Ballerina or Waitress?
Radiation Level: Can Feel It In My Toes
Listening To: Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky
Black Swan is my favorite narrative film of 2010 so far. I’m an O.G. Darren Aronofsky fan. To the point that I actually chased him down a hall after a panel at Sundance.
FalloutGirl: Darren, wait!
Darren Aronofsky: Yes?
(awkward pause – what can I say that’s interesting and original and distinguishes me from all his other fans)
FalloutGirl: Uh…I loved Requiem for a Dream.
(awkward look from D.A.)
FalloutGirl: Keep up the good work.
My next run-in with Darren would be with my script Enchantress of Numbers. It was twice a finalist in a screenwriting competition. And, twice, it didn’t win. The judge? Darren Aronofsky. Both times.
Despite our difficult relationship, I love D.A.’s films. And Black Swan is no exception. I won’t say too much other than go see it. But it did bring back some memories…
When I was a little girl, I took ballet, jazz and tap dance lessons for about 8 years. I loved tap because the songs were catchy (Singing in the Rain was my number) and I was probably pretty good, though I remember going to an audition for an actual TV show (I must have been around 10) and getting cut pretty early.
The ballet classes were more for fun since I was only going once or twice a week. When I was very young, 5 or 6, I would tell people, “When I grow up, I want to be either a ballerina or a waitress.”
Let’s just say at least one of these dreams came true.
I think I was attracted to ballet because of the tutus. Not joking. What little girl doesn’t like those damn things? The dancing was okay, but very serious and hard. Tap was fun and I could be sassy and show my personality. Not ballet. The music was classical and boring and my toes were more important than my face. I didn’t have a ballerina’s body, though I was too young to understand that then.
When I started taking a new ballet class, a young student in the class asked the ballet teacher if she could bring her toe shoes. The teacher said, “of course.”
For those of you who’ve never studied ballet, let’s just say that going “en pointe” is the pinnacle of ballet training. It is the thing you take years for which to prepare. Despite my ambivalence about ballet as a dance form, I wanted to go en pointe just like every other girl in the class did. Boy, did I ever! Those fancy pink shoes with all the straps! Yippee! So when the teacher said “yes” to the other girl, I assumed that meant I could bring my toe shoes, too.
One little problem: I didn’t have any.
FalloutGirl: Mommy, my new ballet teacher says I can go en pointe.
Mother: Really? Are you sure?
FalloutGirl: Yes! I just need to get toe shoes.
Mother: Don’t you know they’re really expensive?
(pause – I’m thinking how to get around this)
FalloutGirl: Can’t you ask Uncle Moneybags?
Mother: I don’t know. We’ll see.
Uncle Moneybags was my father’s mother’s uncle. He was born in 1888 and was, needless-to-say, very old. But he had a lot of money and liked (or at least occasionally agreed) to help out the family.
After more urgings by me, we ended up at the dance store to purchase my toe shoes. I was in seventh-little-girl-unicorn-heaven! God, were they GORGEOUS! Pink silk, long ribbons. WOW! And they were mine and I was going to be a ballerina not a waitress!!!
I think the shoes cost around $30, which now sounds like a mere half a tank of gas. But we were poor and I was terribly lucky to get them. And I knew it.
I remember the first day I wore them. My mother drove me and another little girl to ballet class in our VW Bus. They were already strapped to my feet as I got into the car. We pulled over momentarily to look at a garage sale and I ran out of the car in the toe shoes. A sin for which I was yelled at and banished back to the car. I didn’t care. These shoes were worth getting yelled at. I was going to be a ballerina not a waitress. The fact that my mother couldn’t understand this grand twist of fate was her fault, not mine.
In ballet class, I tried to warm up at the barre with these tight, clunky, wooden-toed shoes. I releved on full pointe. That’s when I had a serous disconnect. The amount of PAIN I felt was surely a mistake, right? I’m not supposed to be standing ON THE ACTUAL TIPS OF MY TOES, am I?
Okay, let’s back up. I know they are called toe shoes. But I always assumed this was an illusion. That one’s toes would actually be bent to support one’s weight, as if one were walking on tippee-toe. Reality check: The reason it takes years to go en pointe is because you are standing on the tips of your frigging toes. And it frigging hurts. A lot.
As a nine or ten year old, I hadn’t been introduced to high-heeled shoes yet, so I’d never considered that dancing (or walking) in pain was even a remote possibility – let alone – necessary.
Of course ballet dancers (and high-heeled shoe wearers) develop calluses and blisters, add padding, etc. if not to ease the pain, at least to tolerate it. But I didn’t know this. I panicked, not knowing how to handle the situation. I was too embarrassed to admit to the teacher that my feet hurt, didn’t know what I was doing or – eek- wasn’t ready to go en pointe.
Maybe I wasn’t ready? Oh, God, but I want to be sooooo bad! But what I didn’t comprehend (and clearly neither did my mother) was that there’s a BIG difference between taking ballet classes and becoming a ballerina. To become the latter, I’d need classes from a top school four or five times a week, a teacher/parent planning my ascension into the serious ballet world. Discipline. Private coaching. Ballet camps, etc. The only thing I had was hope. And a pair of shoes I didn’t know how to stand in, let alone dance in.
Some months later, when I had stopped bringing the toe shoes to class, wearing them around the house or even speaking about ballet, my mother confronted me.
Mother: I think you lied to me about getting those toe shoes!
FalloutGirl: No, I didn’t.
Mother: Then how come you’re not still using them?
FalloutGirl: I am.
Mother: Whatever. Why do I bother to sacrifice for you when you just lie to me?
And we never spoke about the shoes again. Maybe Uncle Moneybags didn’t pay for them, maybe my mother did sacrifice for them. I don’t know.
What I do know is that eight years later, I became a waitress.