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A group of seniors with no prior ballet experience performed a ballet show.

By Hanne Chan

Dressing in leggings and ballet skirts, a group of silver-haired dancers marked the end of a ballet performance with energetic smiles and an ending pose in the ‘fourth position’ — one foot placed in front of the other with both feet turned out to the sides.

Most of the 41 dancers did not have any ballet and dancing experience before stepping onto the stage at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on 31st March, including 57-year-old Ann Cheung.

Ballet cheered Cheung with energy. “It makes me feel my moves lighter and look elegant,” she says.

Cheung had never danced ballet, not until she joined the Silver Ballet Camp held by Hong Kong Ballet (HK Ballet).

Held between March 29 and 31, the three-day camp enabled people aged above 55 without ballet experience to learn simple choreography with HK Ballet instructors. On the last day, they performed Swan Lake, the most popular ballet of all time, in front of their families and friends. 

As a businesswoman about to retire, Cheung joined the camp because she wanted to try something new, “The world is so big, why not explore every possibility it holds!” 

“I feel a hundred percent at ease with the help of our teachers, even if I count the beats wrong I can still catch up with their demonstration,” she says.

“I used to think that ballet is difficult and beyond reach from my daughter’s ballet experience and the ballet shows I watched— I believe this is a common misconception (in society),” she says.

The experienced HK Ballet instructors make it easy for Cheung and other participants. “They got us to focus on stretching and better body posture rather than mastering difficult movements like ballet kicks,” she explains.

Overcoming her past presumptions, Cheung finds ballet fun and chill. 

“Turns out it is not as difficult as I imagine, even people from different age groups are able to learn ballet. It is not a must to do a split or other difficult move, just try first and have fun!” she says. 

Cheung believes she will continue practicing ballet, “I get some bad habits on body posture when working and using my phone. I think ballet reminds me to maintain a proper posture, and stretching warm-ups are good for my health as well. I will take it as a sport to do.” 

A spotlight was cast on Chan Jim-waa, another zero-based dancer, during the group dance performance.

Being the only male in the group garnered a lot of audience attention, but the 63-year-old did not appear nervous. 

“Not only in this ballet class, but among all the past activities I joined in community centres, men are always the minority, so I have been used to it, ” he says.

Chan points out there are gender stereotypes about certain activities, including ballet, “Men may think that this kind of activity is a ‘women’s thing’ and not that suitable for men. Men would usually refuse to try it out,” 

“But I don’t think so. Retired men should also come out and have fun! Once you are willing to take the first step, you may discover things that bring you joy and fulfillment.” he adds.

Feeling happy about his performance, Chan says, “It brings me pride. One day, I can tell my grandson that his grandpa was once in HK ballet, in the first Silver Ballet Camp, and performed in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. I can even show off my certificate!”

“It used to be my daughter dancing ballet but now I’ve found my inner child. It’s my turn to do ballet,” Chan jokes.

Half a year before the camp, Chan sustained a herniated disc in his lower back that he could not even walk and was admitted to the hospital.

“I have now recovered, yet it kind of gives me mental pressure that it will recur right before our performance,” he adds.

Despite all the worries, Chan performed on the big day with heartfelt happiness.

“There are things that you may never get the opportunity to try again, and that’s why I always embrace the chance to try things I’ve never experienced before, wholeheartedly, ” he says.

Chan believes that age does not matter when it comes to chasing dreams. 

“Perhaps each of us has our unfinished dreams, so why don’t we just try and chase after them? What matters is living with no regrets,” he says.

“Retirement is not the end, but an exciting beginning of living life to the fullest,” he adds., 

His belief is very similar to the motto of the ballet camp – ‘Joyful learning, ageless delight’. 

“Age is not the main concern when we do ballet. Many may believe that ballet should be taken up at three, but in fact a lot of people start learning ballet in their adulthood. Rather than age, one’s talent, passion, physical and mental condition matters more in ballet,” Vency Kwok Man-si, Senior Education & Community Outreach Manager at HK Ballet says.

Vency Kwok Man-si (front left) and participants interacting with the audience during the performance. (Photo Courtesy of Hong Kong Ballet)

“We do silver ballet for those who always want to dance ballet, but don’t get any opportunities to do it when they are young,” Kwok says.

Kwok notes HK Ballet have consulted The Chinese University of Hong Kong Dance Medicine Research Clinic for elderly-appropriate ballet movements.

“When I first met the camp participants, I emphasized that safety comes first. If you feel you are unable to keep up with our kicks or bends, don’t force yourself to do it,” she says.

As one of the dance instructors in the camp, Kwok holds the Silver Swans License from the Royal Academy of Dance, which certifies her to deliver safe and inclusive ballet classes for adults over 55. 

“Teaching elderly is actually similar to teaching children. Instead of professional language, I use simple wordings to let participants easily remember the movements. For example, when they are waving their hand towards the left side, I tell them ‘the wind blows to the left’, ” she says. 

Kwok says the camp is magical. “Among the 41 participants, only four have dancing experience, but all of them managed to learn and perform the whole routine, including a one-minute group dance in just three days!” 

Participants performing a group dance
(Photo Courtesy of Hong Kong  Ballet
)

She adds that she was touched by her enthusiastic ‘senior students’. 

“Especially for a participant who struggled with coordination and performed in the front row, she was able to dance at last. Overwhelmed with joy, she kept saying ‘I did it’ while hugging the instructors,” she recalls.

“Another participant brought her whole family to watch the performance. Usually, we only reserved two seats for participants’ families and friends, but she bought three extra tickets for her family, including her daughter and her mother. With three generations gathering together, her mother even said that they can join the camp together next time,” she adds.

To spread the healthy and heartwarming energy, HK Ballet will continue to hold silver ballet activities in the future. 

“We will do the camp again. Definitely! ” Kwok says.

Edited by Charlotte Wu

Sub-edited by Lilac Ye

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