Warm-up booties

Sleeping bags for feet: Warm-up booties are an indispensable piece of equipment for ballet dancers. Photograph: Betty Fleck © ZHdK

My favourite piece



Swish-swoosh, swish-swoosh, swish-swoosh: that’s the sound of dancers walking down one of the campus hallways. The sight is irritating: gazelle-like legs, the feet enveloped in sleeping bags, as the warm-up booties are called. They come in all varieties: use the washing machine’s gentle cycle, i.e., wash at max. 30 degrees. But this depends on one’s walking style—the more swishes, the greater the wear and tear—as several advanced students from the Tanz Akademie Zürich, ZHdK’s internationally acclaimed dance academy, tell me. The floors are cold, so they wear the booties all the time anyway. Whether it’s summer or winter, in the studio after training, in the canteen, or in the tea kitchen. Forgetting one’s booties at home is a sheer disaster, another student says. “Your feet don’t really warm up, and tend to remain stiff and painful during training, too.” Booties are only forbidden on stage and during training. They get washed as often as needed—everyone’s different, mind you, and the boys should wash theirs more often, she laughs.

After visiting a girls class, I realise: a dancer’s feet need plenty of care and attention. Or as one member of the audience said after a performance: “As a doctor and neurologist, I simply marvel at what ballerinas do with their feet. Probably no other ‘sport’ changes the functions of a body part so massively, ‘on point’ in the literal sense of the word. And if I understand things correctly, the foot is also a means of artistic expression. It’s incredible how the body’s weight is balanced on such a tiny area. I dare to compare this achievement to a new step in human evolution. If I pursue this thought, its logical development would probably involve taking off from the floor.”

Judith Hunger (judith.hunger@zhdk.ch) is responsible for communications at the Department of Performing Arts and Film.
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