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All About Pointe – Pointe 101

POINTE SHOES


What are pointe shoes?

Pointe shoes are a type of ballet shoes dancers wear specifically to do pointe work. Normal ballet shoes are soft and flat. Pointe shoes have a hard box (toe part) of the shoe that allow dancers to dance on the tips of their toes.


What are pointe shoes made of?

Pointe shoes are made of a mix of fabric and glue, as well as satin, leather or suede, and cotton. The rigid box of the shoe is made purposefully hard in order for dancers to dance on top of. Layers and layers of fabric and glue traditionally make up the box. The outside of the shoe is satin, while the sole or the outside platform of the shoe is made of either leather or suede and more layers of fabric and glue.


How are pointe shoes made?

Each pointe shoe is custom hand-crafted. Oftentimes, professional ballet dancers have custom shoes made with specifications for their own unique feet. This means that there is a specific shoemaker ballet dancers have to craft their shoes.


When did ballerinas begin dancing on pointe?

Italian ballerina Maria Taglioni was the first known ballet dancer to dance on pointe sometime in the 19th century in the ballet La Sylphide. Soon after, more and more dancers began dancing on pointe and shoe makers began making hard pointe shoes that eventually evolved into the modern pointe shoes we wear today.



DANCING ON POINTE


When can dancers start to go on pointe?

A dancer’s toes, feet and ankles must be very strong in order to do pointe work. If not, then dancers will risk injury and can damage their feet. Dancers are also encouraged not to go on pointe too early as starting pointe work at too young an age can also stunt the growth of their feet. Usually, dancers age 11 to 13 start pointe work after years of ballet training.


Is it painful to dance on pointe?

When first starting to dance on pointe, it can be painful as your toes are not used to the feeling. However, as dancers get stronger and dance on pointe more frequently, the pain subsides and your feet will get more accustomed to the shoes and the feeling of being on pointe.


Do male dancers wear pointe shoes?

Normally, only female dancers dance on pointe and wear pointe shoes! However, many professional male dancers also try pointe work in order to strengthen their feet. Modern ballets have male dancers wearing pointe shoes only for comedic effect. The all-male drag ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo all dance on pointe.



PREPARING POINTE SHOES FOR DANCING

How do dancers sew their pointe shoes?

When pointe shoes are purchased brand new, they are actually unfinished and not ready to wear right away to dance in! Dancers must sew their own ribbons and elastic to the shoes in order to keep the shoes secured on their feet. Every dancer sews their shoes to their liking, even with particular types of ribbon and elastics!


How do dancers wear their pointe shoes?

To wear your pointe shoes, put the shoe on through the elastic loop. The elastic is there to keep the shoe on your foot and prevent the heel of the shoe from slipping off. Next, tie the ribbons. Contrary to some mainstream media, dancers do not tie the ribbons all the way up the leg. The ribbons only tie around the ankle. Make a criss cross on the top arch of your foot. Then, wrap the ribbons around the top of your ankle. Knot the ribbons on the inside your ankle and tuck the ends in. This will prevent the ribbons from coming undone while dancing and provide support for your ankles.


How do dancers break in their pointe shoes?

After dancers sew their ribbons and elastic onto their new shoes, the shoes then need to be broken in. Just as a dancer has a specific shoe for her foot and a particular way of sewing on their ribbons and elastic, a dancer also has their own personalized ritual of breaking in their shoes. New shoes are way too stiff and inflexible to dance in comfortably and utilize for demanding ballet steps such as pirouettes and releves. Breaking in a shoe means to prepare the shoe for dancing and mold to the dancer’s foot. Some methods of breaking in include:

  • Bend and soften the box and the shank through hitting the shoe against a hard surface, stepping on top of the shoe, or folding the shoe in half

  • Darning – stitching a thick thread border along the edge of the box to create a more stable platform

  • Using pointe shoe glue to harden specific places of the shoe such as the box to prolong wear

  • Cutting out part of the inside shank of the shoe to allow the shoe to bend more at the arch of the foot

  • To prevent slipping, many dancers cut the satin off the box of their shoes and scrape grooves into the bottom soles

How long do pointe shoes last?

It depends on the shoe and the dancer’s preference of hard or softness of the shoe! Professional dancers dance in pointe shoes almost every day. Pointe shoes can “die” relatively quickly as a result of the constant wear and tear from your foot and dancing on the hard floor. Dancers can prefer their shoes to be at different stages of hard or softness depending on the roles which they are performing. Professional dancers can go through up to 100-120 pairs of shoes in a season! Sometimes, dancers can go through a pair of shoes in a single performance!

Fun Fact: In 2013 New York City Ballet ordered 8,500 pairs (for 180 dancers) and the Royal Ballet used approximately 12,000 pairs of pointe shoes.

POINTE EXERCISES


How can I help strengthen my feet for pointe work?

Preparing your feet for pointe work is more important than preparing your shoes for dancing. Having strong toes, feet and ankles will ease the transition to pointe work and help to elevate the pain of dancing on pointe.


Here are some simple exercises you can do to strengthen your feet and ankles for pointe:


Pointe/Flex with a Theraband

Using a theraband, practice pointing and flexing the feet, moving through every single bone, joint and muscle. Make sure you use the resistance of the theraband when pointing the feet through demi-pointe to mimic the foot when it rolls through the pointe shoe onto pointe. Feel this articulation in your ankle and toes! Be mindful not to sickle! When on pointe, you are supporting your entire body on your toes. It is essential to keep the foot straight so that the ankle is in line with the toes and the rest of the leg.


Rises & Releves

The difficulty of pointe work is actually rising up onto the toes in the box of the shoe. Before achieving this on pointe, one must have a very high and stable demi-pointe. Practicing releves and rises will help prepare for releves and rises on pointe. Make sure to do both releves (with plie) and rises (without plie) to train different parts of your muscles. Try your releves/rises in different positions: parallel, first position, on one leg with the other in coupe. Be conscious of your foot structure in the demi-pointe position – are you focusing your weight on first and second toes? Push your arches outward so that when on pointe you will be fully on top of the shoe with the box flat on the floor.



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