Now that you know all about the humble beginnings of the pointe shoe… and a few hundred years of perfecting shape and fit have passed, let’s take a look at the anatomy of the pointe shoe, the various manufacturers and what to look for when fitting your first (or second or third) pair of shoes.
The Box: the front of the shoe that encases and supports the dancer’s toes and is traditionally made from a process of papier-mâché. The box consists of 3 parts: the platform, the vamp, and the throat. Each one of these have varying specifications per model and manufacturer of the shoe. The platform allows the dancer to stand flat on the floor to balance, turn, and gives the illusion of being weightless. The width and shape of the platform vary across manufacturers. 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.
The Shank: a hard material that stiffens or reinforces the sole of the shoe to support the arch of the foot while en pointe. The shank of a pointe shoe is supple but sturdy to support the arch and hold a dancer’s body weight. Usually, the shank and 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 drawstring placed around the shoe encased in canvas that lines the throat of the shoe assists in keeping the shoe tightly on the foot.
When fitting pointe shoes, it is important to look at the shape of your foot, the length of your toes as well as the shape of your arch. Each foot has certain elements which need to be met by the choice of manufacturer.
Below is a short yet very informative video on what to look for and why when fitting pointe shoes:
Some dancers require spacers to place between their toes to correct alignment and assist in the prevention of bunions. And blisters are prevented by wearing toe caps or bunheads to avoid sliding around in your shoe. A good fitter will recognise the need to provide one or all of these, but sometimes it is a process of trial and error to find the right combination to make your pointe work enjoyable and well executed.
BLOCH – Australia
Founder Jacob Bloch handmade the first pair of satin ballet pointe shoes in 1932. This tradition has continued and their pointe shoes balance strong construction with comfort. Bloch understands the demands of pointe work and design shoes to reduce injury.
CAPEZIO – USA
Salvatore Capezio was born on April 13, 1871, in Muro Lucano, Italy. In 1887, at the age of seventeen, he opened his shop near the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. The sign above his door read: “The Theatrical & Historical Shoemaker.” Plenty of the world’s greatest performers have recognised Capezio as the only way to dance:
Anna Pavlova, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr., Charles “Honi” Coles, Alicia Alonso, Bob Fosse, Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli, Gregory Hines, Tommy Tune, Ann Reinking, Debbie Allen, Ben Vereen, Charo, Merrill Ashley, Rob Marshall, Ashley Tuttle, Fatima, Savion Glover, Brian Friedman, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. ( https://www.capezio.com/about/capezio-story)
GRISHKO – Russia
Grishko Ltd. is a privately held manufacturer of dance shoes, wear and accessories. The company was founded in 1989 by Nikolai Grishko in Moscow, Russia. Grishko pointe shoes are handmade using all natural materials and tested by professional dancers. Grishko has developed several pointe shoe innovations such as using nano-technology to improve foot health, working with navy acoustics labs to reduce noise on stage and collaborating with a laboratory of starch products to develop better glues. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grishko)
FREED of LONDON – UK
Freed of London was founded by cobbler Frederick Freed in 1929 in London’s West End. Working from a basement in Covent Garden, the same site where the brand’s flagship store now stands, Mr Freed and his wife revolutionised the dance shoe industry by tailoring shoes to a dancer’s individual needs. To this day this philosophy remains, and Freed of London shoes continue to be made by hand in the UK. (http://www.freedoflondon.com/Web/Site/About.aspx)
GAYNOR MINDEN – New York, USA
Gaynor Minden was founded in 1992 by husband and wife John Minden and Eliza Gaynor Minden in their New York City apartment. Its only product was the patented pointe shoe that Eliza, a devoted amateur dancer, had designed and developed over the preceding eight years — the first pointe shoe to successfully utilize modern materials in its construction.
I know this is a lengthy blog, but I hope you have found it informative and maybe it opened a few more windows in the Ballet world.
Featured Image – RICHARDCALMES.COM