Ballet Series: What’s In My Shoe?

This is a ballet technique shoe.

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There really isn’t much to it. Canvas, some elastic, and two small pieces of leather for the sole.

Needless to say, there is no support in a ballet technique shoe. A dancer’s feet and ankles must be incredibly strong. The foot and ankle must always maintain stability. During some steps, a dancer’s ankle must absorb up to 14 times her body weight.

So, what’s a dancer to do when her foot, ankle, and lower leg stop functioning properly? Crying and pouting are certainly always valid options, but they don’t help rebuild someone who has become a partial person.

Dancing has been my identity since I was in preschool. In my tweens, the only disciplinary threat my parents ever gave to me was to “take away” dance. In a seemingly overly dramatic retort, I cried, “I would rather die than stop dancing.” I never stayed out late, I kept up my grades, I did chores, I maintained peace with my brother, I never missed a dance class. Not dancing was not an option. It still isn’t. Despite being crippled by CRPS, I have to maintain the hope that I will eventually find a way to accommodate my limitations. 

My right foot is now completely flat. The muscles that hold up my arch simply don’t work. I wore an arch support insert inside my sneaker when my doctor told me to try to wear a shoe on my right foot (predating the boot that has become a semi-permanent fixture to my life).

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It occurred to me one day a few months ago, during a brief moment of clarity, that if I could put the insert into a sneaker, maybe I could put the insert into a ballet slipper.

I have roughly 15 ballet technique shoes that all once belonged in matching sets of twos. Over time, they all ended up in a bin, hibernating under my bed. Some have elastic sewn properly and neatly in an X across the arch. Some have no elastic. Some have elastic sewn in a giant loop that I’d cross and bring under the bottom of the shoe. Some have two half sewn elastic pieces that I’d tie in a knot across my ankle. The elastic sewing situation depended solely on how lazy I was at a given point in time.

For my CRPS foot, I chose a shoe with the elastic in a giant loop.

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The insert fits perfectly inside. It cushions my heel and keeps my arch lifted.

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…and then there is the brace. A friend casually commented to me recently about my “cute black sock.” Well, that “sock” provides a great amount of stability to my ankle.

Take off your shoes and stand on one leg. Go on, do it.

Do you notice how there are lots of tiny adjustments in your foot and ankle as you maintain your balance?

Well, these tiny adjustments do not happen in my right foot. None of those little muscles function on their own. I do countless exercises with my therabands. I have been working on a balance board for over two and a half years. I swim. I ride my bike. I do everything that I am supposed to do. And still. Nothing.

If I want to attempt standing on my right leg, I have to have my body perfectly aligned, and then I just kind of hope I can keep myself upright. The one thing I can rely on: my leg and ankle will give out on me without warning.

So, I wear a brace in an attempt to maintain stability that my ankle does not provide for itself.

…and then I attempt to “dance.” This set up is not comfortable. Nothing about CRPS is comfortable. Then again, nothing about ballet is comfortable either.

I have no interest in comfort because I am (safely, slowly, steadfastly) fighting to keep a promise I made to myself a very long time ago: never give up this fundamentally crucial piece of who I am.

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6 thoughts on “Ballet Series: What’s In My Shoe?

  1. Love this entry. You have such strength. I had that ankle support brace too. After my ankle was broken, I wore that for several years. I lost the side-to-side support after the surgery. I’m sure you know how that feels. It was just a floppy foot. I was in constant danger of rolling that angle and snapping it again unless I had some support for it. Anyhoo, thanks for another great entry. Love it, love you, love your shoes.

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  2. I would be really interested in chatting to you, also a dancer fighting crps in my whole right leg and foot drop ;( built my school the past 11years and now on crutches

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    1. Oh no!!! I am so very sorry… I am still fumbling my way through this mess… I haven’t actually been able to dance properly since my accident three years ago. I have attempted 3 *beginner* classes in the past 3.5 months. I have recently begun to “teach” at a neighborhood studio, but that too is very limited. I have the students demonstrate. I am honing my verbal cues and the students are learning my language. Even so, I am not able to do more than a couple hours at a time and that lays me out for days… I literally feel your pain… 😥 I hope you have good doctors who you trust. My doctors are my saviors and they all want to see me active and dancing again. They stress physical therapy to keep functionality and mobility. I swim almost daily for at least 30 minutes at a time and I ride my bike (on a trainer for now) several times a week. I also do all of the “regular” theraband exercises that I used to do for ballet/pointe strength. Every day. I use a black theraband for my left leg, but yellow for my right. Sometimes red if I’m having a good day and feel strong. I also have foot drop. My arch is completely flat and my foot rotates outward at about 30 degrees from the knee. If I leave the house and half to “walk” around, I am in a walking boot. I’ve been in that godforsaken boot for over a year with negligible “progress” in my arch/lower leg. But, I am still only a few years into this disease, and I am still learning. I refuse to give up hope. I know a woman with CRPS in her left leg, also a dancer, and she just finished a summer intensive at Ballet West. Follow your doctors’ orders, try to stay focused, and keep a strong grip on your hope. Sometimes hope is all we have. ❤

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