Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Pointe Is...

Recently, Camille stood at a barre, surrounded by boxes of painful torture devices disguised as pretty, pink slippers.

"It's important that they fit," the sales girl said. "She's way too young to have her feet disfigured."

When, I wondered, is it ever okay to have your feet disfigured? I wanted to snatch my child away. I've seen the pictures of dancers' feet - I've seen Black Swan and other ballerina angst films. Why was my daughter about to start on this journey of pain and OH MY GOD EXCUSE THE ALL-CAPS possible disfigurement? At the age of ten?

I'm no dance mom. This dance business, it's no dream of mine. Flashdance only inspired me to wear leg warmers, for crying out loud. So how did I end up here, in the dance store, about to buy pointe shoes for my child? Only the most driven dancers, the itty bitty percent, end up on pointe shoes. Even fewer stick with it for the long haul.

Camille has talked about this moment since she was old enough to talk. Shortly after she began walking, she began dancing. And while other kids loved PBS for Elmo and Big Bird (strongly resisting the urge to talk about Romney here), Camille wanted to know when the next ballet or opera would be on. And then she'd watch it. Actually, that's an understatement. She'd become it. And it didn't matter if it was in German, Italian, or English - she was absorbed by it.

We were treated to endless den performances - tutus, tickets, dramatic lighting - all before she'd set foot in a ballet studio.

She put a lot of work into making the tickets.

And of course into the performances.
Who knew that only a couple of years later she'd be backstage, waiting to dance in a professional production of Copellia?

She knew. She always knew...

"Tell me if it hurts when you go up," the girl said last week. "First position..."

It all seemed so casual - as if this were not the moment she'd dreamed of pretty much her entire life. It was just a store, these were just shoes....it was all so technical - getting the right fit - no music, no celebration, no fireworks.

And then the girl said, "Go up."

Everyone, obviously, was looking at Camille's feet. The sales girl, my dad, Camille's friend who'd come along to watch, and the other people shopping in the store. Everyone stared at her feet. But for some reason, my eyes flitted up to her face - at just the right moment.

She didn't gasp, she didn't squeal, she didn't even smile. She looked...surprised.

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but we humans are not meant to be on our toes. We're not meant to balance on them, we're not meant to spin on them, we're not meant to hop across a stage on them. And Camille's face reflected that - not the pain of it - sadly, I'm sure that will come, later. It reflected the surprise of achieving the unexpected.

Her eyes met mine, briefly, in the mirror. Did you see what I did? Wasn't that spectacular?

It was spectacular. And it was spectacular in a way that I will never truly understand. Because her dream is not my dream. But I got a small glimpse, in that tiny dimple that appeared out of nowhere on her right cheek, of what it might feel like to suddenly balance on your toes. To achieve, for the very first time, that which you feel you were quite possibly born to achieve.

Actually, I think I might have felt what she felt at that moment. The shock, surprise, realization, and awe of your own badass self. Yes, I have! I have felt it before! Five times, to be exact. Because five times my body has done something unexpected, something that it seemed it shouldn't have been able to do. Five times I've surprised myself. And each time, I held my newborn and looked at Jeff. Did you see what I did?

It was, indeed, truly spectacular each time. And it was also incredibly and unbelievably painful. And frightening. Because creation isn't easy. And we surprise ourselves with it each time. Even when we knew it was coming.

These are miraculous things we do, and we do them every day. We rise on our toes, we paint, we sing. Sometimes we squeeze words out of the ethersphere.

We give birth.

It's worth the pain.

I'm so glad I was not looking at her feet. She will rise on pointe many times over the next few years. But she only rose for the first time, once. And it was all in her eyes.

I won't feel badly for letting her do this. I'll do what I can to get the best-fitting shoes possible. I'll make sure she has the best teachers to guide her. But I won't stand in the way of creation. Because I saw her eyes when the girl said, "Go up,"...and she did.


  1. Oh, I'm crying! Such a precious moment. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Brought tears to my eyes! What a beautiful story.