There is no going back. Only those few lucky people who listen with their eyes will hear the seemingly effortless music of the pointe shoe magic…”
by julio peralta-paulino
Cheetah. It sounds almost like the Italian word for city. Acinonyx jubatus. When said, the pronunciation feels as if it is a call to arms.
Before battle, the legions of Gaius Julius Caesar’s would invoke the goodwill of the goddess Venus. In some ways, when a dancer prepares to settle into brand new pointe shoes, it is an engagement. A conflict against constraint and constraint’s counterpart; constriction.
Of course, it is a curiosity that those ancient armies would invoke Venus’s divinity. Aphrodite or Cytherea, in Greek lore, was a representation of love. And, it is an oddity that a dancer would be on the opposite side of comfort with unweathered pointe shoes. However, it is the case.
Needless to say, love can be just as holy as it can be heartbreaking. And, as unmerciful as pointe shoes are-at first-they do hold the promise of a natural feel.
A stone, let us say, that has yet to be sculpted, smoothed.
In the case of ardor, it can be argued that devotion or faith is essential. In the case of pointe shoes, in can be argued that the dancer’s freeing touch must be applied.
Here, in New York City, where one might easily imagine hundreds of ballet shops, there are really only a couple of places for dance supplies.
She likes going to Capezio to get her ballet accessories…toe undeez, sole savers, sole savers in mirrored cases, cobra canvas slippers, split sole styles…and, of course, pointe shoes.
She doesn’t pronounce Acinonyx jubatus; she does not invoke the goddess of love. Simply, she picks up the stony shoes and soon after starts to sculpt, to smooth. She does it with the grace of a feline at the hunt; with the skill of a Roman conqueror. And though the whole town may well be oblivious to her efforts, her victory-when achieved-offers a gratification, however brief its span, which poetically and or potentially speaking is equivalent to beaten prey between the jaws of a satisfied cat or subjugated armies under the hold of the vanquisher.
Imagine it. There is no sound. Speech comes through movement. It is a primordial magic. Understood through the viewer’s sight.
Imagine them. Pointe shoes. Now there are no words of movement. Now there is work to be done. The old ones were so perfect and to have to start over. Frustration mixes with hope. Indeed, there is work to be done.
She tries them on, just to remember that first time. There was pain back then. It hurt.
They are on and the fact that they are now part of her body makes her want to dance. Not too much, just a little. Just enough to make an imprint, to let the shoes know that they belong to her and that their hardness will yield.
She has just gone up to the hillside and roped a couple of wild mares and now is the time for taming.
The ride is bumpy, but it is a ride. The talk was not articulate yet there was some sound. The battle has only begun.
She takes them off. Gives them a look before the first salvo. An infantry of pressure. Standing on the box (a space for toes just below what is known as the throat of the shoe) with a massaging jump and bump. The sides give a little. Not too much, just a little. More cannot be expected. Her weight is not so substantial; she is a dancer.
Next, the infantry of persuasion. Rubbing alcohol. Not too much, it is, at its core, a social occasion. It does help some and color won’t trip into another aura.
Sometimes, if there is a blow dryer handy, the shoe will be shoved back on and styled to sway to her personal preference. This is especially true with certain newer styles whose anchor whispers to fit after the humming heat. Sometimes, it is just a job to do by hand…a semi-constant back and forth and back and forth…
Until, a bit more dancing… The practicing, the stretching… The once pristine satin horses, now worked-in mares, almost seem to desire songs of their own to sing.
Finally, with the cavalry, especially the aforementioned ones with a shank, after the Rubicon has been crossed, her conquering legions will set them in a cool place for half an hour or so, in the freezer even, so that their shape, which came through her struggled caresses, will hold. The horn of victory emerges.
There is no going back. Only those few lucky people who listen with their eyes will hear the seemingly effortless music of the pointe shoe magic. On some rare occasions, they will make it to the stage and there will weave their practiced wonder alongside the everlasting compositions that carry humanity to heights above the seductive savagery of jungle and the screaming sorrows of war.
The rising sun mushroomed in a bright azure wave over the crescent moon, over the city lights.
The soft sounds of the night gave way to a harder strumming and it was about then that he awoke. The dawn had delivered itself before he got up and light had already rushed into the apartment like a thief silently applauding his or her own expert entrance.
He lit a cigarette and looked out the window. Down the street a lithe and lovely figure leveled his attention.
Almost skipping up into the second story dance studio, the ballerina’s auburn hair hummed through the air; she seemed to be greeting a new day with expert enthusiasm.
He remembered he had tickets for the ballet. Sleeping Beauty. Saturday at seven. He’d been to the movies a lot, attended the theater a couple of times, been to the opera once or twice, but never had he seen a ballet. Tchaikovsky. Sometimes caution is best thrown to the wind and at the very least his girlfriend would be pleased.
The ballerina carried a small purse and a bag that seemed to read “cappuccino”, perhaps, he was just already longing for coffee… He wondered if she would be in the production, if the announced weekend rain would wait until Sunday, if his Prussian blue suit really matched his dark brown Oxford shoes.
A bit stretch of ash chiseled into the October air, he caught a glimpse of it as it rattled away, a gossip of pigeons gleamed gray across the Manhattan skyline, and the ballerina disappeared into her world, a world he could only imagine and would catch a glimmer of on the coming Sabbath.
(illustrations: john richen)
Julio Peralta-Paulino is a writer currently at work on several projects. Some of his recent work is featured at City Writers Review and Jack Magazine. He is thrilled to be once again included in the eclectic and hip publication known as Smokebox. More stories from Julio Peralta-Paulino can be found in the Vault of Smoke.