I want to write to you about the art of pointe ballet. This is an especially important topic for me because I know that some of our older dancers are looking into beginning pointe classes within the next few years. I wanted to make sure that they (and the rest of our studio family) have an idea of the history behind their exciting new practice.
Let’s start with the shoe itself: A pointe shoe (also sometimes referred to as a toe-shoe) is a type of shoe worn by ballet dancers. The shoe is comprised of a box (the toe part of the shoe), the sole (the hard part at the bottom of the shoe), the shank (inside of the shoe where the dancer steps when not en pointe), and ribbons and elastics (on the ankle to help the shoe to stay on). Pointe shoes developed from the desire for dancers to dance in a manner which appears to make them float effortlessly and appear weightless. They are normally worn by female dancers, though male dancers may wear them for unorthodox roles (usually if performing as women). The shoes enable dancers to dance en pointe (on the tips of their toes) for extended periods of time.
When women first began to dance ballet the standard women’s ballet shoe had heels, yet during the Mid-18th century, dancers began to wear non-heeled shoes which enabling them to perform more difficult and impressive choreography. The first dancers to rise up on their toes did so with the help of an invention (the “flying machine”) by choreographer Charles Didelot in 1795. The lightness and beauty that the use of this machine brought became highly sought after. Many companies began to look for ways to incorporate more toe work into their pieces. The first pointe shoe was a modified satin slipper; the soles were made of leather and the sides and toes were reinforced with darning to help the shoes hold their structure. Due to the shoes of this period offering very little support, dancers would heavily cousin their toes for and rely on the strength of their feet and ankles for support. In the late 19th century manufacturers began to create shoes with a sturdy, flat platform at the front end of the shoe. These shoes also included a box (made of layers of fabric), and a stiffer, stronger sole. They were constructed without nails and the soles were only stiffened at the toes, making them nearly silent and helping dancers to appear ethereal on stage. The birth of the modern pointe shoe is most commonly attributed to the early 20th century Russian dancer, Anna Pavlova. Pavlova inserted toughened leather soles into her shoes for extra support and flattened and hardened the toe area to form a box.
Today pointe shoes all have a similar structure and shape, however that does not mean that any shoe will be right for you (or your child). When trying on pointe shoes, especially for the first time, ask questions to the staff and try on a few different styles. Also, ask your teacher what they recommend. For some dancers, gell pads, toe blocks or taping might also be something to consider (discuss this with your teacher first).
Lastly I should warn you that pointe is only for dancers who have acquired the strength and skill necessary. It is not something to rush into without being completely ready. Point can also hurt your feet even if you are absolutely ready, so if you or your child is preparing for pointe, practice, practice, practice and prepare to work hard and be dedicated; the hard work will pay off.
-Love, Miss Shelby