‘Tis the Life of a Dancer, Episode 2

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102_0102I recently got a new pair of pointe shoes. Like almost every other pair I’ve ever had, they’re Grishko 2007, 5.5 XXX, medium shank. To anyone who isn’t familiar with ballet and with pointe shoe lingo, that means absolutely nothing. To anyone who is, it gives a pretty specific description of what my feet are like, because pointe shoes are a very individualized thing. Different dancers have different pointe shoe preferences based mainly upon the shape, size, and strength of their feet. If I wanted to give you an even better knowledge of the nature of my feet, I could do so by describing exactly how this particular type of shoe fits me.

For those of you who don’t know much about pointe shoes, I will clarify that Grishko is the brand, 2007 is the name of that particular product, 5.5 is the size, (which obviously does not correspond to street shoe size), XXX is the width, and “medium shank” refers to the stiffness of the part of the shoe that would be called the sole in most types of shoe.  (Technically, a pointe shoe has both a shank and a sole, but they’re more or less in the same part of the shoe) I haven’t actually tried enough different types of shoes to be completely sure that this is the best possible shoe for me; in fact, I would expect that a shoe with a shorter vamp would be more comfortable given the shape of my toe joints. Still, I’m pretty fond of the Grishko 2007. It fits decently and, in my personal opinion, it’s basically the prettiest pointe shoe available.

I'm sticking this is just for reference, although some of these labels aren't terms that are used very often.

I’m sticking this is just for reference, although some of these labels aren’t terms that are used very often.

Despite my regard for my particular kind of pointe shoes, and despite the pointe shoe obsession that I share with pretty much every other ballet student in the world, I thoroughly hate getting new pointe shoes. Of course, it’s very difficult to dance in old shoes that have gotten too soft and weak, (or, to use a technical term, “dead”) but the transition from a dead pair of shoes to a brand new pair of shoes is pretty miserable.

Have you ever gotten a finger or toe slammed in a door? Wearing new pointe shoes for the first time feels like having your entire foot slammed in a door, with someone holding the door shut on your foot for the duration of the class or rehearsal. Just in case anyone reads that as hyperbole or humor, I want to emphasize that it really isn’t. A new pair of pointe shoes is extremely hard and quite tight, even if it fits just fine a few days later. Bruises, blisters, bloody toes, and swelling are so characteristic of the ballet experience that it’s weird and unusual not to be suffering from at least one of those afflictions at any given time. Stress fractures and tendonitis are perfectly normal, too, although they are more avoidable. Crushed toes are not avoidable at all. Of course, in my case, the thing about the longer-than-ideal vamp doesn’t help. And it’s true that it’s possible to start breaking pointe shoes in before actually dancing in them, which also helps. But there’s only so much that can be done; it’s inevitable that the first time one wears a new pair of pointe shoes is not going to be an enjoyable experience.

This particular shoe and I got along quite nicely, at least for a couple weeks in the middle of its career.

This particular shoe and I got along quite nicely, at least for a couple weeks in the middle of its career.

It seems like every pair of pointe shoes breaks in slightly differently. Some pairs become reasonably comfortable as soon as they’ve been worn a couple times and have softened just a little bit. Others remain tight and painful right up until the moment that they’re too dead to feel right and function properly. When a pair of shoes is temperamental like that, bruised toenails are inevitable, because that is a problem caused both by shoes that are too hard and shoes that are too soft. On some pointe shoes, the shank is the first part to die, which basically means that the shoe becomes too weak along the bottom of the foot and it becomes difficult to hold the foot in the correct position on pointe. That will hinder balance and control, but it actually makes the dancer’s foot look really good on pointe and it doesn’t generally hurt. Other times, the first part to go soft is the part where the platform meets the bottom of the vamp. (That is, the front of the shoe right at the tip) I know that other people sometimes have the platform die before anything else, but that isn’t something I’ve experienced. I don’t know whether that’s because of the kind of shoe I have or because of the shape of my foot.

On my new pointe shoes, the shanks are probably going to be the first thing to die. They’re already pretty well broken in, which is great right now because it means that the shoes already look good on my feet, (which sometimes can take a few days or even weeks) but it probably means that I can’t count on the shanks to stay hard for very long. The box, on the other hand, is still pretty tight. In fact, on the right shoe, I’ve even bruised my fingers while pulling my shoe onto my foot, and not surprisingly, my foot is more badly bruised. I’m hoping that they’ll soften soon and that this pair of shoes will be friends with me, but I’m guessing that this will be the kind of pair that will be dead before I really have finished breaking them in. (Note to my sister: It’s okay for me to end this sentence with a preposition because the word “in” is not acting as a preposition; it’s acting as part of the verb “break in”.)

102_0103So, to all the non-dancers who like to ask if it “hurts to stand on your toes like that”, the answer is yes. Yes, it does. But we do it anyway because it’s fun and it looks cool.


Alacrity and Other Words

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The scrabble dictionary kind of blends the two definitions.

Today, I discovered something which has shattered my view of the universe. (Or at least my view of the English language) It turns out that, for years, I’ve been wrong about what the word alacrity means. I’d always thought that alacrity was just a fancy and particularly awesome word for speed, but it turns out that it really means ‘cheerful readiness’. Actually, Google informs me that ‘speed’ is an acceptable alternate definition, but it goes without saying that I should have been aware of the primary definition.

A sister without a shoe

I still remember the day when I heard the word alacrity for the first time. It was a Sunday morning when I was a small child. We were about to go to church, and almost everyone’s shoes were missing. (For much of my childhood, it was necessary for my family to set aside shoe-hunting time before any departure from the house) As the shoes failed to appear and the danger of being late for church increased, my mother requested greater alacrity in our search. I asked her what alacrity meant, and she answered me, but now that I think back on it, I don’t remember exactly what she said. Did I immediately forget, and then later replace the definition in my brain with something else and attribute that answer to her? Or did she tell me that alacrity meant speed? I suppose I could ask her, but she probably doesn’t specifically remember the incident and won’t be able to tell me exactly what she said. I shall be left wondering where I got my misinformation, even while I am lamenting the (almost) non-existence of the definition of one of my favorite words.  This disturbing realization forces me to face a troubling question: should I remove ‘alacrity’ from my list of really cool words, or should I keep it on the list, but adjust the terms of my penchant for it in order to reflect my new understanding of its true meaning?

My list of really cool words doesn’t actually exist in a written form, although it has been my intention to write it, mainly because I like making lists. Here are a few other words that would be on that list, all of which I have just looked up to thoroughly ensure that they really do mean what I think they mean. (Disclaimer: In case it isn’t painfully obvious, I don’t know any Latin whatsoever, so all of the Latin words used here came from the all-knowing internet, and I may have used them incorrectly)


Decimate (verb)

Definition: To kill or destroy most of something

Etymology: From the Latin ‘decimare’, which technically means to kill exactly one tenth of a group. Although it had never occurred to me before, I guess it ought to be pretty obvious from the ‘deci’ that it had something to do with the number ten. That’s interesting. Now I’m really glad that I decided to look up these words.


Trepidation (noun)

Definition: Fear and agitation

Etymology: The word dates back to around 1600 and comes from the Latin word ‘trepidationem’, which boringly means the exact same thing as the current English word. It is worth noting, though, that it is related to the words ‘tremble’ and ‘tremulous’.


Decapitated (adjective)

Definition: Having had one’s head cut off

(Note: It’s also a verb, as the past tense of ‘decapitate’. One who has been decapitated is decapitated, which is a very decapacitating condition.)

Etymology: The word ‘decapitate’ comes from the French word decapiter, which comes from the Latin ‘decapitare’. ‘Capitis’ means head, and ‘de-‘ indicates that the head isn’t there anymore.


Simultaneously (adverb)

Definition: At the same time

Etymology: It originated in the 1650s and comes from the Latin ‘simultaneus’, which predictably means ‘at the same time’. The root word is ‘simul’, from which we also get the word ‘similar’.

The reason I like this word is that I know how to spell it. I’m a terrible speller and rely heavily upon Google and spellcheck. They frequently have cause to correct me, but all three of us agree about the spelling of ‘simultaneously’, which makes me feel very clever.


Flabbergasted (adjective)

Definition: Greatly surprised

Etymology: Apparently, the origin is uncertain, because the only information I can find is that some magazine article in 1772 listed it as a newly invented word.


Subsequent (adjective)

Definition: Closely following (as in a list or chronological order)

Etymology: It comes from the French ‘subséquent’, which comes from the Latin ‘subsequentem’, which literally means ‘closely following’. I’m a bit confused about that because I thought ‘sub-‘ generally meant ‘under’, not ‘close’.


Incidentally (adverb)

Definition: Used to introduce a new but somewhat related point

Etymology: The root word, ‘incident’, comes from the identical French word, which comes from the Latin word ‘incidere’. The prefix ‘in-‘ apparently can mean ‘on’, and ‘cidere’ apparently means ‘fell again’. Now I’m kind of confused. Apparently, the current meaning of ‘incident’ dates to the middle of the 15th century, and the current use of the word ‘incidentally’ has only existed since about 1925.

This word had to go on the list because my sisters laugh at me for using it so frequently.

“Incidentally,” I sometimes will say, “what time is it?”

“Incidentally,” they will respond, “we don’t know.”

Then I will explain to them that one never answers a question with ‘incidentally’, and they will explain to me that they don’t care, because they were only using that word to tease me.


Discombobulated (adjective)

Definition: Confused and disoriented, mixed up

Etymology: Originally, the word was ‘discombobricated’. It was invented in 1834 by some Americans who thought they were being clever by making up funny sounding words. What an odd thing to do. That kind of thing would never happen in this century. Oh, wait…


Camaduka (noun)

Definition: I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.

Etymology: My sisters and I invented it.

Most commonly used in the expression ‘Great camaduka!’