The Biggest Toe Shoes in Town

Gia Kourlas, New York Times
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Joyce Theater Tuesday through Jan. 2.

PAUL GHISELIN was born to be a ballerina, and he wasn’t about to let his sex stop him. A veteran of the gifted drag ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, he has two incarnations: Ida Nevasayneva, the tragic socialist ballerina, and the suave male Velour Pilleaux. He appears with the Trocks, as the troupe is known, beginning on Tuesday at the Joyce Theater.

Mr. Ghiselin, who is 43 and hails from Norfolk, Va., joined the company in 1995, after a long career with Ohio Ballet. The Trocks, led by Tory Dobrin, have done more than extend his performance life; Mr. Ghiselin is now as accustomed to point shoes as Manhattan women are to high heels. And he has no plans to kick them off soon. “Tory thinks I can go on forever,” he said recently. “Of course, I can’t.”

He divulged some of his glamour-girl secrets to Gia Kourlas over lunch near his apartment in Clinton.

GIA KOURLAS: You hadn’t danced on point before joining the company. Who taught you?

PAUL GHISELIN: The girls at Ohio Ballet gave me a crash course.

Q. Was it a nightmare to figure out your shoe size?

A. Yes. The day I went into the shop, I had been dancing all day, so my feet were swollen. Plus, I had been dancing men’s roles, so they were wide and fat. Dancing on point is a different way of working with your feet and legs. It was like learning how to dance all over again.

Q. Isn’t your center of balance off-kilter?

A. Completely. Even the difference between being on demi point and full point is amazing. It feels like you’re walking on stilts. When you’re six feet tall, there’s a lot of weight going over those shoes. There’s also the pain. When you’re first adjusting to point work, you develop nasty corns. At first, the pain holds you back, but once you learn how to protect yourself by toughening your feet and developing muscle stamina, that goes away, and you can be brave.

Q. How do you protect yourself?

A. Toe flows, these funny little apparatuses that came out shortly after I started dancing on point. They’re made of two layers of plastic with gel in the middle. The plastic protects you from the friction on the inside of the shoe. That’s what creates —

Q. The blood?

A. The blisters, the blood. They saved my life.

Q. How many toenails have you lost?

A. I lost both my big toenails in one rehearsal for “Paquita.” I wanted to die. In the solo, there are lots of hops on point, and I have long feet and ankles, so the next day I could barely walk. I was so glad to see those toenails go. It was such a relief.

Q. What is your foot size?

A. Nine and a half D. My point size is eight American.

Q. Do you go through a pair of shoes a day?

A. Oh, no. Because of jet glue, which I think was made for model airplanes, I can wear a pair of point shoes forever. Somehow the ballet world discovered it. You put it in the box of your shoe or underneath the shank, and it holds the horn together and makes the shoe last forever. I can do a Japan tour with three pairs. That’s 40 shows.

Q. Do you go to the gym or take ballet classes?

A. I’m the worst example of discipline there is. I use trekking around the city as a workout. I take stairs two at a time. I keep a quick pace for the heart, and it really does work, because I have good stamina when I go back to work and I don’t go through great periods of soreness and pain. I do push-ups and sit-ups and stand on my arms and my head, generally things that work the body against its own weight.

Q. Is it harder for you to keep your weight up than down?

A. Exactly. I mean I would love nothing more than to have one of these nice, masculine bodies, but I’m going to terminally look like an adolescent no matter how much I go to the gym

Q. Do you eat dinner after shows?

A. I will always want to eat after a show and usually a regular dinner, which I know is very late, but that’s my system.

Q. Before a show, are you a PowerBar person or a coffee and cigarette person?

A. All of the above. When I’m getting ready for a show, I want fruit juice, fruit, a PowerBar – things that don’t weigh you down. And a cup of coffee and a cigarette. How can you smoke and dance? Watch. I’ve been doing it for a long time.

Q. The Trocks tour more than half the year. How does your body weather such travel?

A. It’s hard. You always have to be very aware of how you eat, how you sleep – and drink tons of water. It’s also about resting in between trips. When I come home from tour, I stay in my apartment for days and I only leave for food. When I tell my friends that I haven’t been out of the apartment for two days, they’re like: “What’s wrong? Are you depressed?” I’m like, “No, I’m recuperating.”

Paul Ghiselin says, “There’s a lot of weight going over those shoes.”