A few days ago, Blogcritics published my review for The Sugarless Plum written by Zippora Karz. The story in this book is a good read for many reasons. Chief among these is that it reads like exciting fiction, even though it is Ms. Karz’s first person story of her harrowing, life-threatening collision with diabetes.
At age twenty-one Karz had become a soloist already dancing three years with the New York City Ballet—a prized position reached by few ballerinas in her profession. Peter Martins, the ballet-master-in-chief had created dance routines specifically to demonstrate her poise and skill with difficult maneuvers particularly on pointe.
Another reason The Sugarless Plum fascinated me is this: How is it possible for a person to dance on the tips of their toes? As a scientific thinker, even though my own daughter, Cathy, danced for many years here in the Pittsburgh area, I never really understood how dancing on pointe was possible. In reality, I imagined a ballerina’s toes were somehow twisted or secretly bent inside those tiny, thin slippers to make it look like she was toe-tip dancing.
Curious now, I travelled the Internet in search of evidence to show how the magic trick was done. What I found shocked me. Picture A is an x-ray photograph of a ballerina’s foot inside her satin shoe. Incredibly, the foot is on pointe. There is no trick. The foot is straight out. Even the last tiny bone in the big toe is clearly visible.
Since the x-ray didn’t show the ballerina’s slipper yet I could see what looked like tiny nails behind the arched foot, I asked my daughter Cathy to explain those. “Yes, they are nails which keep the sole or shank of the slipper extremely stiff.” She peeled back the slipper along one side to reveal a very thick sole or shank (3/8" to 1/2"). The nails, along with rawhide and glue, keep this shank together. With some difficulty, dancers bend this shank to fit the arch of their foot before using.