It’s a happy moment in every dancer’s life. One day, after years of learning the basics of plie’ and tendu, a ballet student will finally get the good word from her teacher.
“You’re ready to start learning pointe.”
My daughter Grace heard it last week, and she was over the moon. Since the day she started ballet classes at age 5, she has wanted to get her toe shoes. After all those years of prancing around on the balls of her feet, she would finally feel what it’s like to dance on the very tips of her toes, in shoes with stiff blocks to elevate the foot and elongate the leg.
You don’t just buy pointe shoes; you have to go to the store for a fitting. As the appointed day drew near, Grace spoke of little else. She got herself dolled up, trading the hoodie sweatshirt for layers of Lycra, and painting her toenails.
At the store, I saw the thing I feared most. Grace had a long, sad face. An employee stood over her, holding a pink shoe in each hand and shaking her head.
“They don’t make pointe shoes in her size,” she said.
Grace has a size 12-and-a-half foot. Adult size 12-and-a-half. You wouldn’t necessarily notice that about her: she’s tall, and her feet are slender and graceful, just long.
For a while, Grace sat on the bench and the kind worker knelt before her, holding a shoe as Grace tried to jimmy her foot into it. Every little girl knows this scene from Cinderella, but Grace is no mean stepsister.
“It’s not fair,” she said, her face red with disappointment.
We’ve been through this many times in the past two years. Most shoe stores don’t have many twelves – and certainly not in the styles that a 13-year-old would want. We order from Zappos.
But online shopping wasn’t going to help us now. The worker said she knew of no ballet shoe company that makes pointe shoes that large.
Finally, the worker emerged with a large shoe, a 12 Wide. Maybe the extra width would stretch out into a bit of extra length. Grace was determined to leave the store with pointe shoes that day. She slid her toes into the point, and pulled at the back to slide it over her heel. She put on the other shoe, walked over to the barre and pulled herself up onto her toes. She winced.
“Too tight?” I asked.
“No, they’re OK,” Grace said. Of course she said they were OK.
The worker told me the shoes might stretch a bit, and I agreed to give it a try. Since bringing the shoes home, I’ve sprayed them with alcohol, kneaded the toe box, had Grace wear them around like slippers. She’s still wincing. I’m taking them to a cobbler to see what he can do, but I’m preparing Grace for what might be a sad reality.
“They don’t make shoes that big because most ballet dancers aren’t so tall,” I said. I explained being tall is an excellent way to go through life. Studies show tall people make more money; you can hide an extra five pounds on a tall frame. And all the boys will catch up eventually.
“I want to be tall with little feet,” Grace said. I explained that if she small feet, she would be in constant danger of falling over forward. She laughed, and then looked down at the shoes.
“Stupid feet,” she said.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.