By Lou Pechi
I remember years ago, when I just started folk dancing, I wore clunky sneakers. No one called them sneakers then. They were tennis shoes, specifically designed for tennis and obviously not for folk dancing. They made me stumble and trip on the simple steps the teacher demonstrated. I struggled with the huge and heavy footgear, completely convinced the shoes were what kept me from doing the right steps. Several people wearing some funny pointed leather shoes, glided through the steps like smooth skaters. Not only did they do the steps without any effort, they even added a few of their own little twists and decorations to the steps.
I thought; it must be the shoes.
I started to inquire what these wonderful shoes were and where they bought them. They indicated that these marvels of dancing were called "Opanke" and were quite common not only in Yugoslavia, but in many Balkan countries. At that time, you could only get them in their native country. Being a poor engineer, just barely out of college, a trip to Europe was way beyond my reach.
I enviously watched the "hot-shots" doing their high kicks and small rapid steps with my trying to follow in my clunky tennis shoes. Some day, I thought, when I don the "Opanke," I will be able to join them without embarrassing myself.
Years later, that marvelous day approached. We managed to save enough for a family trip to Europe, which included a swing through Yugoslavia and Greece. In the main market in Zagreb, I finally purchased a pair of Croatian "Opanke." After our trip, I showed at our folkdance group with my shiny new purchase on my feet. The music started to play, I joined the "hot-shot" line, and marvel of all marvels, I, not missing a beat, was able to dance with them.
It had to be the shoes!
They accepted me and for years, while wearing the "Opanke," I was a member of this elite group.
Over the years, my feet started to hurt. Plantar fasciitis forced me into a pair of clunky Mephisto shoes with thick soles and stiff orthotics in them. As I changed the shoes, my dancing degraded. I was not able to move my feet fast enough to catch the quick Serbian steps. Râčchenicas became an exercise in running after a fast moving train, and any dance that required steps longer than half a foot became difficult to do.
Looking in the mirror in our dance class, I smiled at myself, dancing as I did years ago in those clunky tennis shoes.
However, over these years my enthusiasm never waned. I cannot do what I used to do, but whatever I do, I do it with the same gusto.
Keep dancing, whichever way you can.
As appearing in "Dancing with Two Left Feet (35)," Folk Dance Scene.
Used with permission of the author.