Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Dancers feet are scary.
If you haven’t seen them up close, you wouldn’t know this…like most of the general public, you’re completely deluded.
You probably think of a ballerina pirouetting in gleaming pale pink satin pointe shoes, or maybe a ballroom dancer gliding around the stage strappy metallic heels.
Possibly you see a Rockette in fishnets and pristine character shoes, a sassy burlesque gal strutting around in darling vintage baby doll pumps, a street dancer in unlaced tennies or a barefoot belly dancer with a perfect pedicure, a mehndi design fetchingly winding up her arch?
Get real! That’s way off mark.
Dancers feet routinely take a beating, and it shows. The feet of any professional dancer or avid dance student-no matter what age or experience level, are full of blisters, thick calluses, split skin, corns, and bunions. If the dancer works barefoot, the way many styles of dance require, then you can also add “filthy” onto the list, because even when a barefoot dancer scrubs and pumices her feet, they still appear dirty, because of all the calluses.
The plain truth is, most dancers have feet that are undeniably frightening- in fact; they give most zombie movies a run for their money!
I have dancers feet- oh, you bet I do.
Before I started dancing, I went barefoot habitually, so I already had the calluses and dirty-looking thing goin’ on, but as much as I liked feeling the grass or sand underfoot, I was never too fond of my feet. They served their purpose well, but they were never what anyone would call aesthetically pleasing.
My feet are small and square, almost as wide as they were long. I have the feet of my ancestors: tough little dogs that had apparently been designed for standing hours on end in a soggy Ukrainian field, harvesting a meager crop of potatoes.
I used to joke that the appearance of my feet was akin to the way the bottom of The Coward Lion’s costume looked in “The Wizard Of Oz”: oddly- shaped, boxy and grubby.
When I first began to dance, I felt even felt a bit of foot-shame.
Like most civilians, and many dance novices, I thought that dancers were supposed to have beautiful, dainty, high-arched feet that matched the preternatural beauty of their bodies in motion…and mine just didn’t live up to the fantasy. Boy, was I wrong…. and I heaved a sigh of relief, feeling as though I had just joined a wonderful secret society, a club where everyone’s feet looked like they’d been through a war! I no longer had to make excuses for my battered, banged up tootsies- I now had an excuse, I was a dancer! My messy-looking feet had finally brought me home.
When I started performing, I made every effort possible to have my feet look presentable in performance…so I could preserve the glamourous illusion for the sake of my audience. I’d sleep with my feet slathered in Vaseline, encased in a pair of thick socks. I obsessively carried nail polish in my gig bag so I could touch up my ghetto- looking toes before hitting the stage.
I got frequent pedicures at my Korean-run nail salon, but it was kind of pointless. It was like when you see a car driving around with a totally smashed- in bumper that the driver has tried to repair with duct tape…making the damage just seem even more visible.
I always felt a little nervous going to my nail salon, like I was some kind of an imposter trying to pass an identity test, because most of the other patrons weren’t dancers, and they all seemed to have perfectly groomed, impossibly soft and pampered feet.
Finally, at the salon, I found Anna, a nice lady who did great work at repairing my feet and making them seem almost human. Though her English was toddler-level at best, Anna was always cheerful as she’d scour away the layers of dead skin. Plus, she gave great massages that went all the way up to the knees.
I tried explaining to her that I was a dancer, but I don’t think Anna ever comprehended what I was saying…. she’d just smile and nod. But she intuitively understood which calluses needed to stay and which needed to be destroyed. She’d bend over the wreckage that was my feet, working diligently and keeping up a constant, happy murmuring chatter in Korean with the other technicians.
Once in a while, Anna would wave the nail polish I’d selected and look me directly in the eye, beaming at me and whispering,
“Ni’ colo’ … men like!”
I always tipped her sumptuously, and truly believed we had a rapport.
Because I didn’t want to offend her in any way, I’d taken to trying to do a bit of damage control before each appointment, trying to make myself “presentable”. Pre- professional pedicure, neurotically soaking, scrubbing and pumicing my feet at home, trying valiantly to get them up to the level of the sorority girls or stay-at-home-mom’s feet that I felt Anna was used to dealing with.
One day, I had a pedicure appointment directly after a class I was teaching. Since I wasn’t at home and couldn’t do my usual pre-pedi cleansing ritual, I reached into my dance bag to grab a baby-wipe, and at least get rid of some of the surface grime.
To my horror, the package was empty.
By this time I was already in the car, and also running a bit behind. I wasn’t late yet, but I would be if I went back into the studio to rinse off, or to stop and purchase more baby wipes. I blithely made the decision to show up with my feet as-is for my appointment; after all, I was Anna’s regular customer, we knew each other…. she’d understand!
As I hurried into the salon, Anna was already set up at her station, waiting for me.
“Hi Prince’!” She said in her low, polite voice, “You late… you forge’ appoin’me’ with Anna?”
Contritely, I explained that I had just come from class, kicked off my flip-flops and stuck my feet in the tub. To add to my shame, the water immediately turned a muddy dark grey. There were actual specks of studio-floor dirt and debris floating on the surface.
Feeling guilty, I had an urgent need to address the situation and apologize for it, so I confided my predicament to Anna in a conspiratorial tone.
“I’m sooo sorry,” I began, “I just came from dance class, and my feet are… uh…well, they’re kind of dirty.”
She abruptly cut me off in mid-sentence, her voice rising to a decibel I’d never once heard her reach previously.
“OOOOOOOOOOH, PRINCE’ ! ”, she bellowed in an accusatory tone so loudly that every manicurist and patron in the salon whipped around to stare at me in disgust,
“YOU FEET ALWAY TERRIBLE!”