The wad of lambs wool was still slightly oily, rancid smelling and fibrous as I ran it through my fingers. The buffer between flesh, bone and wood. This was the toe bloc, carved as an oval to support the toes. The midsole or shank was hard and ran the length of the shoe. Designed to give extra support to the foot. I let the, now shabby, silk ribbons slip across my hands, letting them fall and stroked the worn pink satin surrounds. These were En Pointe ballet shoes.
Sitting on the floor I put them on and drew up the cord, tightening them around my feet. There was no right or left shoe, both were the same. They were a bit too big but it didn’t matter. I had already put on thick socks to take up the slack. The ribbons cross-crossed around my ankles and I carefully made a bow. I was ready to go. Standing up they were hard and uncomfortable, delicate looking, feminine little torture chambers for my feet. I posed in position one, then two, three, four and five as I had watched being done so often.
Holding on to the back of a chair for support I flipped onto my toes, now bent in towards the balls of my feet. My calf muscles contracted. Then my thighs, buttocks, back and torso became lean and taught .My neck extended, my head held high. Suddenly I was Odette in Swan lake. My beautiful white Tutu studded with crystals and wearing my coronate of diamantes and signet feathers. I swayed and twirled. I was a bird in gentle flight. I glided across the floor on the tips of my toes, I made pirouette after pirouette ignoring the sore and aching limbs. The numbing pain of my muscles. The bruising of my skin. How long was I dancing like this? One hour? Two? Swan Lake is about two hours long. A rite of passage for a Ballerina. For some, the pinnacle of their career. An honour to dance the White Swan. To deform her feet. To bear the agony. To exalt in the admiration of the adoring crowd.
I came out of my reverie and sat down.
My experience of being ‘en pointe’ had lasted twenty seconds.
The first time I had done it. Silently and secretly on my own. I was not meant to be in this room uninvited. For these were not my shoes. I was no ballerina. I was eight years old and had climbed onto the chair in my mother’s bedroom to reach the shoebox in the top of the wardrobe. For these had been her shoes that I had put on. She had danced in them. She had kept them. A reminder of a career cut short ten years before by a world war. An ex-ballerina who still had to stretch those leg muscles every day to feel the relief in her body .Still lithe enough to arch backwards on one leg with the other stretched high behind her I had learnt the five basic ballet positions by seeing her place them whilst peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink or stretching her elegant body when hanging out the washing. Advising me never to take up ballet. “It will break your heart Darling, if not your body first” she would say with a smile.
She had donned other dancing shoes though during that world war. Dancing in The West End of London. In the theatres that kept going with musicals such as “Lilac Time” or “Apple Sauce” at The palladium. It was during that time that after a show she met a handsome Canadian soldier…………………….but that is another story for another time!