Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Turning Pointe

Tonight was a turning pointe for me. No, that's not a typo. Well, it's more a pun than a typo.

I've done ballet since I was five years old. I am not a ballerina. I never have been, though it may have been my dream. Short, stocky legs and inflexible ligaments, as well as too many outside interests prevented serious pursuit. Not to mention I'd already injured by back by the age of 15, and done serious damage to my hip by the age of 20. A career on the stage was not in my future. But like the guys who play baseball well into their 50s and 60s for the mere enjoyment and camaraderie, I still dance.

I got my first pair of pointe shoes when I was in 7th grade. Twenty-seven years ago, for those of you counting at home. Disclaimer...it was 1989, so don't hate on the hair.

 Of course, we can comment that I was standing like this because I was en pointe, and no one took a picture of my feet. I had the starter pointe shoes, that had the suede piece that went all the way over the toe. They were Capezios. I don't know if they make them like that any more.

I had narrow feet as a teenager, and wore the Capezio Niccolini's for years. I saved a pair, and when I was decorating the nursery for my daughter, I decided to put them in her room. Yes, I decorated my baby's room with smelly old dirty shoes.

I danced my first year in college and then took a decade off from ballet. But it was my first love, and it called me back. Somehow, for some reason, after having two kids, I decided to give pointe another whirl. I bought new shoes (Suffolks) and hated them. They were agony. I'd been fitted and that's what was recommended, but those were not the shoes for my feet. Then, in 2011, I was asked to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy in my studio's Christmas show. I knew I couldn't do it with those shoes, and got a pair of Gaynor Mindens. They felt like heaven on my feet.

I was thirty-six years old the night I danced the Sugar Plum Fairy. Do I watch the video and cringe a little? Sure. In my head, I dance like a prima ballerina. In reality, my extension is not great, my knees aren't always straight and tight, and I certainly don't have the stamina I need. But, I did it.

I don't have a ballerina's body. But I have pretty feet. I'll take that.

In 2013, I was lucky enough to partake in a photo shoot with a local photographer, William LeBlanc. He was trying out a new technique and wanted dancers for it. I'm not a model, and I was unfortunately going through a blunt bang stage, but I've never felt so pretty or graceful.
Copyright William LeBlanc Studio. 2013.

 He did these photos of us individually. Normally I hate myself in profile, but he did such a great job.

Copyright William LeBlanc Studio, 2013.

Every so often, someone gets me actually dancing.

Tonight, it was with a tinge of bittersweetness that I said good-bye to those pointe shoes. Gaynor Mindens are meant to last, and I've gotten 4 1/2 years out of them. They've served me well.
And with anticipation and sadness, I started sewing the ribbons and elastics on what will most likely be my last pair of pointe shoes. If these last as long, I'll be about 45 the next time I'm in the market for a new pair. If the arthritis in my toes has it's way, I won't be getting a new pair.

If I sew another pair of pointe shoes, it will be for my daughter. Never again for me.

And that will be okay. For tonight, I danced. I lept and turned and marveled in the beauty of my shoes. The magic that they hold that for just a few moments each week let me feel beautiful and special. These shoes hold a gift, and I'm glad to be able to unwrap a little each week.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's Not Okay

There'a a big hub bub in Hollywood right now about the apparent exclusion of black actors in Oscar nominated roles. There are boycotts and hashtags and dialogue about the subject.

Dialogue is good. Silence is bad.

My disclosure: I am totally able-bodied.

My issue: The complete and utter lack of roles for people with disabilities in film and television.

I became utterly aware of this while doing research for my new novel, Live For This. The hero of my novel is this great guy, Michael Salinger. In addition to being smart, funny, and good-looking, he also happens to be a paraplegic. The story is not about him being paralyzed. Sure, there's a lot of that in there, as it colors how he navigates through life. His character was inspired by my next door neighbor growing up. He too had a spinal cord injury. His journey through rehabilitation is what made me want to be a physical therapist. You can read more about him here.

I'm a pretty visual thinker, and I use Pinterest to give me pictures of my characters, their clothing, settings, etc. so that I can describe them. I make Pinterest boards for my research and refer to it throughout the writing process. So, when I started Live For This, I needed to know what Michael Salinger looked like. So I started researching actors/models/athletes who have had spinal cord injuries. Do you know how FEW there are? Yeah, in terms of actors, about three. And no offense to those lovely men, they didn't fit my demographic (two were too old and the other had a different level of injury for what I needed). I was able to find an Irish actor, Peter Mitchell, who fit the bill, and Michael is based upon him (physically speaking, at least).

Not that Live For This is ever going to be made into a movie, but I felt VERY strongly that if I'm writing a character who is paralyzed, then the actor who should play him should also be paralyzed.

I'm guessing that there are more than three men out there who are in wheelchairs who consider themselves actors.

So, this brings me to my current rant. The movie trailer for Me Before You, based on the novel by JoJo Moyes was released yesterday. While I've been in my writing cave for the past two years, while I've certainly heard of the book, I've never read it. It was only about 2 weeks ago, seeing something about the movie, that I even realized it also featured a man with a spinal cord injury.

I just watched the movie trailer. Please watch also.

The tears are already flowing, right?

Except I'm pissed. The actor who plays the main male character is able-bodied. There is nothing accurate about his posture or wheelchair. It's Hollywood, coping out again.

When bodies are disabled, they are no longer perfect. When you are paralyzed, you lose muscle tone. Even if you are a good weight, your belly will seem to sag and pooch out because the inherent muscle tone that keeps your intestines in is gone. Limbs are skinny and scrawny as muscle tissue wastes away. Spines no longer able to stay upright curve to the side. If he can't lift his arms to feed himself, his wheelchair would have a large head rest. If he can't lift his arms, chances are his wheelchair would be driven by a tube that he sips and puffs to steer.

I did a lot of research beyond what my clinical experience has taught me. If I'm discussing what it's like to live with a spinal cord injury, I want it to be accurate, to do justice for people living with SCI. I can't say if JoJo Moyes did that in her novel because I haven't read it. I would guess she did. I only know that Hollywood has not done their homework. Not at all.

Sure Sam Claflin is easy on the eyes, but this is not right. Hollywood doesn't see it that way. This is as right as painting a white man's face black.

In other words, IT'S NOT OKAY.