Adult Beginner Ballet: Never Too Late To Live Your Dream

Kathy Mata Ballet performs Swan Lake (photo courtesy of North Beach Digital)

I once read that the meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away. I guess that’s one reason I’ve continued to always pursue my passion in life – studying and performing dance and in particular for me, ballet. And, truly inspiring teachers have helped me uncover and realize that passion. Kathy Mata, from Alonzo King Lines Dance Center is one of them.

It was my classes with her that ultimately became the inspiration for me to form Adults in Ballet:  Philanthropy for Dance. And, part of that inspiration also came in the form of a documentary that Michelle Ortega, one of her students and a professional filmmaker (of North Beach Digital), produced about Kathy Mata’s work, titled “Adult Beginner Ballet.”

In “Beginning Ballet, Big Ambition” a recent article on Dance Studio Life, both the documentary and the teacher were highlighted. Perhaps I’m biased, but I feel that Kathy’s style of teaching encourages even the most timid of us to muster the courage to take class and to keep going.  As the article states:  “… Mata is made for the camera. She punctuates her hard-driving instruction with quick jokes and constant praise. Whether demonstrating a common beginner mistake like the “mad horse” – a developpe to the back with leg turned in—or rattling off the names of all 30-some students in the room to assure them that she “sees them all,” Mata is as entertaining on film as she is in person.”

Kathy is also director and founder of Kathy Mata Ballet, a company she founded 23 years ago to give non-professionals the opportunity to perform. The company gives Mata’s students a chance to progress to stage performances. In the documentary, both her teaching and her company are showcased. As Mata states in the article “… teaching adult beginners, I feel I am exactly where I should be. My students have wonderful potential; they are capable of much more than people realize.”

It never is too late to live your dreams. Thank you Kathy and thank you Michelle for showing us.

The documentary, Adult Beginner Ballet, can be viewed at

What makes Ballet look effortless?

Ballet, to me, is the telling of a story, the emotions of it through line of the body, the movements, the gestures set to music. The controlled and contained movements give it that effortless, ethereal quality that captivates. Ballet dancers study for years to master and attain the physical abilities necessary to achieve this look and feel.

Thinking back of who some of the great Ballet stars were at the time I was growing up:  names come to mind like Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov to name just a few. What was it about their dancing that lead them to fame – what were the qualities of the way they moved that gave them that effortless grace, that spontaneity of movement that also captured the emotion of the dance  – what were the physics of it in play that made it seem so effortless?

In her new book, “Apollo’s Angels:  A History of Ballet”, author Jennifer Homans describes ballet this way:  “At the origins of ballet lay two ideas:  the formal mathematical precision of the human body and the universality of human gesture”.

Perhaps one way this formal, mathematical precision of the body can be described – is that it’s the push pull movement between one end of a limb (or one end of the entire body) pushing or pulling in the opposite direction of the other end – so that the extension of this other end lengthens it into the illusion of infinity – the lengthening of that line into what’s called “extension”. And, all the while, the body is trained so that it’s strong enough to be held in place while the limbs accomplish these movements or are held still.

I asked one of my teachers, Sally Miramon, of The Alonzo King Lines Dance Center in San Francisco, to comment on this. Here’s what Sally had to say about this:

“There are many reasons for ballet dances to appear effortless and graceful. As a teacher, or choreographer, the dancer must have at least the following 5 elements:

1) Musicality – The ability to fit a dance to the music being played, by relating the dance to the music’s rhythm, melody, and mood.

2) Technical control/ training to execute movement with the proper timing and required spatial range

3) Core strength to hold the body in place from which the limbs move or are held

4) A sense of personal body lines that look best for your body type

5) Coordination within ones body and working with others.

All of the 5 comes from daily training and the ability to change and try something new. The body is constantly changing as a result of the type of training and rehearsals undertaken. Knowledge of how ones body reacts to fatigue, illness and etc., is important as it will determine what one needs to do to execute dance steps under different situations. This can only come with training and practice.”

This, I think, is a good, all-round explanation of why Ballet looks seemingly effortless. And, for those of us who’ve taken Ballet for any length of time all know — it takes time, focus, determination and dedication to achieve that look.