Pointe shoes

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Modern pointe shoes. The edge of the toe pad, which is inserted between the foot and toe box for cushioning, can be seen on the right foot.

Pointe shoes are special shoes worn by ballerinas. They are made with a wide flat front end so that the ballerina can stand on the tips of her toes. In normal flat ballet shoes, people can not do this because the shoe will not support their feet properly.

Pointe shoes are normally only worn by female ballet dancers; male dancers may wear them for unorthodox roles such as the Ugly Stepsisters in Cinderella, or Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Age concern[change | change source]

Girls will usually start en pointe between the ages of 11 and 14. Some start a little earlier than this. Starting too early may be bad for the feet of the dancer. Some girls will never go en pointe. This is usually because they are not strong enough, as going en pointe means one has to have enough strength.

It takes considerable strength in the feet, ankle, leg, knee, and abdomen to dance en pointe. Students must be at least 11 or 12 years of age before attempting pointe work. The bones and growth plates in the feet are usually not fully hardened and developed before that age. Serious foot deformities can result from starting pointe too early, even if the student is strong and skillful. Attempting to dance en pointe before the feet and toes are fully grown can cause career-ending damage that will prevent dancing en pointe for a lifetime. Top ballet schools have specialist orthopaedic consultants, and foot X-rays are an obvious and necessary safeguard before pointe work begins.

History[change | change source]

Mid 18th century dancer Marie Camargo of the Paris Opéra Ballet was the first to wear a non-heeled shoe, enabling her to perform leaps that would have been difficult, if not impossible, in the old shoes.

The first dancers to rise up on their toes did so with the help of an invention by Charles Didelot in 1795. His 'flying machine' lifted dancers upward, allowing them to stand on their toes before leaving the ground. This lightness and ethereal quality was well received by audiences and, as a result, choreographers began put more pointework into their pieces.

As dance progressed into the 1800s, the desire grew to dance en pointe without the aid of wires. When Marie Taglioni first danced La Sylphide en pointe, her shoes were nothing more than modified satin slippers. Because the shoes of this period offered no support, dancers would pad their toes for comfort and rely on the strength of their feet and ankles for support.

The birth of the modern pointe shoe may be due to the early 20th century Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was one of the most famous and influential dancers of her time. Pavlova had particularly high, arched insteps, which left her vulnerable to injury when dancing en pointe. To compensate for this, she would put tough leather soles into her shoes for extra support, and would flatten and harden the toe area to form a box. While this practice made dancing en pointe easier for her, it was regarded by her peers as 'cheating'.

Construction[change | change source]

All pointe shoes are handmade. There are many different companies which make these shoes. Some of them include: Bloch, Capezio, Gamba, Grishko, Gaynor Mindens, Sansha and Freed Of London.

There are many different parts to a pointe shoe:

  • Platform
  • Vamp
  • Throat
  • Binding
  • Sockliner
  • Quarter
  • Drawstring
  • Outer sole

Proper fit and safety[change | change source]

Its important that pointe shoes fit correctly. If they do not, it can cause the dancers feet to become sore. It can also affect the way the dancer performs in them and may cause injury to the dancer. A dancer may need to try on many pairs of pointe shoes before they find ones that fit correctly. Also, when the pointe shoes are "dead" (too soft to dance in any more), the shoes will need to be replaced.

Quantity & quality[change | change source]

Ballet companies order pointe shoes in huge quantities at maybe $100 a pair. A soloist or principal dancer will have her shoes specially hand-made to her needs, and may get through several in a single performance. Dancers' feet take a terrific battering, and few end their careers without having some damage to their feet. This is the reality behind the light, airy, graceful sight on the stage.