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Don't let anyone snatch your pointe shoes away

Photo Credit: Brittani Lam

Photo Description: Kenya Ross sitting on concrete wearing her leotard, tights and pointe shoes with ankles crossed

You can say this is something like an open letter. Or maybe it's a mixture of two things: telling the ballet community where PowerPointe is headed, and reminding anyone else who reads this to don't allow anyone else to tell you where you're headed. You decide that.

It's been a while since I've been here, so I believe it's appropriate to reintroduce myself. I'm Kenya Ross, a business, tech, and economy TV journalist, former ballerina (now ballet enthusiast), early health tech startup founder, and online ballet media publisher from Monroe, Louisiana. If you're new here, welcome. If you're making it back, I've missed you, too!

Just a few days ago, I learned that April 23, 2024, would mark International Pointe Shoe Day. It's a day celebrating Marie Taglioni's birthday, who became the first to dance a full-length ballet on pointe when she premiered La Sylphide in 1832. Thanks to The Pointe Shop for this fact!

I don't want to use this day to dance. I want to use this day to share something that happened to me a long time ago.

When I was a 13-year-old 8th grader, my dance school allowed me to enroll in pointe class for the first time. It was challenging, but I was happy to be in the class. At the same dance school (not pointe class), there were two girls whom I attended school with, and we were on the same dance team. One evening, after wrapping up pointe class, the two girls entered into the studio to prepare for the next class. When they saw me taking my pointe shoes off, they became bewildered and asked why I was taking a pointe class. I don't remember my answer, but apparently, one of the girls' mothers attempted to get them into pointe class after they found out I was in pointe class.

When the following week arrived, I was finishing up pointe class. The same two girls walked into the studio, and one of them snatched my pointe shoes from me as I was trying to put them in my dance bag. I asked what was their problem, and they proceeded to say, "We couldn't get into pointe!" The conversation never went any further. A week later, I told my mom and grandmother I wanted to quit. I made up an excuse by telling them I wanted to have more time to focus on the dance team at school and homework. But truthfully, I allowed those two girls from school to discourage me and I didn't want to continue making them upset. I just wanted peace and wanted to be "liked." At that age, I didn't know how to stick up for myself.

One thing about life - you can't change the past. Here we are, almost 20 years later, and I think about what would've happened if I didn't allow that person to snatch my pointe shoes away. Was wanting to be "liked" worth it? I'll take it a step further. Was wanting to keep the "peace" worth it? I say no. Some of the greatest history makers didn't always have peace on their journey. But at 13 years old, you don't have that kind of realization. It's too easy to think about "the now."

I started PowerPointe back in 2017 when I was still trying to make my way into the media field professionally. It was about telling stories happening in the dance culture in hopes of getting noticed by other media outlets. It worked, but now I'm using PowerPointe to notice myself.

Its newest mission is to document how technology and innovation in ballet are taking the dance culture's presentation in front of the stage. However, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't recognize the woman who first figured out that ballet shoes and ballerinas are a form of tech. In the Atlantic, a historian of science and technology by the name of Suzanne Fischer introduced her readers to Whitney Laemmli.

Laemmli argued in her case study, A Case in Pointe: Making Streamlined Bodies and Interchangeable Ballerinas at the New York City Ballet, that George Balanchine used pointe shoes to remake the bodies of his dancers into interchangeable machines ― essentially comparing ballerinas to "IBM machines." Fischer authored in her 2011 article in The Atlantic that Laemmli's case study pays attention to not just how dancers used their tools (pointe shoes) but also how their tools changed them.

Laemmli's case study, which was honored by the Robinson Prize, is a kickstart into how I'm going to use the intersection of media, tech storytelling and ballet to take the dance culture's presentation in front of the stage. Or better yet, I'll acknowledge that historians like Laemmli have already taken the dance culture in front of the stage. But I'm going to do my job and keep it there - by not letting anyone snatch my pointe shoes away. I suggest you don't either.


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