All about ballet pointe shoes but were afraid to ask

Did you know the first ballet pointe shoes were developed by an Italian Ballet Master named Filippo Taglioni, father of the great 19th century ballerina Maria Taglioni.

Did you know Pierina Legnani (1863-1923), one of the Italian ballerinas famous for "tiptoe" dancing, skyrocketed into fame with her thirty-two fouettes en tournant in the ballet Cinderella? She is noted to have said,"I turn thirty-two pirouettes on tiptoe without dropping my foot. Not many dancers can do that."


Marie Taglioni (23 April 1804 – 24 April 1884) was a famous Italian ballerina of the Romantic ballet era, a central figure in the European history of dance.

The Romantic Period and Ballet’s Eclipse

In Milan in 1820 Carlo Blasis first set down the technique of ballet as we know it today—with its stress on the turned-out leg, which permits great variety of movement. With the production of La Sylphide (1832) the romantic period formally began, ushering in a new era of brilliant choreography that emphasized the beauty and virtuosity of the prima ballerina.

In this production Maria Taglioni first wore the filmy, calf-length costume that was to become standard for classical ballet. The great ballerinas of the era included Taglioni, Fanny Elssler, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito. In keeping with the literature and art of the romantic movement, the new ballet concerned the conflicts of reality and illusion, flesh and spirit. Love stories and fairy tales replaced mythological subjects. At the same time dancing sur les pointes [on the toes] had come into favor. By the end of the century the blocked toe had appeared, and the tutu, a very short, buoyant skirt that completely freed the legs, had come into use.

The male dancer functioned as partner to support the ballerina, the central focus of the dance and drama. Ballet declined progressively after 1850 with the ballet d’action giving way entirely to divertissements; finally the great stars had retired, and the sets, costumes, and choreography had become stereotyped and uninteresting. The naturalistic trend in the theater had all but destroyed the imaginative touch necessary to ballet.

Today most ballet pointe shoes are fashioned of layers of satin stiffened with glue, with a narrow sole often made of leather. Regardless of manufacturer, all the shoes are made in pretty much the same way except when it comes to the "box" that surrounds the toes.

In the first stages of construction, the ballet pointe shoes are fashioned inside-out, as most shoes were in the nineteenth century, before being "turned" for the finishing touches right-side out. The formation of the box is crucial to the support of the dancer's foot, and each company jealously guards its particular method. Even so, the box usually ends up too hard for most professionals, who alter their shoes in various ways before wearing them.

Since then ballet pointe shoes have developed through series of transformations in styles and in the technique of manufacturing them. All ballet pointe shoes are made by hand.

Therefore, ballet pointe shoes are one of the most difficult dance shoes to make and fit the dancer.

Training in ballet to prepare YOU the dancer, to eventually wearing ballet pointe shoes takes a lot of energy. In fact so much so, that a famous comedian Bob Hope (he didn't go on pointe) said the following;

*Today my heart beat 103,389 times

*My blood traveled 168,000,000 miles

*I breathed 23,000 times

*I inhaled 438 cubic feet of air

*I spoke 4800 words

*I moved 750 major muscles

*I excercised 7,000,000 brain cells



Let us continue.

What should I look for, you ask yourself. We will make a list as we go along with explanations.

1.Aesthetics 2.Knowing different parts of the pointe shoe a) the box b) the vamp 3.Fitting ballet pointe shoes a) what should the shoe do b) what the shoe must not do

What teachers look for when they see a student in pointe shoes, is how the feet look. It can be called the aesthetics of the feet. Do they look nice, lumpy, or fantastic! The right fit of ballet pointe shoes determine the aesthetic line of the foot. The shoes should assist the dancer as well as improve the look of the feet.

This is where you, the parent, must learn a bit about different parts of the shoe. At least this way you won't be in the dark when you go with your child to buy ballet pointe shoes.

The BOX is the entire front portion of the shoe and encases and supports the toes and metatarsals. The Boxes are made in different shapes to accommodate a variety of foot structures. It is the most important feature of the shoe. Choosing the wrong Box fit can be the cause of much foot stress.

Remember FeetFirst

The VAMP is the top portion of the Box covering the toes. It provides support so the toes can stay straight inside the shoe. This is crucial because the moment toes buckle over the dancer cannot stay on pointe. (And it hurts to say the least).

There are long Vamps to support high arches, medium and short Vamps accommodate feet with medium to poor arches.

It is useful to measure a Vamp that fits well so it can be used as a point of reference for future purchases. Take a tape measure and run it from the center top of the pointe shoe (including the string casing) down towards the toes to the edge of the platform. This measurement is the length (or height) of the Vamp.

We come to the SHANK. This is the leather inner sole of the point shoe. There are two features to take into account.

The Strength: Shanks are Soft, Normal and Reinforced The Length: the length of the inner leather sole will be Full (equal in length to the outer sole) or cut at 1/4 or even 1/2 the outer sole length.

No single feature determines a correct shoe fit. Remember to always ask questions of the shoe fitter. More information on the way.

Some common errors that can happen; Purchasing shoes with Vamps too long or Shanks too hard. Sewing ribbons or elastics in the wrong place. Buying shoes to fit comfortably. They should be snug. Let's go on to fitting ballet pointe shoes.

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