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.