Yesterday I took my sister to Scarsdale to buy character shoes. Character shoes, for those of you who are not affiliated with the theatre, (and yes, I spelled it that way on purpose in hopes you would pronounce it “theeataah”), are high heeled shoes with a flexible, suede toe. They are made to look like pumps but allow for much better dancing. Meg, my sister, needed them because she landed herself a dancing role in the high school’s production of Guys and Dolls. She is a phenomenal dancer and I am very proud of her. But yesterday in the dance shop I surmised the dancing world is one I fear I will never understand. I will explain.
First, you have to understand a bit about Scarsdale. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Westchester County is famed for its wealth, and Scarsdale is among the wealthiest towns. You can easily tell the town is made of money, what with its cobblestone crosswalks, pretty red brick buildings and the adorable antique train station adjoining the tracks. Cafes and shoppy-shops line the street that’s crowded with SUVs and Saturday morning coffee-hunters who don’t know how to drive the SUVs. The shops are not ordinary shops either, or at least, they are not particularly useful to the majority of the American population. Apart from the CVS I spotted, I couldn’t understand how some of those places stayed in business. What kind of demographic, I wondered, requires wine stores, diamond sellers, and custom bathroom remodeling on a regular basis? It was among this elitist commercialism that we found our destination, the Dance shop.
In I trudged sporting track pants, hiking boots and untidy hair to find myself amidst a sea of pink froof. (If that is not a word then I hereby proclaim it one). I looked, to say the least, quite out of place. Pink and purple tutus were arranged about this two-room store, made, no doubt, to seem like a ballerina wonderland for the wide-eyed five year old customer with parents who could afford such froof. Pictures of dancers from Swan lake and the Nutcracker lined the walls, and children’s books such as Angelina Ballerina adorned the shelves. The tutu sizes ranged from teeny to adult. Full ballerina costumes hung high on the wall as decoration, and point shoes were draped over the corners of the cabinets, which, unsurprisingly, had pink bows and ribbons painted all over them. The store was run by two very small women with high pitched voices. When Meg told them she needed character shoes, one of the ladies led her into the next room. The sea of pink turned instantly black: we have entered the realm of real dancers. It made me wonder, at what point in a dancer’s life does she no longer wish to be the girl in the Nutcracker but rather want to express her individuality by wearing the uniform black?
As Meg tried on her shoes, I walked around the store, looking at the photos of contorted dancers and running my fingers through the black, lacy dancing outfits. I thought to myself I was in another world, one with which I was quite unfamiliar. I have never seen a real ballet, so to some extent it is no surprise I find it so foreign. But as I looked at a photograph of a woman bending backwards touching her fingers to her arabesqued toes as a gentleman in heavy makeup and white tights held her back with dramatic flare, I decided that there must be much more to dance than what meets the unknowing eye. Dance might be beautiful, but I think, or at least I hope, that there is more to it than that. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and such subjectivity is applicable to dance as to any other art form. But I remembered how I felt after seeing my first opera. I sensed that there was much more to opera than what I had noticed, in the sense that the music was full of symbolism and meaning that stretched far beyond a beautiful melody or a passionate verse. The music and the acting were steeped in centuries of tradition and all the performers fully acknowledged the history of the art form they were presenting. I expect dance, and particularly ballet, must have similar traditions, histories, and realms of symbolism to which the performers are to be held accountable. It must be a delicate balance between upholding exceedingly high standards and branching out into undiscovered territory of how to best display feeling and beauty with one’s body.
“How much?” I asked my sister when she finished trying on the shoes. She made a face that could only mean one thing. “Scarsdale,” I said sardonically. My trance was broken and I growled a little bit as I walked back out to the car. What a goofy place it was, now that I think about it. But though I feel at complete liberty to make snarky comments about Scarsdale, and the fact that this Scarsdalian dance shop charged my sister $83 for her shoes, I am thankful I went to the shop yesterday morning as it gave me time to reflect on something I had never thought of before.