Ballerina Shoes for Canada

Ainur Alipkaliyeva


What could motivate a woman to leave her comfortable, stable life in Kazakhstan for an uncertain future in Canada? Love? Ambition? The desire to test herself? Shortly before I left my homeland, it led me to buy a pair of shoes—my black velour ballet flats with the shiny silver buckle from another country, another life.


I have asked myself many times why did I come to Canada? What am I doing here? These questions take me back to the little girl I was just yesterday. She lives inside me still, glimpsed in the light of my memories.

I remember our family’s first TV. It had a black and white screen, and its one speaker was covered in pale pink roses. A little girl sits watching; her parents work long hours, and she is often left on her own. The room is dark, but it lights up as a ballerina appears on the screen. She dances Swan Lake, and it is the most beautiful thing the little girl has ever seen. 

The ballerina hypnotizes the girl with her unreal glow and elegant movements, banishing all loneliness and fear. Dreaming of Swan Lake, the girl learns to walk on tiptoe. 

She makes up stories about dancing on point, but there’s no ballet school in her town, and the stories remain only dreams.

Years later, that little girl became my successful adult self. My life in Kazakhstan was stable and comfortable, but for some reason, I began to have interesting dreams. In one dream, I was in a foreign land with plants, birds and even snakes I had never seen before. I saw myself in a train flying across the ocean and over an island of snow. In another dream, I walked down empty streets, invisible to the people sitting behind cafe windows. 

Sometimes I dreamed of an international airport crowded with travellers arriving and rushing in all directions. There was something mysterious and promising in those recurring dreams; they were so colourful and unusual that I couldn’t just ignore them. Besides, I strongly believed that I should listen to my intuition.

Three years later, when I met my husband, who lived in Canada, I made the decision to join him without a doubt. Before leaving, I bought a new pair of shoes. They were black velour ballet flats with a shiny silver buckle, and although they were made in Turkey, the buckle carried the proud name of Prada. They were designed for the dream of another life in another country, where I wouldn’t have to clean them every day from the relentless dust of the steppes in my hometown. 

Soon the mystery of those recurring dreams led me to a reality more challenging than I could have expected. I had no big family around me anymore. I felt isolated and inadequate, with no language, profession, sense of belonging, independence or security. 

In Kazakhstan, I was a doctor, but in Canada, I found myself facing rigid rules and impossible requirements for internationally trained professionals – a system that protected only its own members. Still, my intuition insisted that I must be part of it to survive.

I had to start everything from scratch. Having arrived in Canada with a dozen certificates, I began to collect new ones. 

Like many immigrants, I visited all kinds of agencies, took part in useful and useless training sessions, studied websites, worked as a volunteer, and met with an infinite number of new people. My beautiful ballerina shoes hid the bloody blisters I acquired as I trudged from one meeting to another. They also hid my anxiety and despair as I tried to find myself again and establish at least a hint of independence. 

I couldn’t afford new shoes for my first four years in Canada, but recently I bought a new pair. And guess what? They, too, are ballet flats. I found my way back to my profession and even started my own private practice as a psychotherapist. 

Sometimes you must endure bloody blisters on the path to grace.

AINUR ALIPKALIYEVA is a former psychiatrist from Kazakhstan who practices as a psychotherapist in Toronto.

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