Rhona Ganguly discovers why fitness fanatics are swapping the gym for the dancehall as ballet enjoys a resurgence
Depending on whether you were a tomboy or a girly-girl, childhood ballet classes were either the stuff of nightmares, with discipline and demanding teachers, or a chance to live out all those fairy fantasies in a tutu and pink satin shoes.
Every little girl who did enjoy their classes aimed to one day dance "en pointe" on tiptoes and become a prima ballerina as they pranced about in mirrored rooms.
But what was once regarded as a childhood activity to instill confidence, grace and poise in little minds and bodies has fast become an alternative to going to the gym for adults.
With class numbers on the increase, dance schools in the Midlands have seen adults flock to learn the art - favoured for its ability to help tone the more mature body.
According to dancer Joelle Barker, dance classes have never been so enjoyable.
While the discipline aspect of the art is still there, Ms Barker, who teaches classical ballet and other disciplines including tap and jazz at The Dance Workshop in Alcester Road, Moseley, said many schools, including her own, have adopted a more relaxed and inclusive atmosphere for classes.
"We have noticed that ballet has a high rate of regular attendees, who continue to progress and it is never too late to start," she explained.
"We teach all levels of classical ballet and we work from a body awareness basis at first.
"When we first opened in Moseley in 2001 we had one ballet class for adults, with an average of five students. Now we have 30 regulars.
"The children's classes have more than quadrupled from an average of 30 to around 150 students.
"Now we have eight to ten people in each class, with three adult classes for beginners, level two and level three, each week. There are also advanced classes."
She said one of the reasons for the increase in attendance was improved awareness of the benefits.
"Ballet is good for posture and strength and we always work on physical fitness and correct alignment and then we go through all of the steps and everyone is welcome to do it," she said.
"When people get older, they get into bad habits and it can be hard to break them, so what we do is try to get them back to basics.
"One of the best and most fundamentally attractive elements of ballet is the discipline. It gives you poise and precision and it is a great exhilarating workout all round." Ms Barker said reality TV had also contributed to class increases.
"There has been an increase with most dance forms, and recently with Ballet Hoo! Ballet Changed My Life," she said.
The Ballet Hoo! programme, which began in late 2004, saw 70 disadvantaged youngsters from Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton take part in the Birmingham Royal Ballet production of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet in September.
The 18-month project combined ballet and the arts, fitness, personal development training and life coaching to help the young enhance their lives.
* For information on ballet classes visit www.thedanceworkshop.net.