Friday, February 11, 2011

Flashback Friday - Dancing En Pointe

Many years ago, when I was in junior high, I took ballet and pointe lessons.  Having tried tap dance in elementary school, I found that I preferred ballet and concentrated on that once I reached 12 years old instead of doing the joint tap and ballet lessons that are commonly done with children.

When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I remember wanting to dance en pointe (also just referred to as pointe) which means dancing "on the tips of the toes." It is part of classical ballet technique, usually practiced using specially reinforced shoes called pointe shoes or toe shoes.

Sophia trying on my pointe shoe.

My toe shoes were pink with pink satin laces.  To protect them, I put a white canvas covering on them so that they would look nice for the end-of-the-year recital.  I'm glad I did this because the canvas coverings were so dirty and beat-up looking after a few practices that they always needed washing.  

This fall, I found my toe shoes, the canvas shoe coverings, the sheepskin padding (this covered the toes and helped protect and cushion them a bit when dancing), ballet slippers, and leotard (actually it was one of the half-leotards - we would just wear shirts with the half-leotards and tights in class) in my yellow dance bag.  I was cleaning out a closet and getting rid of things that I no longer needed or wanted.  The shoes...well...even though I don't wear them I couldn't part with them.

So, I pulled them out and showed my daughters.  They were fascinated with how different the shoes looked from traditional ballet slippers.  "Put them on! Put them on!" they begged.

"It's been years since I've worn these," I said as I put them on.  Wrapping the ribbons around my ankles seemed second-nature.  It's like riding a don't even think about how you're just is an automatic skill.  

"I remember the first time the girls and I were in class and put on our shoes.  We all took the ribbons and started wrapping them up our legs - like up to our knees!  When our dance teacher - who had left the room for a moment and then came back - saw us, she yelled in a rather sharp tone, 'What are you girls doing?  That's not how you put on the shoes."  She wasn't known for her gentle delivery or guidance.

Sophia trying on my shoes from many years ago.

By that time, I had my shoes on.  "Mom, go up on your toes!" 

"'s been years, girls, since I've danced."

"That's ok....just go up on your toes," they said as their eyes were focused on the shoes. 

And all I had to do was go up en pointe and show them a few warm-ups and steps that I could remember.  It was interesting how quickly I could recall standing at the barre and doing the various exercises and positions. 

It was a good workout and something I enjoyed doing.  The only drawback was that I never did find a solution to getting blisters or the skin ripped off my toes each week.  I would wear bandaids and trim my nails so low, but it didn't matter.  I think the pressure of the toes against one another in such a tiny space created problems despite the padding and bandaids. 

The other part I liked a lot was the recital when I got to wear costumes.  The first year, when I was in 7th grade, the costume was pink and the tutu was covered with feathers.  I remember the younger dancers behind stage reaching out and touching the tutus as my class made its way to the side of stage where we waited our turn. 

Sophia on her toes...but not for long. 

At least a few times a week, the girls pull out my old shoes, look at them, try them on, and try to go up on their toes.  They don't last up there very long.  It takes a bit of getting use to.  Take a look at the picture above and you can see that Sophia is concentrating quite a bit - she's biting her lips and one of her hands is in a fist. 

I ask her if learning to dance is something she'd enjoy doing.  "Not unless I can be on my toes," is her answer.  That can't happen until she's 12 years old because serious foot deformities can result from starting pointe too early. The exception would be if her feet have ossified sufficiently in which case she could start earlier.  However, I think it's better to wait until her feet have stopped growing rather than permanently damage them.
Until then, putting the shoes on and playing in them...that's fine.  At least the shoes are getting used and being enjoyed once again.

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