Ballet dancer Marie Taglioni represented the 19th-century equivalent of Elvis, inspiring such frenzied fans that would go to any lengths to feel connected to her. Her athleticism and artistry as a ballet dancer proved legendary. Her unrivaled delicacy won her an ardent—and somewhat looney—following.
Just how dedicated were some of her fans? While they didn’t necessarily faint or sob at her presence (like the crowds piling in to see Elvis), a handful of them was involved in an extraordinary supper in 1842, when a pair of her ballet slippers featured as the main course.
While you’ve likely got a thousand questions bubbling in your head right now, we’re guessing those of a practical matter rank near the top. Like how does one sink their teeth into a used ballet slipper? Here’s what you need to know about one of the whackiest dinners in history and the ballet-crazed individuals who participated.
A Dinner for Diehard Ballet Fans
When it comes to celebrity fandoms, things sometimes get seriously weird! Since “fan” is an abbreviated form of “fanatic,” this is to be expected. Nevertheless, it can prove challenging to wrap our heads around some of these strange signs of devotion.
Take, for example, the dedicated fans who turned out in droves to get a closer look at Elvis’s dental crown when it made a tour of the United Kingdom in 2016. Yes, you read that right: dental crown. Or how about the fan who sent a turtle shell to Taylor Swift with the singer’s portrait painted on it? There’s also the tale of the preserved dead baby shark in a tube sent to the Jonas Brothers.
But even these fans might think twice before devouring their favorite celeb’s footwear. The same can’t be said of diehard devotees of Marie Taglioni. According to a story that appeared in London’s The Morning Post on January 3, 1855, a group of Taglioni’s admirers cooked up her ballet slippers in a stew and proceeded to eat them. From the platform to the shank and the ribbons. Yummy?
A Thousand-Dollar Meal
How did the slipper dinner come about? A travel writer and commentator of the time, Edward Tracy Turnerelli, purported to have purchased the shoes for 1,000 Russian rubles, which is worth about $12,000 USD today. He said he bought them from a hotel owner who claimed Taglioni had left them behind in her room. Sounds a bit fishy, but why not? Combining his savings with 35 other ballet fanatics, they pooled together enough to purchase the slippers.
Once in the possession of the beloved silk shoes, Turnerelli claims they prepared them as a fricassee, a dish of meat that’s “stewed in stock and served in a white sauce.” Only instead of meat, they went with the used slippers. Accompanying their attempt to down the beloved dancer’s shoes? Loads of champagne. Go figure!
But did this strange meal really occur? It’s hard to know for sure. After all, consuming modern pointe shoes would come with myriad problems, from the layers of glue and fabric to the toe boxes supported by cardboard reinforcements. But Taglioni didn’t wear modern pointe shoes. She danced in leather-soled satin slippers bound tightly around her feet. To make these shoes more amenable to time spent on the toes, 19th-century performers would often strengthen them with starch and newspaper.
Coupled with the inedible silk fibers of the slippers, we’re guessing the hours after the meal involved painful indigestion. Perhaps the most edible part of the ballet slippers would’ve been their leather soles, but we imagine they still required lots of chewing and copious amounts of bubbly to wash down.
Who Had the Last Laugh?
The meal has become infamous, cementing these Russian ballet enthusiasts’ position as among the craziest fans of the 19th century. The story also highlights how ballet dancers (and other female performers) were fetishized by many of their male fans. But this tale wouldn’t be complete without returning to the one character who seemed to pay off most mightily from the events that transpired: the hotel owner. After all, he made a pretty penny off the soon-to-be-devoured slippers without having to offer any tangible proof. And he managed to do this decades before the internet and online auctions such as eBay. Quite a feat in itself!
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com