Learn how the modern pointe shoe evolved.
Pointe shoes, or toe shoes, are dancing shoes that were designed specifically for ballet dancers. The design of this shoe protects a ballet dancer from injuries while they are en pointe, or poised up on their tip toes. Generally pointe shoes are for ballerinas, however, when male dancers play female roles, such as the ugly step sister role in the ballet Cinderella, they too will wear pointe shoes.
The Origins of the Pointe Shoe
Since women weren’t allowed on stage until the end of the 17th century, pointe shoes evolved slowly from men’s traditional dance shoes, which were heeled. The first evolution of women’s ballet shoes came when the traditional heel was removed. The flat-soled ballet shoe allowed female dancers to attempt more complex jumps and turns. After the French Revolution the flat-soled ballet shoe became the norm and the ribbon laces that we are familiar with today were added to the shoe’s design. Pleats were also added to the shoe under the toes so that a dancer could have better grip and control over their feet.
En pointe work really didn’t appear until 1795 when Charles Didelot invented the “flying machine” which lifted dancers up onto their toes. The effect of this machine was so well received by audiences that ballet choreographers tried to incorporate pointe work into their dances. By the early part of the 1800s the technical skills of dancers had improved to a point were the flying machine was no longer needed. Marie Taflioni was the first to dance en pointe without mechanical assistance.
The Modern Pointe Shoe
The toe box, which is the defining component of the modern pointe shoe, was designed after modifications used by Anna Pavlova, a famous 20th century ballerina from Russia. The tapered shape of her feet and her high arches made her particularly prone to injuries. In order to protect herself from injuries she would often shape an old leather dance shoe sole into a box and stuff it into her ballet shoes to provide a little extra support. This was the inspiration for the modern pointe shoe.
Many modern shoe designs are based on modifications made to a normal or special shoe design by a non-shoe maker. These modifications are made to make the shoe more user friendly or more fashionable. What modifications have you made to your shoes that others might appreciate?