“The Marquis de Sade invented pointe shoes.”
–Diane Lauridsen, Lauridsen Ballet Centre, Torrance, Calif.
Well, of course the Marquis de Sade invented pointe shoes. Every ballet dancer who has danced on pointe knows this. Through personal experience taking ballet class as an adult for many years, I know this. Besides, our ballet teacher, a master teacher, Diane Lauridsen, artistic director of the Lauridsen Ballet Centre/South Bay Ballet, told us this.
I proffer this fascinating perceived fact because Susan Scott of Garden of Eden Blog nominated me to take part in a Three Day Quote Challenge, whereby each day, on three consecutive days, I pick a quote, from a person famous or not, and say a little bit about it. Thank you, Susan. I am honored you selected me.
Susan quoted Anna Pavlova: When I was a small child … I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong, happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights for one brief moment, but soon flits away.
Since Anna Pavlova inspired me to study ballet, I decided I must write a spinoff, as it were, of Pavlova’s articulation.
It is said Pavlova put ball bearings in her shoes to create the illusion during bourées that she was gliding across stage. Dancing in pointe shoes with ball bearings in the toes would have the dancer portray the tortured swan rather than a dying one, I should think. Pointe shoes (or toe shoes) are handmade, commonly from satin with a soft leather sole. At the front tip of the shoe, housing the toes, is the box, typically constructed of layers of material hardened with glue. As you might imagine, dancing across the ballet studio floor, which has become suddenly vast, or across the stage in a pair of these would abrade your toes, rendering it very difficult to look like a butterfly when all you want to do is grimace and flop down, the forlorn swan. Indeed, dancers wrap their individual toes in adhesive tape to prevent blisters and bunions, what little good that does. Dancers prefer their shoes old and soft, therefore, wearing them until the satin frays and the shoe completely breaks down. Seasoned dancers resort to all sorts of techniques to soften a new pair of pointe shoes, such as repeatedly bending and kneading them and slamming them in a doorjamb.
Happiness is the process of fulfilling one’s passion for dance. Happiness is receiving constant corrections from your ballet teacher and striving to reach perfection. And maybe for a moment you do; and then it flits away. You know you will never achieve absolute perfection; but with dedication and discipline, you diligently strive after it, gradually improving amid the setbacks.
A dancer must work regularly (ideally taking class five or six days a week) for two years before gaining the strength to go on pointe. Your feet must be strong (no, not because you’re wearing socks you forgot to wash) and you must have the core strength to lift yourself up and off your toes. A child should not be put into pointe shoes until she is 10. Before that age, her bones are too soft, still unformed. To prevent injury, it is essential you research and find a genuinely good teacher.
Not every female who dances on pointe is a ballerina. The term arises from reverence for a high level of achievement, though not gymnastics in toe shoes but rather possession of a certain je ne sais quoi, “the perfume of her inflections, the projection of a larger spirit or deeper spirituality,” as dance critic Laura Jacobs put it in Pointe Magazine.
In today’s terms, Pavlova created an aura around herself as a brand — vis-à-vis Lady Gaga. Does Pavlova use ball bearings in this two minute film of her dancing “The Dying Swan”? I doubt it. In her bourées she keeps her feet close together and she’s just quick. She gives the illusion of the ethereal.
“Some of her dances look like improvisations. She looked as though the music was playing and she just got up and danced. She knew how to project magic about her,” said the late British ballet dancer and choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, in conversation with Natalia Markarova, who achieved prima ballerina status in the 1960s, in this seven minute YouTube video.
So, to rise to inhabit the apparently effortless ethereal spirit, you must be committed to years of practice, years of barre work and dancing across the ballet studio floor, appearing often less like a butterfly, rather more like a mushroom, or as our teacher, Diane, pointed out, “You all look like hawks.”
Read more about ballet training and finding a good teacher at my Carol Child byline portfolio.
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Over the three years I have known Susan Scott, having met her on a LinkedIn writers caregivers group, she has become a good friend, wise, insightful, compassionate and always supportive. She is author of the book In Praise of Lilith, Eve & the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, which you can purchase on Amazon simply by clicking on the icon in the left sidebar of my blog.
In turn, I am pleased to nominate my good friend T.J. Banks and two new friends, Sara C. Snider and Celine Jeanjean, three delightful and accomplished authors:
T.J. Banks – Sketch People
Sara C. Snider – Sara C. Snider
Celine Jeanjean – Down the Rabbit Hole