By Bethany Gleave
A group of older ladies are showing the dancing world that ballet isn’t just for the young and flexible and that 80 is the perfect age to don a tutu and put your best pointed foot forward.
Pauline Burgess, 80, Judi Northam, 78 and Mary Baynes, 76 all attend an over-55 ballet class called Silver Swans and have praised the practice for improving their mobility and giving them a pirouette in their step.
The three ladies joined the class at Janet Lomas Dance School in Bury, Greater Manchester, at different abilities but have said that all the ‘Silver Swans’ in the class support each other and put competitive dancing to the side.
Despite dancing for 30 years up until she was 75, Pauline Burgess from Ramsbottom was worried that at 80 she would be too old for the class.
Pauline, a retired secretarial business owner said: “I didn’t even think twice about joining Silver Swans. As soon as I saw the advert I was straight on the phone.
“My first question was if I was too old and they told me I definitely wasn’t.
“I started dancing when I was 45 and I danced for 30 years, I gave it up when I was 75.
“The class started to get a lot of younger people joining and I just thought I need to leave, I didn’t want to injure myself either.
“I missed it so much, but I just always thought I was too old and would never dance again.
“I was worried before the first class that I wouldn’t be able to do it, even though it had only been five years.
“I thought I was going to be too old and struggle, but it was lovely, and I really enjoy it.
“It has brought such joy to my life. I was amazed when I started at 45 but now I’m 80 and ballet dancing.”
Pauline claims she not only enjoys the classes but she also finds them beneficial to her health.
Pauline said: “We don’t come out sweating or breathless, it’s all done at our own pace.
“Everyone goes into the class smiling and leave grinning and feeling like we could fly home.
“I did have a trapped vein in my leg and I got to the point where I was limping, but ballet has completely balanced me out. My legs are stronger, and my balance has improved.”
Retired secretary Mary, 76, admits to having ‘three left feet’ but claims ballet has left her with a better posture and feeling like acclaimed dancer Darcey Bussell.
Mary, who had never danced before joining the group, said: “I’ve got three left feet in all honesty.
“I might have wanted to dance when I was six but nothing more than that. I lived in the countryside so even if you wanted to dance there was nowhere to do it.
“My friends are so amused that I have decided to start ballet dancing, but I enjoy it and that is the main thing.
“I’m not there to win medals, I am there only for my enjoyment.
“It’s a lovely class, even if you get confused our teacher Johanna never gives up on you.
“I leave the class feeling like Darcey Bussell.
“I think with having no immediate family I am more appreciative of the things I do, and I always try to have a bash at anything thrown at me.
“I’m grateful to be able to go to a class like this and keep active and meet new people.
“Since starting the class in October I am a lot more aware of my posture now which is definitely a good thing.
“I do other activities outside of the dancing, but I think it is definitely the ballet which has improved my posture the most as I feel like I stand taller now.”
Gran-of-four Judi quit ballet when she was 18 years old to pursue a nursing career but always kept the art in the back of her mind.
But after picking it up again this year her love for dancing has reignited.
Judi, 78, said: “The first few weeks were a bit strange as I had to realise that your body at 80 doesn’t do what an 18 year old can do, which was hard for me to get to grips with.
“But then I realised you just have to get on with it.
“There are a lot of people our age who don’t do anything and I think I am so lucky that I am able to go out and do things like this, so I try to make the most of it.
“I danced up until I was 18 and then I decided to pursue a career in nursing.
“I did miss it when I gave up, but I also loved my job. I never thought I would go back to it 60 years later.
“It’s really helped my concentration and I feel more active both physically and mentally – it really has helped me a lot.
“It’s nice to do the ballet and then have a bit of a chat and I just love the music and letting myself dance to it and enjoy it.”
As well as the physical improvements, the three ladies say they love how the classes allows them to build relationships with new people.
Mary said: “A lot of my friends go to dance classes where you need a partner, as I’m a widow I can’t really go to those so ballet is perfect for me.
“I’ve also met so many new people and there are a lot of younger people there in their 60s.
“I sometimes see some of the ladies in a yoga class, but you can’t have a chat at classes like that.
“It’s nice to be able to take time after a class to build a relationship.
“All the ladies are so supportive and I think that comes from Johanna. I’m so glad I pushed myself to do it.”
The Royal Academy of Dance’s Director of Education and Training Michelle Groves said: “The Royal Academy of Dance designed Silver Swans specifically for older learners, in response to a growing demand for high quality adult ballet classes.
“Whatever one’s age or experience, dance can bring people together in ways which are as diverse as they are unique.
“Dance can unlock individual potential and abilities and, as our research shows, improve physical and mental well-being.
“Silver Swans classes are delivered by qualified ballet teachers who understand older learner needs to ensure a rich and fulfilling experience for all.”