Barbara Peters has been dancing for almost nine decades, and last year passed the Royal Academy of Dance’s most advanced exam with the top grade eight.
No concession was made for the 82-year-old’s age, despite the fact that she is thought to be Britain’s oldest ballet dancer.
But, having achieved the highest grade in the sport, the grandmother-of-eight still isn’t ready to hang up her ballet pumps. She says ballet is her life and she will keep going as long as she is able to stand on two legs.
She says her secret is consistency: ‘I’m still dancing now because I have never stopped doing ballet,’ Barbara tells Metro.co.uk. ‘So I have never had to think about keeping going with it as such.
‘Obviously, if you want to keep fit in older age you have to put more work into it, make sure you watch your diet and maintain some level of exercise, but my advice would be; unless your body can’t physically do it, don’t stop.’
Barbara is also inspired to keep going by her daughter. Claire O’Connor runs successful international pre-school dance franchise, babyballet – and Barbara can’t help but be moved by her daughter’s passion.
‘Helping children to develop confidence and movement skills that will serve them for life while they’re young is vitally important,’ she explains.
‘Our specially developed syllabus is an indirect way of me being able to pass on my knowledge of the medium that plays such a huge part in my life, to generations of children both now and to come.’
While she hasn’t suffered any major injuries through ballet, Barbara did have an accident while playing on a trampoline with her grandson. But she says her baseline fitness meant she was back on her feet much quicker.
‘I injured my back quite badly,’ she says. ‘But I was so frustrated because it was completely avoidable and self-inflicted. Luckily, because I’m still fit, I’m now almost fully recovered – and I’ve been able to continue teaching through my recovery.
‘However, that accident is the only thing that’s stopped me dancing since I started all those years ago, which I don’t think is too bad in 82 years on the planet.’
But Barbara does admit that there have been challenges that have slowed her down over the years – it just means she needs to be more mindful and pay attention to her body.
‘As I’ve got older, I’ve had to learn to adapt and adjust my dancing to what I can and can’t achieve with my body,’ she explains. ‘For example, I can’t get the level of spring I need to get my jumps to great heights anymore.
‘I’ve also got a slight problem with my ears which can affect my balance, so I’ve had to work out how to modify some ballet moves so it doesn’t look too obvious.
‘I can’t pirouette six or seven times in a row like I used to, or jump as high as I once could, but I’m 82 and, whether the moves I perform are slightly watered down or not, I’m still going.’
Barbara is a strong believer that getting old doesn’t have to mean giving up the things you love. It’s about finding out what works for you.
‘You might just need to modify how you do it,’ she says.
‘You have very little control over what happens to the inside of your body. You could develop many of the illnesses that are associated with getting older, but I’m a big believer that you can control what happens to it on the outside.
‘In my opinion, staying active as you get older plays a major part in keeping mobile, and dancing is a fantastic way to do it.
‘I’m still dancing because I can. When I can’t, I can’t – but until that day comes, why should I stop just because I’m getting older?’
Barbara started ballet when she was nine years old. A friend’s mum took her to a class and she was immediately hooked.
‘Simply put, ballet is my life. It is me,’ says Barbara.
‘By the time I was 18, I remember my father really wanted me to go to university because he didn’t think being a dancer was a real profession. But I was so determined to follow my passion to study dance and managed to persuade him that dancing was a “real job”.
Barbara left sixth form and had to work incredibly hard to get the money together to fund her dance teacher’s course.
At the time, there wasn’t much funding available for people wanting to study dance, as she says dance was seen as ‘a bit of a frivolity’, but she managed to raise enough to get through her three-year residential course at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.
‘Fast forward quite a number of years and my three children were born,’ explains Barbara. ‘They all were encouraged to enjoy dancing when they were young, but my eldest daughter, Claire, who’s now 46, took a shine to ballet and danced until she was about 14.
‘She’s now the CEO of babyballet, a preschool dance and ballet syllabus. The company is celebrating its 15th year in business this year and has 83 franchises in the UK plus in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand.
‘My love for ballet really has transcended my whole family and continues to be a huge part of our daily lives. We’ve gone so far as to take it worldwide.’
Barbara also teaches Silver Swans – a programme from the Royal Academy of Dance for over 55s who haven’t done ballet before, plus a repertoire class once a week.
‘I’d like to think I’m sensible enough to know when I shouldn’t be doing ballet anymore, but as long as I can still stand on two legs, I can’t imagine stopping,’ she says.
‘In fact, I’m taking an exam in March to achieve accreditation for my repertoire class, so I have no plans to hang up my pumps any time soon.’
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