Ballet Training

A Mother's Mountain of Pointe Shoes Shows What It Takes to Become a Professional Dancer

New Miami City Ballet corps member Itzkan Barbosa and her mother Miriam Barbosa pose atop a mountain of Itzkan's pointe shoes. Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miriam Barbosa.

On the morning of May 1, Miriam Barbosa posted a photo of her daughter, Itzkan, on Facebook. The image itself is striking—Itzkan stands smiling on pointe in front of Miami City Ballet, where she has spent the last year as a pre-professional student, perched atop a mountain of old pointe shoes of all different sizes. But it's the story behind the picture that's inspired so many people to comment their congratulations and appreciation. The photo contains every single one of Itzkan's pointe shoes, from her very first pair up until the moment she got her first professional contract as a corps member with MCB last month. The image not only calls attention to the hard work and dedication necessary for young dancers to achieve their dreams, but to the sacrifices parents make to help them get there.


A professional dancer and teacher herself, Barbosa moved to the U.S. from Brazil to dance with Martha Graham Dance Company until her daughter was born, then took a teaching job at the University of South Carolina. While her mom was at work, Itzkan took children's classes at the university's conservatory, and later began training at the Center for Dance Education. She put on her first pair of pointe shoes at age eight, the same year Barbosa was getting her own dance company, Miriam Barbosa Dance, off the ground (it was then called South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company).

As a single mom, Barbosa was already working multiple jobs to make ends meet—running her company, performing, teaching Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis classes—and she knew the cost of pointe shoes would be a considerable addition to the bills. When she asked Itzkan why she danced, the eight-year-old replied, "Mom, why do you breathe?" "For her it was just part of her, there is no why," Barbosa says. "I know what it takes when that's what you really want. My parents were not as supportive of my dance career, so when I realized that she had the talent and the willingness, I was like okay, we'll do whatever it takes." Still, she wanted Itzkan to understand the amount of money, dedication and sacrifice that went into her dream career, and so she promised to save every pair of shoes until Itzkan earned her first contract.

Itzkan Barbosa in her first pair of pointe shoes. Courtesy Miriam Barbosa.

Barbosa stored shoes in South Carolina, and then in their small New York apartment when Itzkan was accepted to study at Ballet Academy East. Barbosa transferred her work to New York, and sometimes took jobs overseas teaching intensives, because they paid more. She often wondered if saving the shoes was crazy, but she stuck with it. When Itzkan got her contract from MCB last month, "I called her and I said, 'Guess what? It's time for the shoe mountain,' " says Barbosa. She gathered all the shoes from New York, flew to South Carolina to collect the ones she'd left in storage there, and rented a truck to drive with all of them to Miami. The completed mountain had over 200 pairs of pointe shoes, representing more than $20,000. After the photos were taken, all the shoes were recycled except for the first tiny pair, which Itzkan kept for good luck.

Itzkan Barbosa and Cameron Catazaro perform during a Miami City Ballet School performance. Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miriam Barbosa.

The response to her Facebook post has been "beautiful," Barbosa says. "I had a lot of mothers who reached out to me and people who cried when they read the story." Barbosa's mountain of "broken, sweaty" shoes is a visual tribute to the sheer amount of work, sacrifice and dollars it takes to build a professional dancer. It's also an act of love from mother to daughter, and a testament to Barbosa's love for the art of dance itself.

"Sometimes the audience has absolutely no idea of what it takes for those dancers to be on that stage, how many rehearsal hours they have to put into it, how hard it is financially both on the parents and themselves," she says. "I'd like for people to recognize dance as an art form and that it's not easy—it does take a lot of shoes, a lot of sweat, and lots and lots of hours of work."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
American Ballet Theatre corps member José Sebastian (center) is launching the Hamptons Dance Project with a cast of fellow ABT dancers this August. Rochelle Brodin, Courtesy Hamptons Dance Project.

From coast to coast, and on the shores of Lake Michigan in-between, professional dancers and choreographers are going one step beyond putting together a summer pickup company. Some are now curating multi-evening festivals in their hometowns and beloved vacation areas, and featuring an impressive range of companies, dancers and dance styles. So get ready to plan your next trip—here are three dance fests in beautiful resort areas to keep on your radar.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Behind-the-scenes shot of NYCB dancers on set. David Alberda, Courtesy Emily Kikta and Peter Walker.

Tonight, New York City Ballet opens its 53 annual summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. But if you're away at a summer intensive or busy rehearsing at your home studio and can't make it to a performance, we have the next best thing: seven new site specific videos made by and featuring NYCB dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sasha De Sola and Carlo Di Lanno in The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

The first time I saw Sleeping Beauty was on video, the Kirov version with Larissa Lezhnina. The music for the first entrance gave me butter- flies. Aurora comes out, and it captured my heart. Larissa coached me for my first sea- son of Aurora, and just the fact that we were sharing the same studio—I couldn't get over it. One of the things she encouraged me to explore is after Aurora faints: You get back up, you look up at your parents and re- center yourself. For me, what feels natural is that you don't want anyone to worry. Maybe there is a moment where you get a little embarrassed. It's those small moments that make it feel very personal to me.

Keep reading... Show less