Do you know how pointe shoes are made hard enough for ballet dancers to stand right on the end of their toes?
Incidentally, I am asked occasionally which part of their feet dancers actually stand on while they are on pointe. Ballert dancers stretch their feet and do stand literally on the tips of their toes. Their ankles, feet and toes have to be extremely strong to sustain the weight of the whole body (no matter how slight they might be!) while dancing.
I was asked by several non-dancers whether there is any wood block at the end, or very thin lead inserted. It is nothing like that. The shoes have to be strong enough to sustain the weight of dancers bodies, but at the same time, pliable enough to move with the dancers’ feet so as to avoid injuries.
Traditional pointe shoes are hardened in the area around the toes – the “box” – by layers of fabric, hessian, sometimes paper/cardboard and specially formulated glue. These days there are synthetic materials that lasts longer as well.
Pointe shoes are, when they are hand made, constructed inside out and turned right way out towards the end. The special construction is not confined to the box. There is usually an outer sole, an inner sole and, between them, a reinforcing shank to keep the back of the shoes strong yet supple.
Pointe shoes are all made slightly differently from manufacturer to manufacturer. Brand new pointe shoes all smell different depending on the make; this must be due to the different formulation of the glue that is used, and it is said the recipes for the glues are very heavily guarded!
One type of pointe shoe I used to use very obviously had a piece of cardboard in the box. Another make had four inner soles stacked together. One had tiny nails that I needed to pull out in order to get them to the softness of my liking. One had stitches all around the outer sole instead of nails.
It is very difficult to find the perfect pair of pointe shoes. But when you find them, they will be comfortable, will give a beautiful line to your feet, and provide stability. As one gets technically stronger, one’s feet change as well, so it is important to make sure that the shoes still fit!
The history of pointe shoes will be for another entry!