Collectively, teachers and doctors can agree on one thing: pointe work is NOT healthy for the human body. With that being true, neither is being tackled by a 200-pound man on astroturf, regardless people do it. Dancers do it for the love the art, the strides towards perfection, and the ability to conquer physics. Ballet would not be ballet without pointe work; it is the ultimate goal of a female dancer and some male dancers. So, how does a 6-year-old girl go from dancing in her living room with winged butterfly costumes to defying gravity on the largest stages around the world? Hard work, determination and sacrifice. To dance on en pointe or on pointe, you have to be ready both physically and mentally. The road to pointe work is the first step in the long journey it takes to become a ballerina.The demand of pointe is not only physically straining, but it is also financially straining. They are probably one of the most expensive pair of shoes you will every buy, that will last at most two weeks. And for those blessed with strong feet and beautiful arches, maybe two days… And for those of you who dance en pointe constantly… Maybe a class or two? The pointe shoe is an oxymoron, as it doesn’t last long due to sweat and the breaking down of the raw materials. (Unless you wear Gaynors… These shoes last longer, but there is a huge debate about that… I have posted before on them… Just search Gaynor in the blog search.) As delicate as they are, and as delicate it creates the aesthetic for ballet… well, they are also extremely strong.
So, these delicate beauties that hide their strength also house a vital part of ballet… A ballerina’s feet. They protect and shape the look, aesthetic and power of ballet… I mean it really isn’t ballet if it isn’t en pointe…. right? The whole point of training ballet is to get pointe shoes. So, before you even attempt pointe, you probably should know what a pointe shoe is… This isn’t the history of pointe… This is the anatomy of a pointe shoe 🙂
Anatomy of a Pointe Shoe
A pointe shoe has to be designed for the masses, and, as a result, the pointe shoe industry has expanded greatly. Despite the maker or manufacturer of the shoe, the concepts behind the “parts” of the shoe remain the same. Pointe shoes get their structure from two main structural parts:
The Box: the front of the shoe that encases and supports the dancer’s toes.
The Shank: a hard material the stiffens or reinforces the sole of the shoe to support the arch of the foot while en pointe.
Pointe shoes get their pretty factor from the light pink satin covering, hiding the internal structure of the shoe.
With modern day engineering, the box of a pointe shoe has been reshaped to meet dancers’ foot shape. A box is traditionally made from the process of papier-mâché while innovators in pointe shoes are making the box from more durable substances like plastic. The box consists of 3 parts: the platform, the vamp, and the throat. Each one of these parts comes with different specs per the model and manufacturer of the shoe. The platform of the shoe allows the dancer to stand flat on the floor for balancing, turning, and giving the illusion of being weightless. The width and shape of the platform vary. A Gaynor Minden’s platform is the flattest, versus a Freed, has a slightly more round shape to let the dancer break in the platform to fit their needs. The vamp supports the dancers toes, but most importantly their metatarsals; the vamp can be shaped differently, allowing for higher sides, or a higher throat in the front, ensuring that all of the flexible joints are supported and encased within the box. Russian Pointes have higher vamps and give the illusion of a longer, narrower foot. The throat is the opening of the box, and can be V-shaped, or rounded. The overall shape of the box varies by the maker as well. These are all important as the box is going to give the dancer’s foot 360 support. Because the materials a box is made of degrades, the box of a pointe is crucial for a dancer. If the box “dies” meaning it becomes mushy, there is no support for the toes. A dancer can dance on a really dead shank, but a really dead box is almost impossible to dance on. The shank of a pointe shoe is supple but the sturdy support the arch needs to hold a dancer’s body weight. Usually, the shank the sole of the shoe correspond in shape with hardened pieces of leather, cardstock, or hardened burlap. The sole is traditionally scored leather to prevent slipping and falling on stage.
The pointe shoe is famous for the ribbons that wrap across the arch of the foot and tie above the ankle. The ribbons aren’t there for show, ribbons do offer some security to keep the pointe shoe on, but nowadays nude/pink elastic is sewn to the heel of the pointe shoe to keep the shoe in place. Additionally, there is a drawstring placed around the shoe encased in canvas that lines the throat of the shoe.
The Guide to Pointe Work (2015) | $2.99 USD – click to download