CASTLE ROCK, Colo. - Upon entering Assemble Dancewear in Castle Rock, proprietor Noel Amend noted that my 12-year-old ballerina, Olivia, had arrived with her hair in a meticulous bun.
"Bun?" I wondered. "I thought you were fitting her for shoes."
Amend laughed. "You're buying a system," he said. "I need to see the whole dancer."
That whole system is familiar to scores of girls in the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet who graduate to dancing en pointe - and thus require a trip to Castle Rock (or, if they prefer an even longer drive, to Colorado Springs, where Assemble has its 4,000-square-foot showroom) to have Amend fit them for toe shoes. Sure, there may be pointe shoes closer than a four-plus-hour drive (six-plus when it's during the first snowstorm in a month - thank you, weather gods), but the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet school strongly recommends Assemble. Plus, the long trip heightens the sense of importance.
Even if Assemble were as close as the Aspen Business Center, though, the experience would have the feel of a rite of passage. Amend is a 240-pound, 58-year-old Denver Nuggets fanatic in a baseball cap whose friendliness is balanced by a complete air of competence. (It doesn't hurt that his reputation precedes him.) He did his first shoe-
fitting in 1978. "July, 1978," he specifies. Then he gets into "the system" - a nearly two-hour session that is a combination ballet class, medical exam and advanced lecture on neuromusculature with some personal-improvement life coaching thrown in. Surrounded by walls of dance shoes, we get an education in spacers, shanks, sickling and shoes, both Russian and Japanese.
"So why is a guy who looks like he should be driving a truck fitting pointe shoes?" Amend asks (saving me the trouble). His wife, Ginger, who runs the Colorado Springs shop, was a dancer who was put en pointe too young and got deformed feet.
"She didn't have a guy like me fitting her. She got her shoes through the mail," Amend said, which made me shiver.
The Oksenhorns got another shiver when Amend, assessing Olivia's feet, stance and movement, mentioned that we might be headed back to Aspen without pointe shoes. I was nearly crushed, but Olivia took it in stride. Later she informed me that every girl is told the same thing. She got her shoes - Grishkos, made of paste, burlap and satin - and floated out the door.
Next came the hard part - waiting three days till her next ballet class. Olivia could hardly wait 10 minutes, begging us to let her put her shoes on in the car (strictly against Amend's orders; shoes must be put on only when sitting on the floor). The next day, my wife signed Olivia up for a class early in the week so her toe-dancing career could begin two days ahead of schedule.
I get the feeling the trip through Denver and down Interstate 25 is going to start feeling familiar - and that I'll get to know even more about Noel Amend.