Why are so many Gen Z-ers learning ballet in their late 20s?

Thumbnail credit: @patriciaaajones_, @byellishajade / Screenshots TikTok

Gen Zers, specifically women in their late 20s, have been taking to TikTok to reveal that they’re learning ballet for the first time. While taking up a hobby in adulthood isn’t anything new, this wholesome trend has sparked conversation, begging the questions: Why ballet and why now?

Patricia Jones (@patriciaaajones_), who resides in Iceland, has documented her journey with ballet since July 2022, when she posted about her first ballet performance at 23. Now 24, Jones has been consistently practicing ballet for over a year and a half and has dedicated her TikTok feed to sharing her experiences as a beginner who’s “living out [her] childhood dreams.”

“I did ballet as a small child, but due to conflicting school schedules and financial constraints, I had to stop,” she told Yahoo News, adding that she tried to get back into it at 14 but was told by her previous studio that it was too late for her. “However, at 23, during a challenging period in my life, I realized I didn't want to live with regrets and went looking for ballet classes that could take adults. ... I asked the only friend that I knew who did ballet if she knew about something like that in our city, which led her to invite me to try out the classes that she took, as it had a very diverse group not only in skill levels but also in age.”

Ellisha-Jade (@byellishajade), a TikTok creator who also began taking adult ballet classes earlier this year, revealed that she feels no pressure to adhere to any expectations when it comes to skills; you are free to take the class at your own pace. Like Jones, she was a dancer and gymnast when she was younger but gave it up.

“It’s open and welcoming to anyone and everyone from any ability level, and everyone is so supportive of each other,” Jade told Yahoo News. “Your progress and pressure is only that of what you put on yourself. If you want to do it for fun, that’s fine! If you want to progress, that’s fine too! [It’s an] extremely non-judgmental and fun environment.”

‘A brighter audience and community’

What compels dancers to teach beginner adult classes? Katie Rose Cunin, a Los Angeles-based actress and ballet teacher who offers private training for adults, told Yahoo News that newcomers and returning dancers “deserve the dignity” and “ritual” of the ballet classroom.

“Welcoming new dancers into the world of musicality, strength, patience, and grace only creates a brighter audience and community,” she explained. “One of my biggest and most worthy challenges is guiding adult dancers to look at themselves in the studio mirror with kindness and curiosity. We come in with so much shame and so many damaging ideas about how we are ‘supposed to’ look or move, before we’ve even begun.”

‘Breaking the mold’

The gravitation toward the art form, while uplifting, arguably comes as somewhat of a surprise given its historically exclusive nature. Notoriously expensive training and a failure on the part of companies to provide proper support for dancers of color are among the persisting issues ingrained in the ballet industry, per Pointe Magazine. Research published in the 2005 Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal and obtained by Dance Nutrition also found that more than 75% of dancers feel pressure to lose weight due to comparative mirror thoughts, tight-fitting uniforms and costumes, beliefs that lower body weight offers a performance advantage and casting.

Alicia Mae Holloway (@aliciamaeholloway), a 27-year-old professional ballerina based in New York City, believes that this “incredible” trend of women starting ballet in their 20s is “breaking the mold” of what it means to be a ballet dancer. These women, Holloway told Yahoo News, are challenging the notion that ballet is only for people who started when they were young, are petite and flexible, have long legs and are fair-skinned.

“It’s not even that long ago, people thought that people of color could not excel at any given classical art form, because ballet has a history of only being catered to a specific group of people,” she explained. “I think all the time how lucky I am and [how] blessed I am to live in a world where my generation is pushing boundaries and changing false narratives that have been created by people before us.”

Healing their inner child

While there isn’t necessarily an all-encompassing reason as to why a woman in her late 20s may feel inclined to take up ballet, Kim Homan, a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Tennessee Behavioral Health, told Yahoo News that choosing to do so could serve as a tool for healing the inner child.

“This concept in psychology refers to nurturing and healing the part of one's psyche that still reacts and feels as a child would,” she said. “The discipline and beauty of ballet, coupled with the physical expression of emotions, can be a powerful medium for addressing unresolved childhood issues or for simply providing a therapeutic outlet.

Your 20s, Homan explained, are also a transitional period from the “structured” life of adolescence to the responsibilities of adulthood.

“Engaging in an activity like ballet, which some may have aspired to in childhood but never pursued, can be a way of revisiting and fulfilling those early, simpler dreams,” she added.

In late November 2023, Jones fulfilled one of her goals: to dance in a production of The Nutcracker. She posted a video of the occasion on TikTok on Nov. 29, writing, “I can’t believe that I actually did it.”

Jones is grateful for the growing trend of women beginning their ballet careers in their 20s. She hopes to see more women documenting their experiences online in the future. While she doesn’t have the “stereotypical ballerina body type,” Jones said she’s thrilled to see other women like herself pursue ballet simply because they love it.

“It makes me really happy to see more women sharing similar journeys to mine, as it not only encourages me to keep going but also it's the type of content that I wish I had seen growing up. If I had seen it, at 14 when I was told it was too late to start, I would have just gone to next studio and asked to join again,” she said.