Dance, fashion and shoes: fetish and discipline

My copy of the book

I finally got today my copy of Dance and Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele (2013). It's a hardback - the photos are so beautiful I just had to have the hardback. I love the opening of Valerie Steele's introductory essay: "Dance and fashion are the two great embodied art forms". Indeed they are.

That fashion and dance should have so many intersections seems a rather obvious thing to say -  costumes are an integral part of a dance performance. Yet I am aware that many dance lovers disregard what the dancer wears as being 'extraneous' to the performance, just as many fashion lovers do not really focus on the body as a wearing body, despite there being an overload of views and discussions related to body shape and body size. The point I am trying to make here is that the 'wearing body' cannot be reduced to size and shape alone, movement is also part of the equation.

The intersections between dance and fashion are numerous. Apart from the tradition of fashion designers creating costumes for dance performance - a tradition because of its long history - there is the great influence that dance as an art form has had on designers as well as the fact that a fashion show is performance, just as dance is, something that was so clearly brought out in the context of  the recent Alexander McQueen's exhibition at the V&A.  The strong performative quality of the models' bodies  as they were wearing McQueen's clothes  which  I saw in the looped video films in the Cabinet of Curiosities as well as McQueen's incredible talent for creating a full fledged performance through his catwalk shows  held me spellbound.

I will mention this in passing,  it is also on topic. When talking of dance and fashion we need to consider that there is a special kind of fashion, to do with dance practice wear. Go to any dance class and you will see a variety of leg warmers, leotards, tights, special jumpers to keep the dancer's muscles warm as they begin class and proceed to warm up. They are easily removable and not too thick, yet effective in the protection they give.

 Some leotards emphasise the lines of the body and provide some gentle support - just have a look at brands such as Sweaty Betty, Pineapple, Balletto Body and more. Several of my fellow 'sleekers' wear such delightful numbers during practice, I am a bit lax about it and often make do with some yoga leggings and a tight fitting top. I wonder whether I am still, at some level, somewhat self conscious about my body? I really can't explain this reluctance to wear better outfits, more aesthetically pleasing.

Back to the dance/fashion intersections.  The one that fascinates me is with shoes. Right now there is an exhibition about shoes at the V&A - one of a handful of museums to take fashion seriously - which I plan to go to soon enough.

An  essay in Steele's volume, by Coleen Hill, is about ballet shoes, aptly entitled "Ballet shoes. Function, fashion and fetish". Ah, the pointe shoes! they are emblematic of classical ballet and the relationship of the ballerina to her pointe shoes - male dancers do not wear them - is intensely personal, and the handling of the shoes almost ritualistic. Custom made - at least for professionals - good quality pointe shoes are an essential item for a ballerina's performance.

There are revered brands with a long history of making ballet shoes eg Capezio and Freed but since the 1990s a new ballet shoemaker, Gaynor Minden, has come to prominence.  Minden constructs ballet shoes using different methods and a technology that is akin to that employed for athletic shoes.

The ballet shoe entered fashion and was embraced by non-dancers  as 'the flat', sometimes complete with ribbons. Brigitte Bardot who had trained as a ballet dancer for many years, famously wore a red pair of so-called cendrillons, custom made for her,  in Et Dieu Creat la Femme. 

Flats are an enduring fashion item, especially in summer. They are regarded to be extremely comfortable wear (as opposed to high heels) but they can be quite hard on the foot if one does not walk transferring the weight immediately from the heel to  the ball of the foot when hitting  the ground , rather than striking the heel somewhat forcefully on the ground, as many people tend to do.

 My real passion are the fetish ballet boots and the high heel variants on the ballet pointe shoe, such as McQueen's famous armadillo boots. I unashamedly love high heels, I have often worn heels  at home,  especially if the shoes are new and need breaking in. It takes practice to walk confidently in high heels without bending your knees,  holding your balance,  and not   leaning back,  as I once saw the models do at a catwalk show. I was aghast. Those stunning girls badly needed  catwalk training, I thought. It detracted tremendously from the clothes. Like spotting a dancer in the corps not doing her routine bang on time!
And isn't she beautiful? Grey haired and wearing ballet boots! She is probably wearing a wig but...I love the link between grey hair and fetish!

 The link between ballet and fetish is very apparent if one thinks of the corset, something that Steele points out in her book Fetish , Fashion and Sex, and  which Hill cites. "Like corsetry ballet is about strength and grace".  So says Lauren, a fetish enthusiast interviewed by Steele.

 I have modelled fetish fashion, worn fetish ballet boots - I could not walk in them but then they were a size smaller than mine -  have been shot in corsetry and have had experience of ballet, through class attendance. I can definitely see the link. I am also aware that fetish gear is about disciplining the body and so is ballet.

Corsets. Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: me

I will take this up in another post. Meanwhile if you can,  please get hold of Steele's book. It is a genuine recommendation, I am not being sponsored to say so, unlike other bloggers when they endorse products!