Pointe Shoes

July 20, 2008
By Natalie Fullam, Charlotte, NC

I was twelve when I decided that my dream was to become professional ballerina. Most professional ballerinas start their dance careers at the age of four—five is considered pushing it. But I was convinced that I was naturally talented enough and could work hard enough that I’d be able to catch up to the other girls my age, most of who were already on Pointe.

On the first day of dance classes my mom picked me up in carpool and took me to the studio. I realized that I had arrived about an hour early, just seconds after she had left. I decided to make the best of my situation and changed into my black leotard and pink tights. I had bought them a couple of weeks ago, buying the most professional and poised looking leotard I could find. The leotard was black, with a velvet trim and webbed back; it was similar to one I’d seen in a dance magazine and I thought it was the most elegant leotard in the world. I knew that it would magically turn me into a “real” ballerina.

Having nothing else to do and being extremely curious and fascinated, I watched the beginner’s Pointe class. The girls, my age, rose onto their toes, defying gravity. They spun a hundred times in a single breath, and hung suspended in the air during their jetes. Their feet skimmed the surface so lightly it sounded like a whisper. These were the real ballerinas, those girls had my dream, and they had Pointe shoes. Those shoes, pink and satin, they were the key to skimming the floor, floating on air, spinning like a top. Those Pointe shoes were the manifestation of my dream and I was convinced that they would be the key to my happiness.
After about forty five minutes of mesmerized watching, several girls started trickling into the studio. They all had huge dance bags which looked stuffed with extra tights, leotards, jazz, Pointe, and tap shoes. It suddenly occurred to me that many of the other girls here took more than ballet and that they took more than two classes a week. I later found out that most of the girls in my dance class took at least 2 classes per day, four days a week. I also found out that many of them only took ballet so that they would be allowed to participate in competition classes.
I got up from my seat when I saw that class was to begin in five minutes, I found the studio and set my bag down in front of the mirror. I found a corner of the room and began stretching. Several other girls came in after me, whispering and gossiping with each other. They were wearing Sofees with their leotards, which were brightly colored and simple. I felt bare and over-dressed next to them, I was suddenly acutely aware of the way the back of my leotard plunged and how elaborate its design was. The rest of the dancers trickled in, all of them wearing the same basic leotard and Sofees.

The teacher finally entered the room. He was a very tall man, in his mid-twenties, with dark curly hair pulled back into a ballet bun. He introduced himself to us, but told us that he was just a substitute and that our permanent teacher would be there next week. He glanced around the room, making some comment about seeing a bunch of familiar faces, his eyes stopped at my bag by the mirror. “Now, girls, I know that you’ll are just back from summer vacation but could you please use a little common sense. Ya’ll know my rules about dance bags—they stay in the lockers. Now, I’m going to go put this bag in a locker to spare any of you the embarrassment of having to yourself.” His words sliced into me and my cheeks flamed red. I tried to look as innocent and unconcerned as the rest of the girls but inside my mind raced with thoughts of my carelessness and stupidity, how could I ever be a dancer if I didn’t even know where the proper place to put my dance bag was. The teacher returned quickly and called us all to the barre. I hung back, not wanting to take anyone’s favorite spot. The teacher looked at me quizzically, “Are you going to join us over here?” I was so mortified that I couldn’t speak; instead I just nodded and took a spot by the wall. Two strikes and the actual class hadn’t even started yet.
The barre exercises were a disaster. The only dance class I had taken before then was Kinder-Dance which consisted of several five year olds running, excuse me, dancing around with ribbons. The teacher called out combinations in a fast sharp manner and only demonstrated them once. I almost instantly regretted choosing to be close to the window, realizing with a sinking feeling that I had no one’s feet to look at when we did a combination on the left side. The teacher tried to help me for the first two combinations but gave up after that, saying that my turnout was a mess and that my feet were too slow. He yelled out in a sharp voice to, “keep our feet turned out,” “our backs straight,” “our stomachs sucked up and in,” “our fingers relaxed,” “our elbows relaxed,” “our eyes up and not looking at the floor,” and “our faces smiling.” I had nothing to smile about and found it impossible to relax or keep my eyes off the floor.
I considered running out of the room and hiding in the bathroom but nixed that idea, imagining the humiliation I would feel if someone came after me and dragged me back into class. After barre the teacher announced that we could have a quick water break. I glanced at the clock and realized, with dread, that there were still thirty minutes left in the class.
If I had thought the barre exercises were bad, center work turned into a nightmare. At the barre I had been confined to a small space and I was invisible in my corner at the barre. In center work I was completely exposed and vulnerable, my blatant mistakes were no longer a secret. The steps changed from the barre. Bigger movements and combinations were added into the sequences, spins and pirouettes caused me to collide with every girl around me, several times. I became aware of how much bigger I was compared to the other girls; the mirrors exposed my flaws and faults. My stomach stuck out to much, it jiggled too much, thighs wiggled too much, and my legs were stumpy and thick. The other girls had long, graceful bodies, their stomachs were flat and taunt, and their legs were slender and exaggerated. We did the steps over and over but while they’re feet were quick and smart; mine feet were slow and clumsy. The teacher called for us to repeat the eight-count again. I could feel the other dancers’ eyes piercing at me, I was the reason we were repeating it, they had done their parts perfectly. After another failed attempt at the eight-count the teacher made no attempt to stifle a sigh and announced that it was time for our traveling steps.
I panicked. My legs tensed and my heart began racing. My turn arrived too quickly and before I knew it I was preparing for my turn, trying desperately to remember which foot I was supposed to start on. I heard the teacher yell, “Next group get ready, and five, six, seven, eight” I started on my left foot, it was a mistake. I tried to correct it, doing a bit of a two step, but I somehow managed to trip myself. I saw myself fall, as strange as that sounds, I watched myself from the mirror as I fell onto the floor with a deafening thud. The room fell silent as I remained crumpled on the floor in a heap; at that very moment I wanted nothing more than to escape my own body. I remember telling the teacher that I needed to sit down, that I might have sprained my ankle. I found the same corner I had stretched in and sat there until the end of class, eyes glued to the floor, too ashamed to look up. The teacher dismissed us and I hurried to the bathroom, flushing the toilet in an attempt to cover up my crying. I felt like a fool, trying to be someone I wasn’t, a clumsy duck in a sea of graceful swans. I sat there wishing that things had been different or that things were different. I wish that I had started dance sooner, I wished I was thinner; I wished I could move gracefully, I wish I had a natural turnout, natural talent. I wished I could wear Pointe shoes, dance in Pointe shoes, float across the floor in Pointe shoes.
But, at twelve years old, I knew I never would. I knew my fantasy would never become a reality; I took my first shallow of grownup disappointment and devastating truth. I wasn’t thin enough, talented enough, graceful enough, nimble enough, elegant enough. I wasn’t enough of a dancer and I never would be. I knew then that I would never be a ballerina and I would never wear Pointe shoes.

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