Frank Costello never thought much about ballet, never attended a performance or knew a dancer.
His interests in the arts were limited to piano lessons, ballroom dancing and round dancing.
But one day not long ago, the retired 81-year-old computer programmer saw a DVD of a "Sleeping Beauty" stage production and fell in love. He was deeply moved by the grace and beauty of the dancers and felt compelled to learn more.
The Waterford resident checked out a book from the library on the Joffrey Ballet and saw old people in dance classes. He started thinking; if they could do it, why not him?
He opened a phone book and researched studios. By September, he was enrolled in beginning ballet at Juline School of Dance in Modesto.
Last Tuesday evening, at his last class before the summer break, he joined students more than six decades younger in push-ups, sit-ups and stretches at the barre. The weekly class was mostly filled with teen girls.
"It's humbling," Costello said about his classmates. "If you think you're going to be better than they are, they'll clean your clock in a second."
He plans to practice over the summer and re-enroll in September when classes start again. His goal? To be able to perform a pirouette (a full turn on one leg) and dance in the end-of-the-year recital.
Debbie Bertucci, who co-owns the dance studio, said she was surprised when Costello turned in his registration. In her 21 years at the helm, she had seen students in their 60s sign up for classes, but never someone his age.
She knew Costello was taking the class seriously when he showed up in ballet tights rather than sweat pants. "It was so unique and so encouraging to older people," she said.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Costello moved to Modesto after retiring in 1990 because his wife wanted to be closer to her children in the area. They have since separated.
Tall, skinny and admittedly "not at all graceful," he said he likes ballet because it is teaching him coordination. He enjoys that it's something he can do himself without waiting for a partner.
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He hasn't progressed as far as he would like and is declining to participate in the end-of-year recital at Graceada Park because he doesn't think he is good enough.
"Improvement is not as rapid in an 80-year-old," he said. "You have to settle for less. All the kids have improved a lot more."
Still, he isn't discouraged. He has installed a barre in his garage so he can practice at home.
He is keeping his physical strength up by taking classes at Waterford's Young at Heart senior exercise classes.
Suri Nunez, 14, who joined the beginning ballet class in January, said she likes Costello and is impressed with how dedicated he is. He always arrives early, is friendly and considerate, she said. "At first, I thought it was odd," she said. "I knew guys were in ballet but I never met one. I got used to it."
Kathy Hardy, 47, the only other adult in the class, said she is impressed with Costello's work ethic.
"He's great," she said. "He's not the best ballet dancer, but he's out there doing it. It's inspiring."
Francine English, Costello's ballet instructor, said she brags about him to her friends. She mentions him to people who think they're too old to dance.
"It's rewarding seeing him trying something new so late in life," she said.
Bertucci said ballet is wonderful for seniors because it keeps them moving. She thinks she hasn't had more enrolled because seniors are intimidated by being with youth. To correct that problem, she's thinking of offering a beginning class in the fall for adults 40 and older.
Costello hopes the new class is a success.
"I'm very selfish -- I would like to get more oldies here," he said.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2313.