It was a song by Bing Crosby, and I danced to it when I was 12.
I became a ballerina at the age of five. My dancing career ended at the age of 28 when the Toyota Corolla in which I was a passenger was broadsided by a Ford Fairlane. (One can't dance very well with a hip which has been shattered like an ice cube smashed by a hammer.) In between those years, however, I had a long and sometimes entertaining (to both me and my audiences) life.
My mother sent me to dancing class for two reasons: she was a Stage Mother par excellence, and I was hyperactive, as well as being morbidly shy. Dancing gave me an outlet for my over-activity and while it didn't cure me of my shyness, it gave me--at least while I was on stage--confidence to remember and perform the intricate steps and routines of a specific dance number.
One of the most difficult things I ever learned to do was dance on my toes, using pointe shoes, also known as toe shoes. With a shortened wooden or leather sole, the satin on the shoes is pleated and attached under the sole. Dancers are taught to walk with their keels in and toes turned out in order not to break the soles of their shoes. There are generally a pair of shoes for rehearsals and a pair for performances but if only one pair is used, they are sometimes worn with covers, to protect their satin finish and soles from scuffs. Ballet shoes come without ribbons. These have to be sewn on by the dancer, as well as stitching across the toes to prevent them from becoming smooth from wear and causing falls. The ribbons are wrapped once around the shoe at the instep, then around the ankle and tied. A drawstring in the shoe also tightens it around the foot. Though shoes can be dyed to match the costumes, the most common color is pink satin, and occasionally black. After seeing the movie The Red Shoes, I absolutely had to have a pair of red shoes, which were specially ordered for me. Later, I also acquired a green pair!
I also had a pair of toe-tap shoes, with steel taps nailed to the toes so I could do tap dances while balanced on tip-toe. (And if you think that's easy, just try it!)
I still have my first pair of toe shoes--eight inches long, painted gold with gold glitter on them. The glitter has tarnished now, the heels are frayed and the toes worn through, and the soles were fitted with a steel brace to insure that they kept their arch. .
Though some ballerinas decline to use them, I was instructed to use lambs-wool pads in the toes of my shoes to protect my toes from blisters. This was sold in a box, in a two foot-roll. A length was cut long enough to cover from the tips of the toes to where they joined the foot and shaped to fit. Some dancers used ready-made pads of rabbit fur, but I preferred lambs-wool, though occasionally even this grew thin or slipped slightly and I'd end up with very painful blisters. Then it was bandaids and toe-pads. I also soaked my feet in brine and Epsom Salt-water to toughen them.
My costumes ranged from the classic leotard and tutu to the more formal long skirted leotard to flowing draperies. With my partner, Charles, I was supremely happy as I moved in time with the music--arabesques, fouettes, grande ronde de jambe--twirled in place by his hands, brushing the floor with my fingertips as I was bent backwards over the curve of his arm, carried across the stage and held above his head as if I was as light as the ribbons on my shoes. The first music I danced to was the gavotte from Rosamunde--the last time I was on my toes was for a piece called Crespuscule (Twilight), a fitting way to end a career.
(The above picture is a picture of Yours Truly performing Twilight.)
Posted by Toni V.S. | 12:23 PM | ballerina, ballet, en pointe, Toni V. Sweeney | 4 comments »