COLUMN: Keeping Yourself On Your Toes
Pointe Shoes Exemplify The Fashion-Functionality Dilemma
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 22:10
It has been a rough week for my feet. After 14 years of ballet training, it is hard for me to admit this. My toes have been calloused, bruised, broken, and bleeding on more than one occasion. Nails have fallen out, and feet have held the impression of the ghastly, beautiful pointe shoe for hours after my final curtsey during reverence. It took years of work and proving of myself and my strength to earn those coveted pointe shoes, as all young ballerinas know. I will always remember heading to In the Spotlight, my favorite dance store, and getting fitted for my pair. They were Bloch’s, size and style: 4B Sonata with a 3/4 shank. They instantly crushed my feet, but I never wanted to take them off. I pranced around the store with my class of other young ballerinas, and Mrs. Del Guercio, who had been teaching me ballet since I was four years old. She hugged me, and I knew I could withstand this particular pain in my feet forever.
Although I have saved every pair of pointe shoes that I ever loved, wore in, and ultimately gave out on me during their slow and painful death, I have taken a break from dance during my time at Boston College, after finding that my schedule quickly filled up, and that ballet would have to be a passion I returned to whenever possible. Although my feet have been relinquished from their pointe shoe captors, they have hardly found any relief. I continue to torture them, and no matter how badly I blister, I can’t stop.
Two new pairs of flats brought blisters in minutes this fall, and I spent the rest of those days in a semi-paralyzed state. I limped from building to building, knowing that the beauty of the shoes was clearly worth it, and would hopefully distract from my shuffling steps. The pain was very real, and I couldn’t think of anything other than exactly how long it would be and exactly how far I would have to walk until I could free my toes from their pretty prisons. On a separate occasion this fall, I pulled out a pair of black patent oxford flats from my closet, found that they would perfectly compliment my outfit, and then wondered why I rarely wear them. When I was about four steps out of my dorm, I remembered why. My feet were screaming in pain, but I was running behind schedule (which seems to be an all-too-common theme this semester), and there was no time to turn back. My fate was sealed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Then, there is a great pair of maroon heels that sit taunting me in my closet. They push my arches to unheard-of extremes. The pain: instant. The shoes: fabulous. When I submitted to them this weekend, I am ashamed to say, I showed my true weakness. I knew that all of my ballerina teachers of the past would be ashamed of my lack of effort as I briefly walked down Comm. Ave., heels in hand. During the recuperation period, my feet longed for the comfort of my worn-in Tom’s every day, but I rarely gave in to their cries.
How far are we willing to go for fashion? When does the pain of a great shoe outweigh its inherent beauty? I find myself wondering this every time I strap on a particularly fabulous but deadly pair of heels, or a great headband that will inevitably give me an instantaneous headache, or that great sweater that is also incredibly itchy. These are all things I own, and continually put on my body, willingly. Am I sick? Or just passionate? Where do we draw the line?
Whenever I want to submit to the call of my yoga pants, my oversized sweatshirts, my sneakers, and my loose messy buns, I think back to ballet class—the leotards and tights topped off by the most perfectly destroyed pointe shoes laced tightly around my ankles, soles blackened, the satin of the toe box fraying and ripping off, revealing the layers of construction beneath. I think back to things called “Ouch Pouches” and boxes of soft lambswool meant to cushion my toes, even just a bit, from the shiny hardwood floors beneath. No amount of padding or protection helped to ease my aching feet, but as I looked in the mirror of the small dance studio, I knew that the pointe shoes were doing something beautiful, that they had a magic all their own.
I ache to have ballet back in my life, but for now I can suffer the tortures of a pair of too-tight ballet flats, a chafing ankle strap, and a pointy toe that squishes my toes in a far too familiar way. I can submit to these pains, these bruises, and these blisters, because I know that they are a work of art—that they are something beautiful. And if nothing else, they will keep me on my toes.