Kathleen Curwen-Walker is passionate about engaging adults in ballet. Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Curwen-Walker has developed a distinctive training program for adults returning to ballet or for those new to ballet. “We believe that ballet is for everyone, regardless of age or ability,” she says, “and we are committed to providing a safe, supportive and joyful environment. It’s amazing to see the joy, fellowship and support that flourishes within this community, and we are proud to be a part of it.”
Rachel Kitchens, who returned to ballet at age 40, says that dancing at Dance for Life Academy is the way that she feels “encouraged to carry the impacts of stress, work, parenting small children. I feel energized and hopeful after a dance class.”
Using the Cecchetti method which Curwen-Walker is trained in, and licensed to teach, the structure of Curwen-Walker’s program allows participants to enter at a level which provide them with fundamental skills, or advanced choreography. “As a Cecchetti-trained ballet teacher, I am a firm believer in developing ballet technique through a carefully crafted grade system,” says Curwen-Walker. “When I started the adult ballet program at Dance for Life Academy, I wanted to apply this same philosophy to my teaching. I developed a tiered system that offers progression and challenges for adult learners.”
Suzi Wallis, who picked up ballet more recently, says that it “creates a sense of community, friendship, body acceptance, and physical and mental challenge unlike any other exercise. My biggest competitor is me, and there are many role models in the teachers and other students to aspire to.”
“Our students at Dance for Life Academy love the opportunity to perform,” says Curwen-Walker, “and we make sure to provide opportunities for them to do so. Every year, we put on a show onstage in a theatre. It’s wonderful to see our adult students experience the thrill of the stage, even if they thought that opportunity had passed them by. They get to wear beautiful costumes and stunning stage makeup. The adrenaline rush of the performance is palpable, and it’s amazing to see students bond in their shared love of ballet.”
Curwen-Walker says the classes for over 50s, the “Senior Swans,” are “really the jewel in the crown” at Dance for Life. Ann May Morris is a senior swan. “When retiring from nursing in my 70s, joining Senior Swans ballet gave me the chance to rekindle my childhood passion for dance in a safe, happy place,” Morris says, “and I discovered a sisterhood in the Senior Swans that was wonderful and life-changing.”
“What an absolute delight it is to teach this age group a real ballet class that fulfills physical, social and emotional needs, often fulfilling a life time’s dream to learn ballet,” says Curwen-Walker. “Ballet is undoubtedly an athletic form, but we have developed a program that is modified to suit the needs of mature bodies. Our Senior Swans program comprises modified ballet grades that focus on building strength, flexibility and balance – a real ballet class that goes easy on pirouettes and jumps. We have a strong focus on injury prevention and teach the importance of proper warm-up and cool-down techniques.”
Holly, 21, picked up dancing at Dance for Life after diagnosis of chronic illness. “While dancing, I no longer feel held back by my medical condition,” she says. “My body isn’t working against me; it’s working with me. I really get a sense of being in tune with my body, feeling every muscle in use.”
Dance for Life’s offerings also include Adult Ballet Online, with a live streaming and digital coaching system for adult dancers, an innovation Curwen-Walker developed during the pandemic. “With this technology, we can record and show choreography to each class group, ensuring that our students can rehearse at home. It’s just one of the many ways that we strive to be at the forefront of teaching innovation and technology in the dance world,” she says. “Before the pandemic, I had a purist ethos about ballet instruction and was not a believer in online learning. However, the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed my perspective on this. When we were forced to close our studio during lockdowns, I started a new group of complete adult beginner students online. After five weeks of online learning, when we were finally able to return to the studio, I found that they had managed to achieve the basics via my coaching videos. It was because of this that the idea for Adult Ballet Online was conceived.”
For more information or to sign up for a class, visit www.nzballet.co.nz.
By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.