Noodling On about Sickles.

Was making lunch for my little boy the other day and noticed this:

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Check it out, she’s holding a sickle.
Let’s looks closer:

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Gosh she’s pretty.
At first glance I thought she was standing and had weird proportions, but on second glance you can see she’s not weird she’s just seated, giving us a glimpse of her foot.
Which is not sickled.
Which got me thinking how weird it is that The Sickle is such a heavily used metaphor in ballet.
I have never held a sickle in real life. Certainly never used one.
I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen one in real life. Pictures, sure, in fairy tails and on flags, but a real one with my own eyes?
Maybe at one of those living history museums where you watch a lady in a bonnet churn butter and then later at Ye Olde Sweets you buy a stick of horehound candy? And it turns out to be kinda gross tasting?
I remember in my first ballet classes hearing, “careful to never sickle your feet” and thinking, “Sickle? Like similar to a scythe? How would my foot even make that shape? How do I even imagine that? Ok let’s work this out. Maybe my leg is the handle and my foot is the blade. Wait that doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s like the sickle is on the floor and I’m standing right where the blade meets the wood, and my foot is curving out and back in like a half circle? This is so convoluted…”
I think eventually all of us ballet students stop hearing the word “sickle” at all and just start thinking about presenting the heel, leading with the heel, winging the foot, and the sickle becomes totally divorced from its original meaning as a hand-farming tool and we start using the word in ways that don’t exist in nature.
Sickle-ing.
Sickle-ed.
Autocorrect doesn’t even want to let me use them. These are only real words when used in ballet class. In the farming context you’d say Reaping, Reaped. As in The Grim Reaper who carriers a scythe. Or sometimes a sickle. Which could add a certain something to ballet class. “Oh girl, you are reaping a little on those landings, you gotta be more careful.”
Who among us 21rst century ballet students has ever used a sickle? Or even held one? So weird for this metaphor to be so prevalent.
Thinking about that made me try and remember what hand farming tools have I actually used, and then I got out my copy of The Foxfire Book*, which is a collection of folk-knowledge and stories collected in the Appalachians in the late sixties and early seventies and is an especially neat book because all this lore was collected not by researchers on an arts grant or something but by high school students. So you’ve got high school kids interviewing their grandparents and neighbors about things like, for example, building a spinning wheel to spin yarn.
Did you know the yarn doesn’t go around the big wheel? I thought it did but nope. That big wheel is just there to turn the little spindle that twists the yarn and pricks the finger of enchanted princesses.
Also: This Just In: spindles are not needle-sharp. Unless I’m wrong it would take some doing to draw blood with a spindle.
I wouldn’t know though, I’ve never used one.
I have used a maul and sledgehammer, and then an ax to split firewood though. My parents heat their house with a wood stove, and although it wasn’t one of my chores it was made clear to me from about age sixteen on that if I wanted, I was totally welcome to go out and split wood. Once or twice I actually did it too. When you’re a student, and you don’t have much to show for yourself, it can be very satisfying to point to a bunch of split wood all around your chopping block and say I Did That.
But then of course you have to stack it by the house and that actually was one of my chores and it was OMG SO BORING.
Sadly for me, Maul, Sledgehammer, and Axe pretty much never come up in ballet class. I would totally get those metaphors. Oh well.

*my copy is The Foxfire Book, hog dressing, log cabin building, mountain crafts and foods, planting by the signs, snake lore, hunting tales, faith healing, moonshining, and other affairs of plain living. Edited with an Introduction by Eliot Wigginton, copyright 1972 by Brooks Eliot Wigginton, Anchor Books, USA

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Books!, Technique and Class, Word Nerd and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Noodling On about Sickles.

  1. Not only have I seen and held sickles I have stabbed myself quite handily on a spinning wheel spindle (yeah, I didn’t think it was possible, either). Expand your crafting horizons!

  2. Jessica says:

    So true that the word in ballet is completely divorced from the tool. When I read your sentence referring to it as a metaphor, I was so surprised. My reaction was, that’s not a metaphor—that’s what it’s called!

  3. Paulina says:

    As far as I can remember, as a child in ballet class I never heard the word “Sichelfuß” (sickle foot). Some time ago, I checked: the word does exist in German and is used by German ballet teachers, too. I think, my teacher said something like “Ferse nach vorn” which would be the equivalent of “present your heel”.
    Spindle: My Mom, who is a very crafty woman, owns several hand spindles and a spinning wheel. I do not think she ever pricked her finger on a spindle, but perhaps she was just careful. Next time I visit her I’ll have a look at her spindles and check if they are sharp.

  4. amandakash says:

    Yeah I have even less experience with farming and gardening tools so… Present the heel. Got it!

  5. Dancing Fly says:

    The lady in the picture, with her perfect non-sickled foot, is holding a sickle! hahahaha
    That’s the trick! We must hold that instrument to remind ourself how to point our feet so that they do not resemble that tool.

  6. My Japanese teacher shouts ‘banana!’ at us when we sickle our feet (she’s referring to our feet, not to us, I hope!) and then I was very surprised to learn that in English ‘banana’ describes the perfect ballet foot. I’m learning things in a strange way here.

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