What’s the Pointe?
Ballerinas need to stand right on the end of their toes, but have you ever wondered what pointe shoes are made from?
Sometimes I am asked about this. People say: “which part of their feet do they actually stand on, when on pointe? I reply: “literally on the tips of their toes”. As their feet stretch, the toes must be incredibly strong to sustain the entire body weight while dancing; even if the dancer is light. What is at the end of a pointe shoe?
People wonder if there is a wood block at the end of the shoe, or some very thin lead. However, it’s nothing of the sort. The shoes must be sturdy enough to withstand the dancer’s bodyweight, and at the same time, be malleable enough to move with the dancer’s feet; this is so an injury does not occur. Generally, the area around the toes (the box) is hardened by layers of paper, fabric and specially designed glue. There are also synthetic materials that are more long-lasting. When they are hand-made, the shoes are designed inside-out and towards the end of the process, are turned the right way around. A reinforcing shank sits between the inner sole and outer sole, to ensure the back stays supple and strong. Pointe shoes vary depending on the manufacturer. Interestingly, the smell of new pointe shoes varies; this is because of the numerous formulations of glue that is utilised. The recipes for those formulations are closely guarded secrets. Finding the perfect pair of pointe shoes is not an easy “feet”! At the stage when you do stumble across the right fit, they will be comfortable and will give a beautiful line to your feet as well as providing much needed stability. It is important that the shoes still fit even after the feet change; feet change when a dancer gets technically stronger.
When a dancer finds a pair they ae comfortable with, they must break them in. This can be done by hammering the box of the shoe to soften it, or by lining the inside of the box with floor wax. And the finishing touches? Dancers sew on ribbons and elastic to hold the shoes in place.
Normally, a ballerina will begin dancing on pointe between the ages of 11 and 13. Prior to this, they would have built enough strength in the legs and feet to support their bodies and will be able to handle the stress of dancing on one’s toes.