Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dancing Feet

Flats, pointes (Freeds not Capezio, unless they were your first few pairs and that pink color was what you needed to fulfill your little-girl fantasies), jazz and character shoes.  Words like box, shank, vamp.  They are not what you might think.  Oh, box and shank, how shall I break thee?  Let me count the ways: wet and wear them, do two hundred plies, bend them between your hands, crush them under your heel, place them in the space of an open door between the hinges and close the door on them, hit them with a hammer, roll over them with a car (no, that was another girl's lie, I don't believe she did it).  When thou art worn beyond belief, how shall I extend thy life?  With Future floor acrylic, of course.  And the feet in the shoes?  I remember the sting of blisters and the lumpy shape of my calloused, deformed toes.  I remember the smell of lamb's wool—fluffy when stuffed into the box of the pointes, a matted sweaty mess and sometimes bloody once you were done.  The ballet bag always contained: spare shoes, extra ribbons and elastics (for the shoes), lamb's wool, toe tape, toe pads (only used surreptitiously, as they were frowned upon), moleskin, nail clippers, Band Aids, an Ace bandage, baby power, aspirin, Neosporin, Tiger Balm, Ben Gay, rubbing alcohol, a sewing kit (needles used as often to pop blisters as to stitch ribbons and elastic on shoes), dental floss (instead of thread for pointes), super glue, clear nail polish (to stop runs in tights), leg warmers, cut-up-Flashdance-style T-shirt, extra tights that all had slits cut in the foot for easy conversion to and from a "footless" version, rubber pants (yes, rubber: a super-strength kind that made you sweat profusely), deodorant, makeup, hairbrush, hair elastics, hair pins, bobby pins, hair nets, extra-hold hair spray (long hair was a given then).  If all this sounds extreme, it is.  Was.  But no more extreme than the way the feet fly in allegro, the way my own feet carried me high and quick and light across the floor.  My feet are so straightlaced now, but they do remember pleasure—sometimes more than the pain.


  1. Yikes! I just took my little daughter to get her 3rd pair of ballet slippers today (Sansha's, whatever they are; the first two were Capezio's!). She was very disappointed that this new class required a BLUE leotard, heaven forbid! Thank goodness that the slippers and tights will still be...sigh, pink. I had a vague notion of how strenuous it was to be a ballerina, but all this graphic imagery of bloody toes is making me wonder if I can afford the back surgery she'll need, after toting that dreaded "ballet bag" around! Hmm, maybe I can still cancel the registration...

    Glad you enjoyed it, at least. She is too.

  2. I left where you continued. I was dying to get to toe shoes, but my ballet school in New Haven moved and my parents decided that the drive to a church! no less was beyond making the effort for me and that was that. I was very sad, I didn't belong in that class, as I was heavier than other girls my age then, but I absolutely loved it and was completely oblivious of my body-I just felt beautiful when I was dancing and I really missed it when I stopped going. I could put my leg up straight against an upright column in the studio and bend completely to the ground, split and straight. Wow, I wish I had that flexibility back.