What About Me?…and the Plight of the Little Sister

While writing the post “Dancers are Made of Steel and Grace”, Sea Pony overheard me discussing ballet terms and choreography with Ocean Breeze. “What are you guys talking about?”, she asked, “What are you doing that for?’ “I’m writing about Ocean’s first recital en pointe”, I replied half expecting her to understand the magnitude of that event. “What about me? It was my first recital with jazz!”, she replied fully expecting me to understand the importance of that accomplishment. “You’re going to write about me too, right?” “Of course, I am!”

So here I am writing about her. The truth is that she’s right. Although performing a jazz piece for the first time does not appear to carry the same weight that  balancing on pointe for the first time does, it bears a magnitude of importance when looked at in relation to her world. “Get Your Sparkle on” was her jazz piece, and my girl was sassy yet precise. For the first time in her dancing years, she danced her choreography without the aid of a dance instructor off-stage marking the steps. For the first time, she had to really memorize her choreography. Did she accomplish it? And then some!  Like I said – sassy yet precise. This means that although she was keenly aware of delivering a performance accurate in technique, her personality was not lost in concentration. My girl’s smile illuminated the stage. She followed us with her eyes…never losing us…capturing us with the fun in her heart.

So what about her? Is “what about me” the plight of the little sister? Is she constantly feeling compared to her older sibling? Always feeling like she has to live up to a standard that was set years before she arrived there? Always following a path that was already forged for her? Constantly dancing in someone else’s shoes? I hope not. The truth is that she sparkled all on her own. Her performance so individual and so different from anything her sister had ever done. But what do we do to help her feel that internally? How do we say you shine all on your own?

I’m not sure what the correct answer to that question is, but my mama gut tells me that I have to let her forge her own path on some things. I have to let her be the trail blazer on something. Everyone deserves the opportunity to feel like they were the original one for something…or maybe even the only one. Could it be soccer for Pony? This is a sport that she has shown interest in but one that we have not had the time to pursue. I, adamant in not over-scheduling my children, have refused to add yet another extracurricular activity to a week already filled with a night of piano and several nights of dance. But piano and dance are things that Ocean Breeze pioneered in our family. Pony followed suit, because she wanted to learn what her big sister had learned…and it was certainly easier for me to take them to the same location after school than to do the insane rounds of dropping off one kid, driving to pick up the other, and then going back for the first.

Could it be her time? Do I need to bite the bullet and add soccer to that preciously free Thursday night? (and those relished activity-free weekends?) It’s not that she does not enjoy dance and piano. I don’t think she would give either of them up (well, the verdict is still out on piano). It’s that I think she needs her own niche…her own world. I think she needs a place where there is no one to be compared to, even if she is the one doing the comparing. I feel that she wants to be able to say, “This is Pony’s thing, and nobody else does it.” Would turning an already painfully hectic schedule up-side-down be worth the validation that she would feel in knowing that her interests matter and that she is more than a copy of her big sister? I might find myself testing the waters this fall.

Dancers are Made of Steel and Grace

Ocean Breeze's First Pointe Shoes
Ocean Breeze’s First Pointe Shoes

Did you catch the picture of the dainty and pristine pointe shoes featured at the head of this post? It is a shot of Ocean Breeze’s first pointe shoes taken minutes after I had spent no less than two hours lovingly sewing the ribbons and elastics onto that gorgeous and long-awaited set of footwear. This is what they looked like before she ever wore them…before the work of learning to dance en pointe began.

Truly, the work began three years ago when she took her first pre-pointe class. This year, she was finally strong enough to slip into those delicate-looking slippers…and I use the words “delicate-looking” deliberately. If you pick up a pair of pointe shoes, the first thing that will strike you is their rigidity in contrast to their soft and satiny exterior. A brand new pointe shoe does not give anywhere where you would expect – you almost expect it to be made of wood. In fact, it is made of a satin exterior and leather sole with the toe box made of multiple layers of fabric or cardboard hardened with glue. A dancer would wear toe pads for cushioning before slipping on the shoes.

“Slipping on the shoes” entails inserting toe separators between the first two toes to keep bones properly aligned and avoid damage, then covering all the toes with a silicone or fabric toe pad before unrolling the foot of her transition tights over her feet to contain everything. She is now ready to step into the shoes and secure them by firmly tying the delicate ribbons around her ankles (not her calves).

She is now ready to dance. I stood at the edge of the studio’s doorway this past fall when I watched my daughter go through this routine for the very first time. I watched with amazement laced with maternal pride as she tentatively rose to her first position en pointe, and I felt her engage every muscle in her body as she held herself high and strong.

She did this week after week for eight months…there was rarely a night when her legs didn’t ache and her feet didn’t burn. Yet, she returned each week…growing steadier, training her body to flow like water on muscles hard as steel. Occasionally, I would peek in…maybe linger at drop-off just long enough to catch the intimate moment of her lacing her shoes. Even that requires precision, as the knot must end up at exactly the correct soft part of her ankle so as to not rub her uncomfortably throughout her lesson.

As the months passed, technique work turned into choreography and choreography turned into dance. She made her pointe debut at this year’s dance recital just a few weeks ago, and although she was dancing in four different numbers, it was the pointe piece that grabbed hold of her nerves. She would be dancing in the ballet company alongside dancers who had been training en pointe for as long as nine years. Of course her strength would not be the same, of course her part would be at another level…but that was not what I was there to watch.

As I sat in the center of the fifth row, cloaked under the darkness of our elegant and gorgeous theater, I watched my angel make her appearance. I took in her graceful figure and allowed my gaze to drift down to her feet. I swelled with pride as she echapped from a perfect fifth position and held en pointe. Beautiful. Classic. Love.

This is what the weekly grind had refined. Pique turns accomplished. Impeccable port de bras. A beauty floating like vapor who is still the queen of the leaps. Her work this year was done, and even from the proximity of the fifth row you would not notice the labor in the shoes. You would not see how the shoes themselves carried the load of the dance, how they bore their own bruises, how like life itself, their luster seemed to be left with their youth. Their work this year was also done.

Ocean’s first pointe shoes are now retired and are pictured in their current glory below right. They will likely be preserved in a shadow box alongside a

After the Dance
After the Dance swimmingwithoutthemanual

professional photograph of the girl who brought them to life.