There’s a stigma against older ballet dancers. Meet a Toronto woman who’s trying to change that | CBC News

Patricia Pyrka joined her first ballet class at the age of 37 with zero dancing experience under her belt.

This fall, she’s headed to the National School of Ballet’s one-year teacher training program hoping to dispell the stigma against older ballet dancers and getting more of them involved.

“It’s absolutely possible for an adult to get into ballet and get better at ballet. Just like for children, the process might look a little different,” said Pyrka.

“For me, understanding the challenges that an adult has to learning is crucial because then I can help.”

Ballet dancers traditionally start lessons in early childhood in preparation for professional dance years down the road. But Pyrka says her unconventional route to ballet can make her a better teacher for those who don’t see themselves represented onstage.

“Ballet historically has been quite, in a way, exclusive, elitist and … requiring people to start very young and have the perfect body,” said Pyrka. 

“That is changing now … I think it’s beautiful to make ballet acceptable to people, no matter what physical disability they have, what kind of body type. We just start at a certain point and then we get better.”

Finding the right support 

Pyrka says her hard work over the years helped her in her successful journey to the National Ballet School of Canada teaching program, but it wasn’t a linear path.

“I tried that audition three years ago and I didn’t even make it through the first round.”

Patricia Pyrka started practising ballet at the age of 37. In the eight years she’s been dancing, she’s performed for street audiences and started a blog for other adult ballet dancers. (Submitted by Patricia Pyrka)

She says as much as her hard work paid off, it was also important to find the right mentors who would take adult dancers seriously, like Kate Kernaghan, the in-studio director for the National Ballet of Canada. 

Kernaghan, who taught Pyrka at the beginning of her dance career, says her potential came through in the drive and curiosity she displayed in class.

“That is what makes an incredibly strong dancer, and that is what makes an even more incredible teacher,” said Kernaghan.

Finding inspiration

Pyrka says she gets a lot of inspiration from her 15-year-old son, Finnan, who uses a wheelchair. She says they both benefit from watching each other learn things later in life — for Finnan, how to walk with canes and unassisted, and for Pykra, how to dance.

“Learning is a lifelong process,” said Pyrka.

Pykra is a single mother to her son, Finnan, who has cerebral palsy. She says her son has inspired her to champion inclusivity and accessibility in ballet. (Submitted by Patricia Pykra)

“It’s not something that you stop when you start school or your first job or get kids, it continues until you die.”

While she works toward her certificate, she hopes older ballet hopefuls learn that improving your skill is more than just practice and hard work.

“Try to keep the consistency, but mostly make sure you enjoy the process.”

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