Then and Now

Then

“Come on! Come on! You’re so close. You can do it.”

Just a few minutes earlier I’d begun class sitting on the purple carpet outside the studio.

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Wooden shoes landed on wooden floor. Satin laces tied together – haranguing the blocks from finding opposite gravitational pulls. I untie the laces.

“Put them on straight. Don’t sit like you’re putting on a tennis shoe and wiggle your foot side to side to get them in. These shoes must be put on straight. Hold the satin and slide your foot along the shank.”

Putting the shoes on is one thing. It comes after hours picking out the right hardness for the wooden shank, the proper size of the box supporting - or constraining? - my toes.

“The dancer must sew her own ribbons,” he says. He gets to wear black shoes that look like fancy tennis shoes. He can do the same moves we do without the wooden shank. Wouldn’t it be more comfortable that way?

No - but these shoes. These shoes make me beautiful. I wear a bow around my feet for pete’s sake.

“Come on, come on!”

Standing next to the barre, my wooden shanks decorated with bowties strangling my ankle are now my focus. It’s time to make real beauty. That arcing line of my toes from the tip all the way up my leg.

“Just bend more! Curve!” I think to myself.

Now

Those tiny boxes changed the direction of my toes. They used to tells us if we put the dancing shoes on too early we could permanently damage our feet. After attempting suicide of my feet’s design again and again, I decide I want my feet as they are.

Barefoot.

All the better.

These toes.

“Spread, spread! Out, in, out in.”

I wiggle them, giving attention to each one, wanting to have the super power of wiggling each one on its own. Feet as if they were hands. It’s all within my grasp.

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Kirsten Schowalter is the founder of Aging Courageously and the author of the memoir In My Own Skin.