When I sat down to write that post about flamenco last week, I was mostly enchanted by the kind of body presentation going on in the video pieces I included in the post. I was exploring, at the time, a curiosity about how the dancers did what they did and what impression it made (in relative ignorance of the cultural norms and traditions governing the kind of dance in question). There was an expression of power in it that I wanted (and still want) to understand better.
The shoes that make it possible to dance with so little touching the ground are an investment in time, money, and careful adjustment; they may cost $80 or more per pair (minimum — I gather that students can get cheaper shoes, but the average seems to run higher for really good ones), and professionals often have their shoes custom-made and fitted (and even then, they must adjust them). A shoe that does not fit or support properly is a gateway to injury, a risk of losing the dance, and can impede the effort-that-looks-effortless.
The foot itself also needs adjustment, tending, training. After all, an entire body’s weight is concentrated on so very little of it at any given time in this style of dance that the stress is immense. A foot requires care. It must be strengthened — and sometimes (as the dancers in the video point out) the repertoire and one’s own natural build can change what needs to be done in order to care for it properly. A dancer’s feet are, as the dancer says, like the worker’s hands — their callouses protect them, their joints expand and change to handle the stress of bearing the body and moving it. The beauty of a pointe dancer’s foot is in what it does (encased in its tortured and reshaped shoe), not in a “pleasing” shape.
The tool or instrument that is the foot-in-the-shoe is a curiosity in itself, taken as a part of a body used to express or to represent something in its choreographed movements. The kind of control manifested here is different from flamenco’s foot-in-shoe instrumentation (instrumentality?). In flamenco, as far as I can tell, the dancer is also actively contributing to the music itself (rhythmically speaking), both with feet and hands; the ballet dancer en pointe is dancing with or to the music, but is not actually making music…although this is a point that I think it might be interesting to reconsider.