What I Am Up to At 54 ... Know Your Limits, But Don't Stop Pushing Them!
Published: (November, 2012)
Ballet has always held me fascinated. Legs are a definite part of the equation, since ballerinas have such beautiful legs--a feature denied me in my crippled youth. Even now, it's legs that I first notice in others. Along the way, the realization came to me that ballet barre exercise must be very good for developing beautiful legs, and an ideal best way to avoid osteoporosis in my senior years. (See the article Dancer's Solution to Osteoporosis.)
When I searched "Ballet for Adults" on YouTube, I came across a video posted by Russian ballet instructor Ilya Kuznetsov. One commenter asked: "I'm 23 years old...Is it too late to learn ballet?"
Ilya's answer was: "Not at all. My oldest student is over 80!"
That did it for me! I decided for myself: If she/he can do it, I can do it.
Was this person a former dancer and had huge momentum going for her (I assume it was a she) already? It didn't matter. All her advantages, all the things that were going for her were irrelevant.
Why? I have been a raw foodist for fifteen years, and that I believed would make up for anything I was lacking. I knew I could do it. Moreover, I didn't aspire to dance professionally. All I wanted was to be in a ballet class, to strengthen and beautify my legs. I admire people who defy aging. I've seen and often written about a dozen others who don't look their age, don't act their age, and every one of them is an inspiration.
I started phoning every ballet studio in the area asking whether I might join an adult ballet class. I confessed all: I'm 54 years old, I've had eleven major surgeries, and now I have two titanium hips.
Their telephone answers: Ooohh, no...Sorry--that class has just been filled...Ah, no, you see the semester's already started. Some, seeking to be merciful, were vague: Don't think we have anything for you right now...Others were dead blunt: You wouldn't be able to keep up.
Honesty, while usually the best policy, was getting me nowhere. So, at the next studio, I simply showed up one day. And when I had to fill out the release form: Age: I wrote "40+"
I got in. That was a start.
And there I am. Though the class goes by the label "Teens/Adult," most are in the fourteen-to-twenty bracket, some as young as thirteen. How does it feel to be in a class where you're forty years older--two generations--than most everyone else? As my instructor told me later: You have to have guts.
Raw foods have decidedly helped. I have, happily, a body that doesn't make me stand out as old or out of shape. Body-wise, I was very comfortable, not too distinguishable from my twenty-five, even fifteen year-old friends. My performance, however, was poor. My legs, thanks to massive injuries, acted like unruly children, refusing to obey the teacher's instructions. Being at the bottom of my class felt unbearable. The girls themselves, along with the mothers waiting for their daughters, looked at me with incredulity, a few even with disdain: What is this woman doing here?
Again, though, raw foods came to the rescue. How? Energy. Drive. While my classmates were taking classes once or twice per week, I was there every day, with added private lessons. My well-fueled muscles were recovering super-fast. My instructor couldn't believe it. I'd exercise three hours one day and show up on the next, fresh, as if she hadn't drilled me to exhaustion the day before.
Slowly, one day at a time, I was making up the gap in my beginner's class. Each beginner's ballet session lasts 6 weeks, and when I enrolled for the third time, I felt like a pro.
So where am I now? Suffice it to say, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet hasn't called me for an audition. I still face huge limitations. Frankly, I'll probably remain in beginner's classes forever. But now amid those lithe, never-injured teens and twenty-somethings, I can perform decently. For me, that's fabulous. It's absolutely the best that I can do, and it's both healthy for my legs and safe. No pirouettes and grand jetés for me!
Beginner...beginner...beginner. To some, that would feel like not getting anywhere. Every few weeks, a new crop comes in, and I'm still there--the perennial beginner. I'll be a beginner again next time around, and the time after that. There's a difference now: Just the other day, Wanda, one of those watching-and-waiting moms actually joined the class! She told me it was I who'd given her the inspiration and the courage--despite her being "past it"--to try it out. How wonderful--now I'm not the only one over forty!
What's the real purpose of my work? If I wanted to capture in a wink's worth of text what I'm trying to achieve through my books, newsletters, and daily social media posts, it would be simply this: to inspire you to live up to your highest potential.
I'm delighted when someone gets the message, gets the benefit, and starts toward becoming her best. Here's a recent email:
I just wanted to say thank you for the beauty you put out into the world, Tonya! I discovered you one day on YouTube and am so grateful ... You have helped me change my diet, my health, my very life. I'd never thought myself capable of maintaining a raw food diet. But with your wonderful books to lead me thru the journey, inspiring and motivating me, along with your line of pure products to nourish and polish my exterior, I am making the transition beautifully! I feel and look amazing. Approaching my late 40s, I am so excited about what life has in store for me now! THANK YOU. I send gratitude and wish many blessings for you and your family this Thanksgiving ... Ana