancing in the meantime, so much the better.
Late Starter Boys
There are many stories of male dancers who started ballet very late, but to be honest, that is somewhat misleading. Up until the 1970s, male ballet dancers were in short supply. In the early years of the 20th century, that was because the men were all at war: later, it was because ballet was seen as too effeminate an art form. It wasn't until Nureyev exploded on to the scene, that ballet became a more respectable profession for straight guys!
So in those days, ballet companies were eager for any male dancer, even if his technique was a little limited. Stories of men starting ballet at 18 or 19 were common, especially if they were former sportsmen or gymnasts. These days, it's not so easy, but taking up ballet at 13 or 14 and going on to a dance career is still feasible.
Late Starter Girls
Unfortunately, it's more difficult for girls than for boys. For one thing, there are many more girls than boys studying ballet, so the competition is far more intense. But it can be done! The best way to convince you, I think, is to let the pictures do the talking - so here are some videos of dancers who "started late" by modern standards - and I bet some of you are surprised to see Darcey Bussell and Sylvie Guilleme on the list!
Darcey Bussell (started at 12)
Sylvie Guilleme (started at 12)
Kirsty Boone (started at 13)
Carmen Corella (started at 13)
However, all these famous "late starters" were still only 12 or 13 years old when they took up ballet. The harsh truth is that for girls, it's a huge ask to take up ballet once you've hit 14. Girls have an extra challenge to master - pointe work. Most girls start pointe work at 12 or 13, so starting ballet at that age means you have to do some very fast catch-up work.
Start at the age of 14, and you're unlikely to even start pointe before you're 16 - and then you have to build your strength and technique en pointe, which doesn't happen overnight. Let's face it, if you're going to make a career in ballet, you need to be auditioning for your first job at 17 or 18 - so there simply isn't enough time to catch up, unless you're extraordinarily gifted.
If that leaves you feeling crushed, don't despair. I was in your shoes once, and there is a solution!
What you must do is realize that passion in your soul is to dance. Ballet is just one kind of dancing. You may think it's the only one you care about - but how do you know, until you've tried all the rest?
I started ballet too late, and spent years regretting that I'd "missed out" on a dance career - until I discovered a natural talent for flamenco. If only I'd been more open-minded in my teens, I could have achieved even more in my flamenco career!
So widen your horizons beyond ballet, and look at some other dance genres. For ballet, you must start early - but in many other dance genres, that is not the case. In flamenco, belly dancing, ballroom dance, and even contemporary dance, you can start in your late teens or even early twenties, and still make a career. If you're a dancer, you can do it!