The Serious Adult Student

Occasionally we come across a dancer who is a serious adult student. This dancer is most certainly not a beginner; in fact he or she may have undergone years of serious training. But due to a late start, or halted, interrupted training, this serious adult dancer is not YET dancing at a professional level.

I have such a student. And teaching her, and getting to know her, has been one of the more interesting and educational experiences of my career. She has opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the adult student.

I first met Imani a number of years ago in an open class in New York City. She appeared to be a typical, well trained, “adult” intermediate dancer; the kind of dancer one sees in open classes all the time. She was warm and friendly and we chatted for a while after the class. She expressed to me her dismay at not being able to find a ballet teacher who would really take an interest in her, because, you see, “I am going to be a professional ballet dancer”.

Well, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know how old she was, but she appeared to be past thirty. She was quite a lovely dancer, but certainly not dancing at a professional level. She was still years away from having the goods to secure a contract. And who STARTS a ballet career that late? I thought to myself “She’s sweet but a bit crazy and delusional”, I finished our chat, said good bye and figured I’d never see her again. But the universe had other plans.

I kept running into her. I kept chatting with her. I taught her some private lessons. I got to know her better and better and I came to realize that she isn’t crazy or delusional at all. She is on a quest; a quest that SHE KNOWS is crazy. Who trains as an adult for a career in ballet? NO ONE. So, as she simply stated: “How do we know that it absolutely can’t be done?” She is without a doubt the most educated student I have ever met. She has read everything that has ever been written on ballet. She has an encyclopedic grasp of ballet history, music and repertoire. She has a comprehensive knowledge of all the major training systems; and she has an exhaustive knowledge and deep understanding of how the Vaganova method is constructed and works. I wish my pre-professional students had this kind of interest, this kind of drive. She has studied with all of the finest teachers in New York. In fact she has traveled to Cuba for months at a time to study with the legendary Cuban teachers. And all of this, is part of her quest. Like Don Quixote who looked at a windmill and saw a giant, or looked at the kitchen wench Aldonza and saw the highborn lady Dulcinea, Imani looks at her future and sees a ballerina. And like the noble Don Quixote, and all dreamers who are on a quest, this dream, this quest, consumes their lives. And what could be more beautiful, or more fulfilling for a dancer, than a life consumed by the study of ballet? And also, like Don Quixote, these dreamers are surrounded by voices that say “It can’t be done.”. And they must not listen to those voices. They must not let those voices win. There is no way to know where these quests may lead. And Imani’s quest is taking her down uncharted paths. These are paths that she must follow because the pain of failure is not nearly as bad, as deep or as profound as the pain of wondering what might have been. And sadly, that is something that I have learned through personal experience.

So just as Don Quixote’s quest deeply touched and changed the life of the kitchen wench, Imani’s journey will touch the lives of countless dancers and teachers. And there is no way to foresee what effect she may have, what impact she may make along the way. There is also no way to foresee where her path may ultimately lead; but this path, this life, is a life filled with the love of art, the discipline of study, and the passion for an unachievable goal. And perhaps it may lead to the stage because as she so eloquently stated “How do we know that it absolutely can’t be done?”

Visit Imani’s website/blog:


5 thoughts on “The Serious Adult Student

  1. I love this. I often say jokingly-though it really isn’t that much of a joke-that I plan to make my Broadway debut in my 50’s, once my son goes off to college (he is going to be a sophomore in high school this fall). At the very least, I plan to return to some auditioning, as I will have considerably more freedom then! Regardless, I will never stop dancing unless and until I absolutely am no longer able to dance!!!


  2. This was definitely me, several decades ago, and I did end up performing in 50+ Nutcrackers with a small regional ballet company, before thousands, over a ten year period. We even toured to the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island, to do children’s theater versions of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella” – as the non-profit Valley Forge Dance Theatre. I trained as an adult, in pre-professional classes, with John White and Margarita de Saa at their Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet in Narberth, PA. Did Summer Intensives in NYC (John Barker), Chicago (Ruth Page), London (Royal Ballet RAD), Copenhagen (Bournonville), and Russia (Vaganova Academy.) My path led me to buying the Valley Forge Dance School (as my second career) from its original retiring owner, and I continue to produce and perform in our Nutcrackers, along with my teen/adult students. As I tell my pupils: “Just because you can’t dance in Lincoln Center, doesn’t mean you can’t dance elsewhere.”

    Liked by 1 person

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