Proof That It’s Never Too Late to Be a Beginner

Think it's too late to pursue your passion? This 71-year-old ballerina would beg to differ

Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report

When my oldest daughter was in first grade, the teacher invited the students to participate in a class talent show. She kept it low-key. Kids could share a talent or not. They could join in or bail out at the last minute with zero consequences. Parents were invited. And it was a delight.

Kids played instruments and did cartwheels right there in the classroom. My favorite was a boy who shared his talent for collecting rocks. Holding a jar of what looked to the rest of us like boring gray gravel, he pulled them out one by one and told us what he liked about each. “This one’s grayish. This one’s grayish-bluish. …”

She had always wanted to be a ballerina but she didn’t dare ask her parents for lessons because she knew they didn’t have enough money for them.

Beginners of All Ages

When the kids were done, it was the teacher’s turn. Mrs. Blilie approached a keyboard she had set up for her students. She told the kids that she had always wanted to play the piano but her family hadn’t had the money for lessons when she was growing up.

Forty or so years later she had decided to take the plunge and take lessons. Now she was making her piano debut.

She was nervous, she told us. And then she took out her book — Book 1 in a series familiar to budding pianists and the parents who make them practice. She carefully plunked out a melody that lasted a minute at most. It was a brave move, particularly since a first-grader with one arm in a cast had moments before performed a masterful rendition of a more complicated tune from Book 2.

Dreams Deferred

Doreen Pechey has a similar story. She had always wanted to be a ballerina but she didn’t dare ask her parents for lessons because she knew they didn’t have enough money for them. Instead, she studied hard, grew up and became an engineer.

But her desire to study ballet remained. In retirement, she went for it. At age 61, she took her first ballet class. And now, at 71, she’s become the oldest person on record to pass Britain’s ballet grade six exam. Getting to level six was important to Pechey.

“I wanted to be able to become an affiliate member of the Royal Academy of Dance, but you have to get grade six or higher. And now I’m an affiliate member,” a beaming Pechey told BBC South Today in a video that’s been making the rounds on Facebook (see clip below).

Like Mrs. B., Pechey sets a bold example for us all.


The “Silver Swan” dancing into the record books Doreen Pechey has just become the oldest person in Britain to take and pass her ballet grade six exam. The 71-year-old who has lessons in Reading only started learning ballet after reaching retirement age.

Posted by BBC South Today on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

By Heidi Raschke
Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.@heidiraschke
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