Never say never! This weekend, on the eve of a new semester, I am contemplating my brand new point shoes in some disbelief. It has been more than fourteen years since I last time wore point shoes and I had sworn to never wear those again in Ballet class. I would even go as far as claiming that point shoes represent the ultimate form of discomfort! Yet, there are many useful business lessons to be learnt here. Firstly, one has to break into the new shoes. Yes quite correctly, “break into” is the appropriate idiom for taking possession of new ballet shoes. When an ordinary shoe is chosen according to perfect fit, a ballet shoe initially feels like a lump of hardwood. The foot has to be used as an organic tool for moulding and crushing the shoe into use. What can this bone-breaking process teach business students? At least it teaches the lesson of not passively waiting for the perfect pair of shoes or the perfect career/ life to materialize. Actions have to be taken to find your own path and your shoes can initially feel uncomfortable upon taking the first step on the chosen road. There will be blisters and toe nails falling off, talking about getting out of the comfort zone! However, at the end there will also be lightness and spritely dance à la Marie Taglioni, the first ballerina to embrace the “en pointe” technique in the Romantic Era ballet La Sylphide (1832).
Then to the second lesson learnt, that of risk-taking and high ambitions. When in January 2013 I first dragged my post partum body to ballet class after a pause of 12 years, I told myself that basic pliés and battement tendus would be sufficient. After three pregnancies with four-kilo babies I had no illusions of ever again being even close to the ephemeral state of Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Lucille Grahn or Fanny Cerrito for that matter. (For the uninitiated, these were the three greatest ballet divas and rivals of the 19th century ballet scene). However, when I gradually advanced to higher levels it became evident that not doing en pointe was not a choice in a class with everybody else struggling with their relevés on point (getting up on your toes in ballet vocabulary). So here I am now with my point shoes ready for action. Of course I am painfully aware that at the beginning I will look like the ugly duckling, or at least the wobbling duckling, among more graceful swans. So what is the business lesson to be learnt here? It is the following: don’t be content with doing things you already master well, look for challenges even with the initial risk of appearing ridiculous. With enough practice the limp duckling becomes the pas de bourréing swan!
Finally, I come to the last lesson learnt, that of sales and service excellence! In the dance store Piruetti I cautiously approached the sales lady, requesting point shoes after a 14-year break. I was taken to the secluded area of shelves filled with point shoes of different brands and a forbidding “Don’t Touch” sign. A sight for sore eyes! The lovely sales lady then scrutinized my feet with her expert eyes and I timidly told her that yes, I had indeed danced very much in my youth and advanced to taking Repertory classes where we were taught variations from Giselle, Sleeping Beauty and Le Corsaire. However, needless to say that this was ancient history. Obviously my wrists are now only gradually building up their lost strength and thus the sole of the point shoe needs to be flexible enough. Finally, after fitting more than a dozen different shoes, I ended up with a pair of Gamba point shoes. Funnily, here I am almost four decades later purchasing a pair of point shoes of exactly the same brand as back in Christmas 1977, when I got my very first pair. Talking about being back to scratch! During the entire process of purchasing the shoes, the sales lady and I were involved in an animated ballet conversation. She wanted to know how I felt about my come-back. And I happily told her about the stiff muscles, the unflattering transformation from XS (Extra Small) to M (Medium) in terms of leotards and to make it even worse, the feet flattened by three pregnancies, proof of which she could witness right on the spot. But one thing has improved considerably, my sense of balance, so now I can do the pirouettes much more elegantly. This being due to the fact that by know I know for sure where the center of my body is. It is where the fetus used to give a punch with his/ her tiny heel. In sum, I have seldom experienced as good service as when buying my point shoes. As customer, I was recognized, respected and cherished – not at any point undermined despite my obvious difficulties of getting completely on point. Obviously, the sales lady had a true passion for her work as profound expertise on what she was selling as well as excellent communicative skills and at the end she found the perfect shoe for the time being.
So now, being on point, finally to the point regarding business studies and later professional career: don’t stick with the easy and obvious – expand, trip over, start from scratch and then at the end, spread out you wings and fly. Yet, I have to admit that I also purchased an item I have never owned before called “Ouch Pouch”, a silicon cushion for the toes to make the impact of the point of the shoe less harsh. So a little cheating here! But maybe I’m excused due to being considered a pensioner in terms of the retirement age of ballet dancers! Here I come Marie Taglioni, slightly wing-broken and battered, yet ready to rise strongly and proudly on point.
P.S. This text is dedicated to a strong and proud woman who does not hesitate to break into new shoes and challenges! Thank you for always ordering me up on my feet when I trip! Happy birthday today – dear Chryssa! May your wings take you far and everywhere!