Blisters and Bunions
“Always remember, dancers have ugly feet.” These are very peculiar words Professor Lennie Foy left me with as I packed up my horn and stepped out of the Jacobs School of Music. I was there for a week to improve my trumpet playing, not to get life advice from a black firecracker of a trumpet player. I often ponder what he meant.
It makes sense. Ballerinas stake their livelihood on their feet and their footwork. They train long and they train hard perfecting their posture, the ultimate goal: standing en pointe. They are known for their beauty, their elegance. But at the end of the day, a dancer will go home and take of her shoes and will be greeted by the sight of bruises, battle scars. The battered, blackened toenails mar the body from the falls; the thick calluses protrude from the hours spent in the studio. She’s marked with crooked, purple toes, scars, and excruciating pain. To the onlooker, the outsider, she is a podiatric mess. To the dancer she is determined. She is the best of the best.
It is not without her sacrifice to her body, that she excels at her art. Now I don’t know if this was Lennie’s point or not. He was a professional musician, accompanying ballets all across the Midwest. I’m sure he had seen this first hand. But I was at a music camp in a room filled with trumpet players. Young trumpet players don’t care about dancers. Young trumpet players barely care about art; we play high and we play loud. If Lennie wanted to get through, he should have used trumpet players as an example, not dancers. Maybe he was being deep; maybe he was trying to discourage us from hooking up with the ballerinas down campus.
As a trumpeter, I realize there is extreme sacrifice to grow as a player. Improvement comes from practice. Lennie wasn’t the first player to tell me to practice and he won’t be the last. Really, the advice he gave me wasn’t groundbreaking. I was told to practice my long tones—told by the principal trumpet in my high school band, told by Wynton Marsalis, trumpet legend. It was Lennie, however, that taught me to take pride in my ugly feet. Of course, I’m a trumpeter. I don’t wear a tutu. My feet are perfectly fine; it’s my lips that give me trouble.
Chapped lips and bleeding gums simply come with the territory. The mutilation of a dancer’s big toe is that of my embouchure. But ultimately this is from where I draw my pride and where I learned my biggest lesson. The beauty of the art comes with sacrifice. Even beneath the most beautiful ballerina’s slipper lies evidence of her determination and sacrifice towards her art. I learned to apply Lennie’s advice to more than just dance and trumpet. Sometimes it takes that sleepless night to pass a test. The rigor of high school is the blister; the ongoing stress, the callous. The preparation may not be appealing, but the final product, the success, is a thing of beauty. Whether Lennie was talking about something deeper than the aesthetic beauty of dancer’s feet, I’ll never know. Regardless, I took Lennie’s advice. Not being one to take chances, I kissed the ballerina with her shoes still on her feet.