I grew up on a steady diet of ballet stories such as Noel Streatfield’s “Ballet Shoes”and Rumer Godden’s “Thursday’s Child”. Like the enchanting paintings of Degas, the world of ballet seemed exotically ethereal and mysterious, swathed in layers of tulle, satin ribbons and flower wreaths. Words like pique, entrechat, arabesque and pirouette conjured marvelous visions in the mind’s eye. All that was about to change…
Thinking back on it now, I should never have purchased that Nutcracker videotape. After the millionth rewound tinkling of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I was awfully tempted to recycle the videotape into curly gift wrap ribbon. “I want to dance in the Nutcracker ballet!!!” screamed my little Drama Queen. Peace could be purchased only by promising her ballet lessons.
With a sweet-faced teacher in charge of the small group of budding ballerinas, dressed identically in black leotards and pink tights, I was enchanted by the strains of lovely piano music wafting from the half-ajar studio door, with tantalizing glimpses of little legs and arms. Visions of tutu-clad little angels started floating in the collective imagination-mine and the half-dozen other mothers waiting with me . “Aaaaawwww…aren’t they precious!” declared a lady near me. I nodded in smiling agreement, not being an “Aaaaawww” expert. (I’ve never been able to say it without sounding patently insincere.)
The sweet-faced teacher belied her appearance and firmly insisted that even beginning ballet students were to practice the basic positions of the arms and feet at home. Ever eager to set a good example, I struggled to achieve a perfect resemblance to the poses in the pictures sent home. M looked witheringly at my efforts and said “That’s not the way to do it – this is!” and demonstrated perfectly turned out toes. I gave up supervising her practice after that.
The teacher earnestly informed me, “Her technique will develop perfectly if you get her a split- sole shoe. See, the ones you purchased are too stiff to let her point her toes just right . You should buy the shoes from a proper dance store”. Mumbling to my self about the costs of a genuine split-soled shoe, I started looking up local dance stores in the telephone directory when a brain wave struck. I made a couple of strategic cuts in the leather soles with a pair of kitchen scissors and voila – instant split-soled ballet shoes, which lasted all year before failing at the worst possible moment, 5 minutes before M’s stage debut.