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Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask

Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask

180 pages
2 heures
Mar 24, 2016


Your burning ballet questions answered...

• How do I become a professional ballet dancer?
• What do ballerinas eat?or do they eat at all?
• Are all men who wear tights gay?

These are just a few of the questions you'll find answered here. Feel the pain of what it's like to wear pointe shoes, experience the terror of meeting hot, gun-toting guys while on tour with ballet companies in exotic, distant lands... discover an insider's secrets about what ballet life is really like.

Mar 24, 2016

À propos de l'auteur

Grier left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet in New York. She has performed on three out of seven continents with companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer.Her work has been praised as “poignant and honest” with “emotional hooks that penetrate deeply.” She writes and blogs about dance in the San Francisco Bay Area and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of Build a Ballerina Body and The Daily Book of Photography. Grier’s work has also appeared in Conscious Dancer,Discovery Girls, Skipping Stones, and Dance Advantage, among others.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Ballet But Were Afraid to Ask - Grier Cooper


This one’s for Dash. Thank you for being my rock.


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My Love Affair With Pointe Shoes

Every young ballerina dreams of the day she will first go up en pointePointe shoes are magic, giving a dancer the illusion of floating or flying. Before pointe shoes were developed, dancers were hoisted into the air on ropes and pulleys -- but pointe shoes made it so much easier to move around the stage instead of just up and down. The pink satin adds elegance to pointe shoes, conjuring  images of fine ladies strutting about in billowing  gowns of satin and tulle. But in all honesty, wearing pointe shoes takes a lot of getting used to. They hurt like a mother.

I couldn’t wait to get my first pair. However, my teacher was very particular about starting girls when their bodies were ready and not a moment before. She was a stickler about this because starting a dancer en pointe too early can cause real damage. As I got closer and closer to the right time, my anticipation grew to the point (pun intended) of near explosion. Buying your first pair of pointe shoes was a big deal in my ballet studio, you see. It was like a field trip, a festival and a huge family celebration rolled into one.

We all drove as a group on the big day, partly because my teacher wanted to be there to oversee the process and partly because the nearest store to stock them was 45 minutes away. We flocked into the tiny store and sat in a tight little circle. None of us could sit still on the cold metal chairs as we waited for our friends to be fitted. We watched their faces as they rose on toe for the first time while we wiggled anxiously in our seats.

In my teacher’s opinion there was only one brand: Capezio. So that’s what we all got. Size and width were the only things that differed among us. On that day there was nothing more wondrous in my mind than those pink Capezios. At last my feet were happily encased in what felt like pink satin cement blocks.

My fitter offered me a hand to help me stand and man, even just standing in the things felt awkward. They had absolutely no give and the soles were thicker and taller than those of ballet slippers. It felt like my ankles couldn’t flex enough to stand properly- my weight was being forced back on my heels, making me feel like I could teeter over backwards.

The fitter continued to hold my hand while I rose en pointe for the first time. The tips of the shoes, called the boxes – the hardest parts of the pointe shoes– dug in to the soft, virgin flesh of my feet. It really hurt! I didn’t know how I would ever get used to wearing them, let alone look graceful.

Still, even the pain did not lessen my love affair with those shoes. Later it would be a different story.

Once everyone was fitted properly -- and to my teacher’s satisfaction--, the shoes were boxed up and we were all given the standard-issue packs of pink satin ribbon to sew onto our shoes. Pointe shoes don’t come with the ribbons attached; it is always a dancer’s job to do that. Imagine how much sewing professionals do when they go through several pairs of shoes each week! We also received a box of lamb’s wool, which was used to cushion and protect the toes inside those super-hard boxes.

I was on a huge high during the entire car ride home. I couldn’t wait to sew those ribbons on my shoes and get dancing -- like a real ballerina. Finally.

Now that I officially owned my first pair of pointe shoes, the steep uphill learning curve began. There was a lot to learn: how to sew on the ribbons, care for the shoes, care for the feet in and out of the shoes and, of course, how to use the things. But during the drive home from the dance store, the shoes remained safely nestled in their box in a mass of tissue paper.

Within moments of getting them home I was ready to sew on the ribbons and give them a test-drive. Proper ribbon placement is essential; one cannot just sew them on haphazardly and hope for the best. To find the right placement, fold down the back of the shoe until it touches the shank on the inside of the shoe. The sites where the satin folds are where the ribbons go.

My teacher was very particular and very thorough about sewing those ribbons; she made us fold the ends of the ribbon over on themselves twice before sewing them on. By sewing through several layers of ribbon, there was no way those puppies were ever going to rip off in the middle of something important.

At last we were able to try them out in class the following week. The final 10 minutes of class were set aside for the pointe shoe fledglings to spread our wings. We were given careful instructions on how to gently bend the shanks so they would curve under our arches and how to break in the boxes so they felt a little bit less like cement blocks. We ripped off a hunk of lamb’s wool, wrapped it around the toes to cushion them, then tied the ribbons in the trademark criss-cross around the ankles.

The first exercise en pointe was simple relevés on two legs, and we did only a few. It felt strange and rather anti-climactic. It also hurt. A lot.

Over the next several months we began to build up to doing more and more en pointe and I simultaneously began to have more and more pain in my feet, specifically in the joints of my big toes. Whenever I took my pointe shoes off, my feet throbbed in protest, the joints angry and red. I began to notice they were becoming enlarged. Needless to say, the pain and disfigurement were alarming. I tried putting ice on the affected area but it didn’t help – my big toe joints kept growing.

I would come to find that nothing would help. Over the course of the many years that followed, my feet would gradually transform into a twisted version of themselves. The problem is that you need to strengthen the outside muscles of your calves, said the podiatrist I consulted -- hundreds of exercises later there was no change. The problem is that your big toes are longer than the others and your foot is warping itself to compensate, said knowing friends -- not much to be done about that. The problem continued to progress and I developed full-fledged bunions  -- really not pretty.

The real problem was that pointe shoes are actually instruments of torture. Beautiful to look at, but not so fun to get used to.

It took years before the breathtaking pain finally subsided. But for the first few years that I wore pointe shoes, it felt like my feet were being sliced with a hot knife. I’d often have to slip the shoes off for a few moments between exercises to relieve the continual aching pressure. When I finally took them off at the end of class I expected to see steam come pouring out, like in cartoons. Only it was no laughing matter, really. Most of the time I wanted to cry.

I had yet to learn how to dance with open, bloody blisters and to familiarize myself with the wide array of Dr. Scholl’s products that make a dancer’s life just that much more bearable. It wasn’t until years later in New York that I’d learn the tricks of mummifying my toes with medical tape and strategically placing squishy pads around nasty blisters and corns.

Human feet are subjected to a lot but dancers pretty much take the prize for demanding the most of them.

Two summers ago, a fellow dancer and I were walking together. It was a hot day and I was wearing flip-flops. My friend happened to look down at my feet and commented, "Oh, your poor feet. Look at what pointe shoes have done them." Her feet, by contrast, looked totally normal and pretty. I was envious.

In the overall scope of things, one could argue that I got off easy. Yes, my feet are somewhat deformed, but I never ripped, tweaked or broke anything. While many dancers end up with injuries that never completely go away, I never suffered anything that still lives with me now.

But in the ballet world, such is the price of glory.

When I first began wearing pointe shoes, we wore them twice a week for 15 minutes at the end of class, so one pair of shoes would last many months. By the time I was an upper-division dancer at the School of American Ballet I would go through several pairs in a week. At $60 a pop this was prohibitively expensive. Today’s prices are even more so; a recent visit to the Freed of London website showed a price of $94 per pair, and Capezio shoes ranged from $63-79 per pair.

Luckily the School of American Ballet provided a solution: the infamous shoe room. The shoe room was filled with shelf after shelf of New York City Ballet company cast-offs, those shoes deemed unacceptable by various company members for various reasons. Some were obvious, like a lumpy box on a pair of pointe shoes, but most were serviceable. School of American Ballet students were able to avail themselves of the shoe room and purchase shoes for the incredibly low price of $15 a pair. It was a bargain that was too good to pass up.

However, using the shoe room came with a different price: an inordinate amount of time spent waiting. The shoe room was open only a few hours per week for two hours at a time and we were only allowed in one person at a time to browse. Why this was so remains an unexplained mystery. However, we never questioned the rules and I learned to wait patiently outside the door until Miss Finn, school secretary and steadfast gatekeeper of the shoe room, announced my turn.

The shoe room was a tiny little room adjacent to the girls’ dressing room. OK, it was a closet -- but a luxuriously large closet as closets go – any janitor would have been overjoyed to call it headquarters. But this humble closet was a hot spot, the stuff of legend to any newcomer who had not yet ventured inside – it was the difference between affording a new pair of pointe shoes or trying to revive an old pair by pouring polyurethane in the boxes and baking them in the oven.

Once inside, a decision had to be made as quickly as possible, since time was always running short and a line of other dancers waited just on the other side of the door. Anyone who took too long was sure to hear about it from the others. One boy took so long choosing his leather, ballet slippers that the entire line of waiting dancers grumbled. What are you doing in there? someone finally asked. His muffled reply through door: Killing the cow.

Most New York City Ballet dancers wore pointe shoes from Freed of London. The leather soles had special symbols stamped into them, indicating the maker. If you already knew which dancer’s shoes -- and maker--, you preferred, it was easy to grab a few pairs and try them on to see which ones felt best. When the selection(s) were made, you exited and paid Miss Finn and it was the next person’s turn.

It always felt satisfying to leave the shoe room with a pile of shoes. But then again, it also meant a whole lot of sewing since each pair needed ribbons and elastic. Even so, an armload of pink satin is a beautiful thing.

Conjure up an image of ballerinas spinning effortlessly en pointe and you’re not likely to come up with, say blisters, or corns, or bunions.

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