Morag McCallum: “I fulfilled my lifelong dream to become a ballet dancer aged 70!”

Morag ballet dancer

Morag McCallum has always wanted to be a ballerina

When Morag McCallum fell in love with ballet at the tender age of three, she prayed that her parents would let her go to the barre. Sadly, her frugal family couldn’t spare the cash, and little Morag never got the chance to make her dream come true. For seven decades, she believed she’d missed her opportunity until a random Facebook advert gave her lost dream new life…

I have dreamed of becoming a ballerina ever since I was three-years-old, and my sister had these beautiful cards with ballerinas on them. I just loved looking at them, and I used to find articles in girls’ comics that showed you how to do the moves, and I’d practice them all the time.

At primary school, a girl in my class started telling me she was learning ballet, so I rushed home to ask my mother if I could start too. But my older sisters were already taking piano lessons, and my mother was determined that’s what I would do too, so that was that.

Having lived through the war and its hardships, my parents wouldn’t consider spending money on two hobbies in the family, so I had to put it out of my mind.

children ballet

Morag wasn't able to learn ballet as a child

I had a bit of hope years later when I was at university, and one of the girls I knew was a ballet dancer. I thought, ‘Oh yes!’ and asked if I could attend a class, but she said, ‘Oh no, they don’t do beginner classes for adults!’ so that’s when I really thought it would never happen for me.

But I was on Facebook one day last year, and an advert popped up in my feed for a group called Silver Swans. The group was for older people to learn ballet, and I couldn’t believe it.

Without hesitation, I wrote off to say I was interested and soon signed up. My Silver Swan Beginner Ballet Class started in January this year, and I was so excited to get going.

I’ve always kept fit through activities like wild swimming, which I’ve been doing for a while. However, last September, I had a nasty bout of COVID, which turned into long COVID, and I was apprehensive about my energy levels, but I needn’t have worried.

learning ballet

Morag loved her first lesson and couldn't wait to do more

My first class was so wonderful – I was fulfilling my lifelong dream. Our instructor, Johanna, is super – lovely and chatty and not patronising in the least. She’s great at giving clear instructions and encouragement, and she’s full of ballet anecdotes, which helps us in the class catch our breath between movements.

The classes are so accessible as they are done via Zoom. I have anxiety, and it sometimes prevents me from leaving the house, so these classes are perfect as I can do them in the comfort and safety of my own home.

I use my dining room chair as my barre, and I never worry about getting things wrong. After all, we’re all too busy trying to follow Johanna and watching our own form to worry about judging each other.

ballerina dancing

Silver Swans ballet mistress Johanna Hadley teaches online classes

I’ve noticed so many positive changes in my health since I became a Silver Swan – my posture and balance have improved immensely. Last summer, I slipped on some seaweed when I was wild swimming and broke a few ribs that were very sore.

I found out because of the accident that I have osteoporosis, but ballet has really helped me with balance and stamina. You are constantly working your core, and it’s a good all-around exercise for the rest of your body. My grandchildren think what I’m doing is ‘cool’, they are very supportive.

The Silver Swans community is lovely, too. Johanna starts the Zoom ten minutes before class so we can all chat and see how everyone is doing. People attend from all over the place – there’s a lady in France who joins in. When I was on holiday recently, my friend and I attended from our rooftop terrace in Morocco, which made the rest of the class very jealous as it was pouring with rain in the UK.

online classes

The classes are conducted on Zoom for Silver Swans all over the UK - and beyond

I can’t yet say that I feel like a ballerina because I’m still learning. But I don’t mind being a learner – I’m loving it! When we conclude the class with a grand finish, that’s when I feel most like a ballerina and I intend to keep going and keep improving.

My advice to anybody who has spent their lives wishing they’d learnt ballet is to sign up for the Silver Swans and go for it! You can be as energetic as you like, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t do everything as long as you are trying. It’s a terrific thing to do for your physical health.

It took me 70 years to start ballet, and I’m so glad I got to make my dream happen. Little Morag would be delighted to hear I finally did it. It’s never too late to fulfil a dream, especially when you are older, as you are less frightened of failing. I just think to myself, ‘What have I got to lose?’

If you’d like to find out more about Johanna Hadley’s Silver Swans class, visit the website here.