The uplifting world of adult ballet

Carla Steenkamp Sheills is pictured at the back, in green. Photo by Annie Dent
Carla Steenkamp Sheills is pictured at the back, in green. Photo by Annie Dent

It’s a quiet, graceful experience, this ballet dancing class with Carla Steenkamp Sheills.

And it’s a new one for me, because, unlike many of the other women in the class, I’ve never done it before.

Ballet for little girls wasn’t a big thing in 1960s rural Somerset

Not my part of the county, anyway. I’ve always had it in my head that ballet was only for posh girls.

So it was with some trepidation that I joined four friends on their weekly outing to the lovely ballroom at The Bull Hotel, with its crystal chandeliers, wooden floor and powder blue walls.

“You must come,” they said. “You’ll enjoy it, you really will.”

And, against all the odds, I actually did.

I’m not the clumsiest of people but I come pretty close. My spatial awareness is not very well developed. I’m forever bumping into door frames and furniture because I misjudge things entirely. So the idea of prancing around with ladies who are old hands at ballet steps filled me with fear.

I’d be useless at it. And what would they think of me?

But as soon as Carla steps out in front of the class at the beginning and gives us a little pep-talk, I realise there is nothing to be scared of.

“It is not about competition or comparison,” she says, in her lovely, lilting South African accent. “Especially competition with yourself. Get rid of those monkeys in your head.”

Carla, who is Royal Academy of Dance trained, runs classes in Dorset and Somerset for women of all ages and ballet experience.

The approach she uses with her pupils is to adapt the classical form to suit people with hip replacements, knee problems, vertebral fusions and a huge range of ailments, even just stiffening of the joints.

joie de vivre increases

“In other words, issues with balance or posture, aches and pains or even low mood and self-confidence,” she says.

“The benefits of practising ballet in this way are far reaching. It is not only physically that you become stronger and more flexible, but you become much more aware of your movement and postural habits. Inevitably you will find that your self-confidence returns and your sense of feeling good or, as our French friends say, joie de vivre increases.”

There is a lovely atmosphere in this class, and it’s not just the environment or the gorgeous classical music. There is a feeling of grace, of collective support from the women who are taking part. Many of them have rediscovered ballet after many years.

Sue Lipscombe used to do ballet from the ages of about three to 12.

“And then boys and school took over,” she recalls. “I got to the stage when I had to decide to do it seriously and I just stopped doing it. To be doing this class is great. It just all comes back. It’s lovely.”

‘It’s absolutely changed my life’

Another lady, who tells me she is nearly 80, says the last time she had done any ballet dancing was when she was 16.

“I didn’t want to go to the gym and sit on a bicycle. And then I found out about this class. With the music you just feel so uplifted.”

Sandy Wells helps Carla with the admin side of the classes after joining a class in Carla’s home village of Winsham.

“It’s absolutely changed my life,” she says. “It’s really ‘me’ time where I can switch off and get balance into my life. I’ve got more and more into it and I see so much change in people. Some who were hesitant in come now can’t keep away. In no time at all, people feel part of an inclusive group.”

By the end of it all, the music and movement has seeped into my limbs and bones. I feel graceful, quiet and a new convert to ballet.

Carla runs five ballet classes:

Bridport Bull Hotel Ballroom: Wednesdays, 9.45am to 11am — intermediate; 11 to 12.15 — beginners

Winsham Jubilee Hall: Wednesdays, 6.30 stretch 7pm to 8pm — ballet class

Winsham Jubilee Hall: Fridays 10 am to 11.15 & 11.30 to 12:30 — both beginners and mixed ability.

All classes are ages 16 to 80+. All sizes and abilities welcome.

Bookings: Sandy Wells 01460 30579

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