Pointe Shoes: A Revolution in Ballet

Published: 05th July 2009
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Few fans of ballet appreciate the fact that the French Revolution was as much a turning point for modern dance as it was for history. From this point forward, ballet dancers abandoned heeled shoes and heavy costumes in favor of lighter, flat-soled slippers, pointe shoes, and flesh-colored tights that allowed performers more freedom. French artists enjoyed some success in spreading a new level of theatrical performance to a wider audience in other countries.

Charles Didelot, a Swedish second-generation dancer who studied and performed in France and Russia around 1800, was the impetus for ballet's evolution toward dancing 'en pointe' - meaning "on the toes." The en pointe technique requires great stability and strength, since the entire weight of the body is precariously balanced on the rigid points of one or both feet.

Didelot's performances as a dancer and choreographer were unique and expressive. He is credited with advancing the art form with innovations and developments in style and costume. He created a "flying machine" of rigged wires that carried dancers into the air to make them appear weightless. Audiences were delighted, and came to expect these graceful but challenging movements in dance.

The invention of pointe shoes would give dancers the support they required to perform. This new type of footwear would become a most significant innovation, as the difficulty associated with en pointe ballet maneuvers like pirouettes, arabesques, and attitudes required skill, strength, agility, and grace. The shoes evolved with a flat toe box as a platform to develop calf and leg muscles as they progressed with dance.

Pointe shoes are a necessary evil in modern ballet, though not durable, for students will wear through shoes in months, and professionals can wear out a pair in a single performance. Because of this, some professionals receive shoe allowances in their contracts. Freed of London, Gaynor Minden, and Bloch are the major distributors for the world's leading ballet companies and academies.

A proper fit is essential for maximum support, and the process of breaking pointe shoes in is intricate. The simplest way to do this is during the initial fitting, by locating the point on the foot where the heel ends and the arch begins. This section is then gently worked by hand on both sides to establish a breaking point for the shoe's sole and shank, affording the dancer a better fit and more support.

As the performer uses the shoe, the sole and the heel will break down here first, rather than further down the shank toward the toes. If this is not done, the gap between shoe and foot in that critical area will create an unstable environment in use that increases the risk for injury and premature wear.

Even the best fitting shoes sometimes need extra support to address specific problems with individual toes or to prevent blisters, corns, and calluses that are a result of the tremendous pressure placed on a dancer's feet. Ballet dancers suffer from many foot ailments as an occupational hazard, even with well-fitting pointe shoes that have been broken in.

Manufacturers of pointe shoes manufacturers are conscious of these issues. They design a wide variety of accessories used by students and advocated by teachers and trainers. Toe pillows and pads, tape, bunheads, "ouch pouches," and spacers are made for the purpose of increasing foot support and reducing skin irritations and soreness around the toes.

Europe's leading online retailer of dancewear - Dance Direct.For further information regarding our range of pointe shoes and other dancewear products, please visit our website at http://www.dancedirect.com.

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