Pointe shoes are the life and soul of every ballerina. In fact, it is an integral part of “ballet”, and easily the first thing one thinks of when ballet is mentioned. Pointe shoes enable dancers to dance on their toes – literally – while looking effortless and oh-so-graceful at the same time, even though it may hurt like hell. However, as something most dancers use regularly, how much do you actually know about pointe shoes? Today, we’re going to be looking at these 7 fun facts about pointe shoes!
1. Pointe Was Inspired By A “Flying Machine”
Women started dancing ballet in 1681 using shoes with heels. By the mid-18th century, the first heel-less shoes appeared as leaps with heeled shoes proved to be extremely challenging. After the French Revolution, all dance shoes were heel-less. In 1795, the idea and first predecessor of the pointe shoe was born. Charles Didelot created a “flying machine” that enabled dancers to lift upwards, which allowed them to stand on their toes. All this was done in an effort to make ballet dancing look as effortless as possible.
2. “Wireless En Pointe” Came Next
In the 19th century, the first “wireless en pointe” dancer emerged with Marie Tagliono, a French ballerina. As the lead in La Sylphide, she decided to dance the role without help from any machine. Instead, she wore shoes with leather soles, and darned the sides and toes to help the shoes retain their shape. However, these shoes were still rather flimsy, and some records state that she was dance on a very high half-pointe rather than full pointe. For handmade pioneer pointe shoes, it’s still a great achievement though!
3. Modern Pointe Shoes Only Existed In The 20th Century
During the early 20th century, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova created a blueprint for the modern pointe shoe we all wear today. She did this by inserting toughened leather soles into her shoes, and flattened and hardened the toe area to form a box. All this created extra support for her feet, and therefore the modern pointe shoe was born!
4. Pointe Shoes Are Handmade
Pointe shoes are manufactured using a method called turnshoe, in which shoes are assembled inside-out on a last and flipped to the correct side before finishing. (A last is a tool shaped like a human foot.) For standard, mass-produced pointe shoes, a common last is used. However, some dancers have lasts that are replicas of their foot shape, enabling shoemakers to custom-make shoes according to their exact foot shape. While pointe shoes are handmade, most pointe shoes do not come with elastic and/or ribbons sewed on. This is enable dancers to place the elastic and ribbons at their preferred exact place.
5. Pointe Shoes Can Have A Short Lifespan
Depending on each dancer’s usage, fitness level, technique, strength and weight among other factors, pointe shoes can wear out pretty quickly. A professional dancer can wear out a pair of shoes in a performance, or even half a performance. If one is still a student, perhaps the shoes can last for a few weeks to a few months. The point is, how long your shoes last is heavily dependent on how often you use them, how you use them and how you care for them after using them.
6. There’s No Right Or Left
Most (if not all) pointe shoes are made using a standard, common last, and they therefore have no “side”. Whether or not you decide to “have” a side is totally up to you. The shoes will adapt to the shape of your feet over time, so if you do not alternate the shoes between your right and left feet, pretty soon you’ll be able to see which is “right” and which is “left”. Personally, I always swap the shoes to prevent the shoes from moulding too much to just one foot. It also seems like they have a slightly longer lifespan this way!
7. There Are More Than 80 Different Pointe Shoe Brands
That’s right, more than eighty. There are the common, well-known brands such as Bloch, Gaynor Minden, Chacott, Freed of London, Capezio, Grishko and Sansha just to name a few, but there are also other local brands in various countries. In other words, there’s definitely a pair of shoes (or more!) that will definitely fit you! You just have to be patient, do some research, and try on some of them to find your perfect match!
And that’s all we have on pointe shoes today! What brand of pointe shoes do you use, and do you have other pointe shoe facts to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!
Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through dance.