maggiealderson

Seven Days of Positive – Day 107

In Ballet, Royal Ballet on January 19, 2015 at 11:14 pm

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The other day, I took Peggy to London to be fitted for her first pair of pointe shoes. It would be hard to say which of us it meant more to.

Peggy has been doing ballet – on and off – since she was four. In the past couple of years it has gradually progressed up the ladder of her priorities to become all consuming. She’s obsessed with it to the point where it can be quite dangerous in our house depending which step or move she is perfecting.

Many is the time I’ve turned the corner towards the front door to have a small figure grande jete into me, or turned round in the kitchen with a hot pan to find her spinning in a series of whiplash pirouettes.

I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.

I’m mad about ballet, always have been and I was bewildered for years that Pegs didn’t share my joy. She liked skipping about in a leotard as much as she likes all things physical, but she didn’t share my obsession for all the glorious details of ballet. The kit and the barre and the famous dancers.

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn were my idols and I couldn’t interest her in any of that side of it, until one day it just clicked. She suddenly became fixated on the notion and legend of pointe shoes, just as I had as a child.

From there it’s grown and grown. World Ballet Day last year (see below) moved her on to the next level, of understanding the fascination of the daily class, the rehearsal outfits, the subtle way dancers’ personalities are reflected in their dancing.

Since then she has absorbed all the French terms for steps, with the ease keen gardeners reel off Latin plant names.

But the key thing was finding the right teachers, as she’d been put off early on by a grumpy one at a very competitive school. The change started with a lovely woman, who does very small, low key classes in a studio in her family home. Without the mean girls and pushy mums, Peggy was able to simply enjoy the dancing.

After a year there which really built her confidence, she wanted a greater challenge and has progressed to a school with a very upbeat modern atmosphere – and a head who went to the Royal Ballet School. She now works with three teachers there, all of them lovely and she has come to adore the sense of being in a gang with them and her Grade 5 colleagues.

With her passion ignited, she has leapt forward in skills as she does along the hallway, until finally the big day came and the head of the school examined all the Grade 5 feet and declared them ready to move on to pointe.

I admit I had a moment’s doubt. Would it destroy her beautiful little feet?

I was never allowed to have pointes. My father was a radiologist and he said he’d looked at too many x rays of dancers’ wrecked feet to allow any child of his to do that to themselves. Add to that, my mother having damaged her own feet with pointe shoes and it just wasn’t going to happen for me. I gave up ballet.

(Which I cannot, in all honesty, pretend was any loss to the world of dance…)

So forcing her to wait (which I also reckoned wouldn’t do her any harm) while I did some research, I satisfied myself that pointe shoes and training for them have advanced a lot since my mum’s day and apart from the inevitable corns and blisters, dancers’ feet are no longer inevitably deformed.

With this established, I was just as excited as Peggy and there was only one place I was prepared to take her for the momentous fitting: Freed, in London. That legendary shop which produces bespoke shoes for many of the world’s greatest ballerinas, still marvellously old fashioned and not re-branded (long may that last).

But before we went there, I had another treat planned. I booked us in for the backstage tour of the Royal Opera House. What a bargain. £12 for me, £8 for Peggy and it was simply thrilling. I am now in absolute awe of that institution and would recommend the tour to everyone.

It’s all amazing, but the best part for us, of course, was getting to watch through the observation window as two principals from the Royal Ballet (two words it thrills me even to type) rehearsed a pas de deux from Don Quixote.

When we moved on to the next part of the tour, we came round the corner to find Steven McRae very intently engaged in a warm up plie. Peggy’s eyes nearly came out on stalks.

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The level of his concentration was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. It was like standing next to Roger Federer just before a serve. I was also able to observe that male ballet dancers are a lot beefier up close than they look leaping about a stage. The man is a wall of muscle.

Round the next corner we found Eric Underwood, casually lying down on a window seat. I could have fainted dead away.

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Steven McRae is the wonderful Aussie dancer who is so amazing as the tapping Mad Hatter in the Royal Ballet’s production of Alice in Wonderland. Eric Underwood plays the caterpillar. We are now completely obsessed with them both and are planning to queue from 7am for day tickets to see Mr McRae in Swan Lake in March (all the regular tickets are long sold out).

Have a look at this and you’ll understand why we were so blown away.

By the time we left I was on such a cloud of excitement, I felt like I was on pointe myself, bourree-ing en couru out on to Drury Lane. Then there was just time for a quick photo with the ballerina statue opposite the Opera House and then on to Freed.

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We were served by Amy and it was every bit as thrilling as I thought it would be. She and her colleague taking the choice of the shoe – there are very subtle differences between the styles, about five different ones, as far as I could tell – very seriously.

It reminded me of the scene in the wand shop in Harry Potter.

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And finally, the very first rise…

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The shoes chosen, we then had the joy of selecting some accessories – a special pointe shoe sewing kit (pink, of course), toe protectors, a pointe shoe bag, some of those tights which convert from footed to footless and then, because I only have one daughter, a Freed ballet bag.

The train journey home was the perfect opportunity to sew on the ribbons and then the great moment – tying them on for the very first time. Over thick socks, as advised by her teacher.

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Her first walk in them was like watching Daffy Duck, but in what seemed like moments they became part of her and she spent the rest of the journey practising lifts at the conveniently provided barre (hand rail).

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She has named them her ‘Amys’, has them on her feet every moment she’s in the house and sleeps with them next to her pillow.

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  1. Oh This brought back many a fond memory of my first pair of pointe shoes… *sigh* 💖 thanks Maggie

  2. Love love love, and can relate. My eldest grandaughter (14) is a ballerina at a slightly more advanced level, i.e. she has had her pointes for about a year now. What a wonderful bonding experience for you and your lovely daughter.

  3. Oh Maggie what a jam packed wonderful shared mother & daughter day. You both surely will remember every minute of it for the rest of your lives xxx

  4. Oh Maggie, this was wonderful to read. Brought back memories of my own ballet classes (which I gave up before we got to pointe – but I used to stuff handkerchiefs – real cotton ones, remember them? – into my ballet shoes and pretend). What a lovely day the two of you had together.

  5. So gorgeous of you to share yours and Peggy’s ballet shoe story. It brought tears to my eyes. So special Maggie x

  6. Squeeee! Congrats to Peggy! Your first pair of pointes is soo exciting!

    It is not so much the shoes that can wreck your feet, as lack of strength in combination with technique. It is the dancer’s own muscles that support the foot and body on pointe rather than the shoes. Often a new dancer will be given exercises that they are not yet strong enough for, and hence their feet get injured, due to the toes ending up doing the supporting, rather than metatarsals etc. I HIGHLY recommend this DVD series by Vicki Attard (ex principla dancer for Australian Ballet) and Lisa Howell (physiotherapist) for beginners on pointe which aims to build up and develop strength.

    http://mybeginnerpointe.com/

    • Thanks so so much for this. I can tell you know what you are talking about. I am a bit concerned that Peggy is already practising the Dying Swan in the kitchen, when at class they are still doing the foot strengthening. I am so going to look at that link. Huge thanks x

  7. I’m not sure why but that made me very teary.

  8. Oh so gorgeous ! What a beautiful day you both had together. 💖

  9. Dear Maggie,
    What a wonderful magical day that neither of you will ever forget!!
    My darling daughter did ballet too, but nowhere as serious as Peggy (Gold Coast quite a ballet backwater lol). I do remember her first points but my strongest memory was how bad and useless I was at sewing ribbons on, or any dance accouchement for that matter. There was always blood from my pricked fingers that I would feverishly attempt to sponge out and in the end the teachers you to take pity on me and do it!
    My 23 year old radiographer daughter still is known to jete across the family room and she gets so chuffed that she can still do it!
    KateBx

  10. Oh bless…. This is so lovely. I have a grand daughter who is a dancer, so I can relate.👯

  11. Can I just say, as a Freed living in Sydney it gives me no end of pleasure to see you and Peggy getting so much pleasure from my in-laws family business. When my daughter was about Peggy’s age she did a project on Freed’s shoes and the red pointe slippers featured. Enjoy!

    • oooh how thrilling to hear from a real Freed! Peggy will be beside herself, because she’s obsessed with the shop. I’m always so glad it’s still just as it was when I was young and used to live nearby and hasn’t been given some ghastly branding treatment. The staff are such a delight. They understand just how special a moment it was for Peggy – probably remembered their own first pointe shoes… Thanks so much for commenting. Maggie x

  12. How marvellous, didn’t know you were such a lover of ballet! I have bunions but I think this is a bit hereditary from my dads side, though obviously exacerbated with pointe work. I otherwise had a good instep and strong ankles so other than the bunions and not being able to wear delicate strappy sandals for fear of terrifying the general public, I actually don’t have any other foot problems. (Am now 42). I still live in hope that one of my two daughters will take it up again – 10 and 5 – they both got tired and bored with it sadly, though the youngest might pick it up again – but probably not before she learns that hanging upside from the barre during class is not the done thing! Enjoy this time with Peggy – so precious!

    • I still can’t quite believe that the ballet bug did finally catch Peggy. I’ve been heartbroken about it for years, but the wrong school put her off very young. I feel like a great wrong has been righted. I hope your girls tune in too. Peggy was nearly 11 when I found the right teacher. I thought it was too late but I heard the British dancer Arlene Phillips talking on the radio and she didn’t take up ballet until she was 11, so all that starting from three stuff is overrated…

  13. Gorgeous! A similar thing going on in my house with violins…

  14. Gorgeous story Maggie. May Peggy continue get love & delight in dance forever. My daughter’s journey to pointe is very similar, right down to the shoes sleeping on her pillow! But not, sadly the trip to Freed (I can recommend Bloch in Aust though). We are on to our fifth pair, the previous four, in all their well worn glory, are displayed as wall art in her bedroom.

    • I so love hearing about all these balletomanes… I remember Bloch with great fondness from my Sydney days and next time we come over, I’m so taking Peggy in there. It would be good for her to try different shoes. There is a shop in a town about 40 minutes away where they stock them and the owner is a guru of pointe fitting, so it will be interesting to see what she says. xxx

  15. What a gorgeous day – one day we might do something similar in our house, but at also Bloch rather than Freeds.

    In Aus, before the girls are allowed into pointe shoes, they have to go to a dance physiotherapist to assess whether their growing feet and bodies are ready. (I’m not sure if it’s compulsory, but it certainly seems like a good idea). The physio / pilates practice I attend have a couple of ex-Australian Ballet dancers who are now pilates instructors and physios, and the whole assessment process is taken very seriously. And their feet seem ok to look at 🙂

    I’ve just added a tour of the Royal Opera House to my list of things to do with my two girls when we finally all go on a UK family trip. Thanks Maggie – I do love reading your creative, interesting and witty blog.

    • Thanks Katherine! I can’t rate that tour highly enough, such value for money, although you do have to book well in advance, there were hardly any spots left. I would have liked a more rigorous assessment of Peggy’s pointe shoe readiness in all honesty, but the head of her ballet school is Royal Ballet School trained and does know her stuff. Next time we are going to take her to a specialist shop in Tunbridge Wells, where they stock Bloch, Freeds and various other makes and the woman there is a GURU of pointe fitting. I passionately adore Freeds, but I’d like a second opinion. If Peggy hadn’t done acro gymnastics for so many years, I don’t think she would have been ready, but her legs are very strong from that. It’s all about the ankles really, isn’t it?

  16. What a beautiful, beautiful story! You should turn it into a kid’s book for budding ballerinas.I am so jealous you were in such close quarters to Steven McRae: I have enjoyed watching his career blossom from afar.

    I miss all things ballet: Chloe still dances but a tiny abnormality on a bone in her ankle put paid to her pointe and even demi pointe work a couple of years ago. Surgery was an option but no guarantee of success, so….

    I well remember the named pointe shoes tucked next to her pillow. And the rows of used pointe shoes hanging in her wardrobe. Lovely memories…

  17. PS Just remembered too: Chloe used a theraband from the physio to strengthen her feet and ankles: just a long stretchy rubbery strip.

    • aha another ballet ‘mom’. I am loving it. Theraband is a very good idea, we’ll get one. So glad you also appreciate Mr McRae. We are going to go and queue up at 7am for the day tickets when he’s dancing in Swan Lake. He has such personality.

  18. A most excellent post! A combination of reminiscence of my youth, and the delightful you tube of Alice in Wonderland, thank you so much.

  19. Oh dear Maggie, I am in bits. I don’t think you could have given your little girl a better day, period. How wonderful, the backstage tour, up close with those magnificent dancers, the pointe fitting and up, up, up on the train home. Glorious. I am living on the Bedfordshire Thameslink line at the moment and the service into London is wonderful (if not a bit expensive!) and enjoy having a table to organise oneself/bag on/with – but I haven’t seen anyone sewing satin ribbons onto pointe shoes yet. What a truly memorable day for both of you. I hope ballet remains a source of joy for both of you for ever and ever. BXX

    • You wouldn’t be very impressed with my stitching… ha ha and it turns out I had them in wrong, but another mother has sewn them in correctly and I’ll know for next time. I’m itching to darn the toes, because I’m quite good at satin stitch…

  20. Dear Maggie, sounds like there will be plenty of opportunity for darning toes. So thrilled that you can share all this ballet love so enthusiastically with Peggy, a wonderful thing indeed and the makings of beautiful memories for you both. Many a mother/daughter relationship craves for a shared passion like this. Very happy for you both. BX

  21. what a lovely post. such a balm after a day of reading technical stuff. the memories of my childhood ballet days and the excitement of buying all the paraphernalia came flooding back. agree with the comment above – would make a great basis for a kids story! Thanks Maggie.

  22. Lovely to read your words again- I miss you in australian print. My beautiful daughter is onto her second pair of pointes and the beauty of taking her to buy them this time was bestowed upon my sister, her godmother, whom was a ballet dancer herself. She was thrilled to leave her three boys and share in this right of passage. Thank you for sharing yours so beautifully.

    • Thanks Salliann! when I’m in Sydney soon I’m really looking forward to going to the Bloch shop so I can buy her some bits and bobs. I do worry about their beautiful perfect feet, but when it’s a passion you can’t refuse can you? If you like this blog, the safest way to make sure you get it every time is to sign up on my new website here http://maggiealderson.com/ M xxx

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