Pointe Shoe Primer for the 21st Century

Posted on August 1, 2013 by

Are you up-to-date?

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For teachers, guiding students toward the right pointe shoe is a critical responsibility. But let’s face it: The pointe shoe has evolved faster than many of us can keep up with. In the past, dancers had a small handful of makes and models to choose from; now there are more choices than ever, giving dancers a better opportunity to find their perfect shoe. Teachers don’t always have the time to follow the latest technologies, so Dance Teacher talked with veteran fitters about the latest pointe shoe trends to help keep you well-informed.

Sew and Wear

One of the biggest changes in pointe shoe construction is an emphasis on improved foot articulation. “Before, shoes would support the foot, but they didn’t really conform that well,” says Joy Ellis, owner and pointe shoe fitter of Footlights Dance & Theatre Boutique in Frederick and Silver Spring, Maryland. “They came with stiff shanks and a high-profile box. A lot of the newer shoes support in a different way, from the back of the forefoot rather than all the way up the foot, so your heel has a little more flexibility.”

The result is a more lightweight, break-in-ready pointe shoe that allows students to easily roll up completely. The usual break-in rituals (smashing the box in a doorjamb, cracking the shank, hammering the pleats) that the rock-solid shoes of yesteryear provoked aren’t as necessary.

“The newer models are built so that you just sew and wear,” says Jenny Roman, owner and master fitter of The Dance Store in Los Angeles. “In fact, when people do any of that extreme work, they actually compromise the integrity of the shoe.”

Features such as pre-arched or three-quartered shanks and graduated wings help ease the break-in process. Capezio/Ballet Makers, Inc., recently revamped its entire pointe shoe lineup; almost all shoes now feature feathered wings for easier roll-through. Bloch’s Hannah and Grishko’s Nova are other lightweight examples.

Joy Ellis notes a new emphasis on improved foot articulation in pointe shoes.

Joy Ellis notes a new emphasis on improved foot articulation in pointe shoes.

Flexible-shank options allow dancers to rise up to pointe more easily, while increased lateral support and wider platforms improve balance—a boon for beginners and hard-to-fit foot types. Both Ellis and Roman cite the Bloch European Balance as their go-to shoe for these dancers. “You could have someone with the worst feet in the world, and they can get up over the box with a straight knee,” says Roman. Ellis also recommends Russian Pointe’s soft-shank Rubin, Brava and Lumina, and the Suffolk Stellar.

“In a way, today’s pointe shoes require dancers to concentrate more on their core strength,” says Ellis. “They don’t allow the dancer to sit in the shoe, because they’ll break down very quickly if they do. They have to pull up out of them more.”

Cutting-Edge Technology

Twenty years ago, Gaynor Minden shook up the pointe shoe market with its innovative technology. The elastomeric materials in the shank and box prevent breakdown, while the Poron lining provides shock absorption and added comfort.

However, teachers haven’t always embraced the company’s nontraditional design. “For a long time the market was very resistant to them,” says Roman. But she’s noticed a change in perspective, especially among the newer generation of teachers. “Now I sell a lot of them because they last so much longer than regular pointe shoes. Longevity is a big factor for people, because pointe shoes are so expensive.”

So far, Sansha has been the only company to follow suit. Last year, it launched its FR Duval, which features a polymer box and shank construction. But other manufacturers are incorporating modern materials into their paste-box shoes to address long-standing issues, such as loudness, longevity, comfort—even hygiene. For instance, the lining inside Grishko’s new Miracle is sprayed with nano-silver particles to neutralize odors, while Capezio’s Tiffany and Aria models feature a So Suede liner to slow down mildew and fungus growth. Others offer innovative technology in place of paste. Bloch’s B Morph and Axis models feature TMT technology, which reacts with body heat to ease the break-in process; then it rehardens as it cools to maintain structural integrity. The Grishko Nova offers new glue that provides added flexibility.

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Today’s shoes are quieter than ever, too, with newly designed pleats and quieting strips to deaden noise. Some pointe shoes now offer padded tips to dull noise and add a little extra comfort. Bloch’s Jetstream and the Mirella Whisper are examples. “Dancers love the shoes with padded tips because they’re so much quieter,” says Roman. “They’re great for recital season.”

Customizable Stock Shoes and Professional Lines

In the old days, dancers had limited choices between makes and models and just had to make the best of what the market could offer. But now, companies such as Russian Pointe and Gaynor Minden have made it easier for dancers to find their perfect shoe by offering a plethora of customizable options. Like the box shape but need a softer shank? No problem! Both companies allow dancers to mix and match different vamp lengths, shank strengths and drawstring options.

“As a retailer, sometimes it gets overwhelming,” says Ellis, whose store caters to more than 200 dance studios. “You can’t afford to have every variation in stock. We have over 4,000 shoes in stock and we still don’t have everything!”

Pointe shoe makers have also taken note that hot trends among professional dancers trickle down to the students who emulate them. However, professionals often order shoes custom-cobbled to their exact specifications: lowered sides and heels, elastic drawstrings, three-quarter or half shanks, shorter outsoles, pitched platforms—anything to give them a more flattering line. (They also generally don’t worry about price, since their company foots the bill.) But manufacturers such as Freed of London and Capezio are incorporating these trends into sturdier stock shoes, creating more streamlined “Pro” versions of their popular classics. Grishko’s Triumph is based on ballerinas Diana Vishneva’s and Svetlana Zakharova’s specifications.

“All the young dancers aspire to look like the professionals in the photographs,” says Ellis. “Shoe manufacturers are trying to do what they can to give that look and still maintain that stock-shoe integrity for the classroom. It’s a very fine line.”

Jenny Roman is owner and master fitter of The Dance Store in Los Angeles.

Jenny Roman is owner and master fitter of The Dance Store in Los Angeles.

Try One on for Size

Keeping pace with the latest pointe shoe offerings can seem daunting, but communicating with your local retailers can help. Both Ellis and Roman feel that doing so gives fitters an opportunity to discern the studio’s training methods and teachers a chance to provide feedback. “The more interaction, the better,” says Ellis. “They can talk to the retailer about what they need, and we can help them understand why we’re fitting students in certain shoes.”

Check out their social-media pages, too. “Every time we get a new pointe shoe, we feature it on our Facebook page and in our newsletter,” says Roman. “If teachers ‘Like’ the page, we know they’re getting the information about what we’re carrying.”

But the most effective way to see what’s new? “Come in and have a fitting!” says Roman. “Educate yourself and see what’s out there—that’s really the most important thing.” DT

Amy Brandt dances with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and serves as the company’s pointe shoe manager.

Photos from top: by Rachel Papo, courtesy of
Pointe; courtesy of Dance Retailer News; courtesy of The Dance Store

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