Hands on hips, impatiently waving her fairy wand, my dramatic little three-year-old announced that she wanted to go to dancing class with her best friend. ‘Sure’, I thought, ‘Sounds like fun.’ Nine years later, she lives and breathes dance. From musical theatre to Classical ballet, she loves to perform; her smile lighting up the stage with the pure joy of entertaining.

There is something amazing about growing up in the world of dance. Kids learn a diverse range of skills. They attend multiple classes, perform at concerts, enter competitions and work hard as they strive for that often-elusive first-place trophy. Technique, discipline and correct terminology are taught from the minute they don their first fairy-ballet tutu.

But what if they don’t start dancing until their teenage years?

Megan Ibrahim is a successful owner of three Melbourne-based dance businesses. She worked as a dancer throughout Australia and internationally, and now teaches students of all ages in a variety of styles.  However, she didn’t experience her first dance lesson—in hip-hop—until she was 16.

Megan Ibrahim. Photo credit: Lissa+Laz.

At 18, Megan started ballet lessons for the first time. Within six months, she was committed to a four-week dance tour in China, auditioning and landing paid roles. While Megan’s background in gymnastics kept her in good stead for the switch to dance, she attributes her success to her determination. 

“When I auditioned (for a full-time course), I didn’t even know what a proper plié was. I was flexible and could do cool flips, but I had to learn everything else-turnout, posture, you name it. I used to eat, sleep and breathe ballet. I took my required classes from 8am to 4pm, then took extra lessons and privates until 9pm for a year until I was up to the standard I needed to be,” said Megan.

Beginning dance lessons as a teen require dedication, hard work and lots of practice. A recent graduate of the Stella Mann School College of Performing Arts in England, fashion and lifestyle blogger, Kaitlin Rheanne was 12 when she started ballet, contemporary and jazz classes. Daunted by inexperience, she ‘didn’t understand the lingo and wasn’t too quick at picking things up.’ Ever determined, Kaitlin worked to catch up to the girls who had been dancing since they were young.

“I went home and learned what the terminology meant. I practiced a lot, stretched in my spare time and made sure I hardly missed any classes,” told Kaitlin.

It took a couple of years but Kaitlin caught up and passed her exams with the highest grade in her class. 

Finding the right teacher and studio to support their needs is crucial to the development of a ‘late starter’. Megan recalls being the inexperienced student in a class of elite dancers: “I cried for months. Every day, I was told by teachers and other students to give up…but I knew this was all I wanted to do and I had to make it work.”

Kaitlin, in contrast, found a teacher who was “fantastic, professionally trained.…we shared a passion and got on like a house on fire.” Planning to audition for performing arts college, Kaitlin trained in class and at the gym five nights a week during her final year of high school. Like many of us, Kaitlin experienced moments of intense self-doubt, but the encouragement and support she received from her teacher gave her the strength to strive for success. 

Enrolling in dance can appeal to teens for many reasons. It is great for strengthening the body, increasing flexibility, expressing emotions and spending time with friends. While not everyone has the desire to become a professional dancer, the experience gained from studying the performing arts introduces students to a wider artistic field, expanding their knowledge of choreography, teaching, producing and performing. 

Learning to dance from a young age has many positives, but it also carries the risk of burnout or loss of interest as the dancer matures. Conversely, a teen who chooses to study dance tends to have a positive mindset, finding their new world challenging and exciting.

Megan encourages her students to explore their desire to dance and find their own path to follow, whether in an amateur or professional setting. She believes the key to any dancer’s success is drive and determination, ‘Technique can be taught, but passion will always shine through.’

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