You can tell everything about a person by their feet. And for dancers, you can tell our histories.
That scar on my heel? It’s from my first time playing Marie in The Nutcracker. I had thrown one of my slippers at the Mouse King and spent the rest of Act I in only one ballet shoe. I bet you didn’t know you could get sliced by stepping on a sequin, but you can.
That red V between my toes and my instep? That’s where I was permanently marked by a pair of pointe shoes that were fitted too tightly at the toe and too wide at the heel. A professional fitter changed my life, and probably prolonged my career, by introducing me to two words: wing blocks. If you have wide feet, with tapered toes remember those words.
Blisters over healed blisters.
Swollen bunions over swollen bunions.
A dancer’s feet – my feet – are ever changing.
See that second toe that isn’t quite straight? That’s where I rolled over in a dead shoe and broke the toe. See the lumpy bit on my right big toe? That’s a bunion that never quite heals.
And see how my toes are all slightly crooked now, and how my metatarsals are extremely prominent? That’s arthritis. It’s what dooms us all. I started feeling the telltale pain when I was twenty-six but managed three more years on stage.
Twenty-nine is ancient for a ballerina.
But when my ankle collapsed during a performance of Coppelia, I knew it was time to move on. I went to the doctors.
“You tore your Achilles,” the company ortho told me. “Which is bad enough and will keep you out of dance up to a year, but this ankle is deformed from arthritis, as well.”
“So, it’s time for me to turn in my pointe shoes?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“I’m afraid so.”
I had the surgery, of course. I might not perform again, but I could still teach if I took the time to recover correctly.
The first day out of the cast, I had a pedicure.
I let them scrub away the last of my callouses. I let them soothe my bunions and shape my toenails. And I chose a bright red color to paint them with: Glove You So Much by OPI.
You can tell everything about a person from their feet. Mine? Mine used to be bloody and pussy from hours in pointe shoes. But now? Now I can wear flipflops without embarrassment.
I used to be a dancer. My feet still show the signs (you would die if you saw my arch). But my toes… my toes tell another story now.
Written for Brief #14 of Like the Prose 2021: Acceptance