What’s the Pointe?
- 5 Myths debunked about pointe shoes & dancing en pointe.
Myth 1: The “box” of the pointe shoe is wooden.
First of all, what is the “box” of a pointe shoe anyway?! The box is the part of the shoe your toes fit into. It includes part of the “vamp,” the flat tip of the shoe, and the bottom sole, all creating an oval-ish shape that you slip your toes into. The box is NOT made of wood, but is created by layering fabric drenched in a paste of sort. This is then shaped and formed into the “box” of the shoe, baked to harden it, then a sole is sewn on. When a dancer dances en pointe, the box heats up with sweat (ugh) and use, and eventually the box breaks down with the inability to re-harden. When this happens, the shoe is deemed “dead” and the dancer needs a new pair. Many professional dancers have multiple pairs on rotation for rehearsals and performances, all with differing “deadness” depending on the role they are rehearsing. For a combination with lots of balances, a harder, less “dead” shoe is needed, for a combo with lots of jumps, the deadest possible. It is possible for a dancer to go through 2-3 pairs of shoes in a single show.
Myth 2: Pointe shoes make great gifts.
Many young girls dream of dancing en pointe, especially after watching such ballets as The Nutcracker, or Swan Lake. Christmas and Birthdays may seem like a great time to make this dream come true, and parents may purchase pointe shoes as gifts for their young dancer in order to bring that dream to life. But may I caution you on the many potential injuries and dangers of purchasing pointe shoes for someone who has never taken ballet, or despite several years of classes may not be ready.
The day of a dancers first pointe shoe fitting is almost sacred, and it should be kept as such. The job of fitting dancers for pointe shoes is one best done by a trained professional who knows the fit of each type of shoe. Believe it or not each company’s pointe shoes fit very differently on each dancer. While this may be frustrating to the novice, it allows each dancer to find a comfortable and safe fit for their feet. Each dancer’s feet are shaped, and work, very differently from the next.
The dancer’s readiness for pointe shoes is best determined by the dance teacher and studio. If a dancer goes en pointe too soon, without proper strength and preparation, it is all too easy for unnecessary injuries to occur. It may be tempting to bring your young dancer’s dreams to life by purchasing a pair of pointe shoes, but dance teachers as a whole discourage this. Let them work hard and earn them safely!
Myth 3: Pointe Shoes “destroy” your feet.
While it is true that many dancers have had their feet “destroyed” by pointe shoes, that isn’t the case for everyone, and in today’s dancing world is not necessary for most. Part of the effect of pointe shoes depends on how early a dancer begins en pointe, and how strong their feet are. The mis-shaping of the feet usually occurs because proper strength wasn’t attained prior to going en pointe, or because the shoes were not fitted properly, causing the toes to cross or bend in ways they should not and don’t need to. If this issue is not remedied, then after years of dancing in this way, it would cause permanent and visual damage to the feet. Years ago when pointe shoes were first created, this knowledge was not yet known. As with all new inventions, as years go by, they are refined, and lessons learned. One such lesson has been the need for maturity/strength of a dancer before going en pointe.
The other area we sometimes see “destroyed,” by pointe shoes, is scarring from blisters. This, again, is not always the case. Different people’s feet are more prone or less prone to blisters than others. And, again, the fit of the shoe plays into this. If the shoe is too big, the foot will slide when the the dancer goes up on and comes down from pointe. The padding used also plays a roll. Lambs wool used to be the primary form of padding, if any, which sometimes shifts and wears thin while dancing. This can cause the foot to be bare against the inside of the shoe, causing blisters and tears to the skin. But today there are gel pads, lambs wool pads, individual toe covers, tape, band aids, and many more forms of padding. There is even a company that sends material to custom fit toe pads that fully envelope your toes and completely fill the box, yet remains pliable for dancing.
Protection for feet en pointe has changed immensely over the years, providing much more protection to the foot, and lessening the damage done. In addition, with the new knowledge we have of the necessary development and strength of the feet before dancing en pointe, the amount of feet misshapen by dancing en pointe has been reduced as well. Lastly, the amount of hours spent en pointe will also play a roll. For the typical student who does not join a professional ballet company, the chances of permanent damage to the feet are extremely low, especially if the other precautions are attended to.
Myth 4: Kids who walk on the tips of their toes are ready to dance en pointe.
The ability to stand on the tips of your toes without aid does NOT mean a child is ready for pointe shoes. If done too often, this can actually damage a child’s feet. The strength and discipline necessary to dance on pointe is one earned through years of training and strengthening of the feet, ankles, and legs. The dancer must have control over the muscles, and the ability to keep ankles straight and strong while en pointe, so the dancer doesn’t incur injury. In addition, maturity and dedication are necessary for a dancer when dancing on pointe. Most young dancers do not yet possess these traits, so letting them dance en pointe would not be wise or even fair to them. It is always best to wait longer rather than jumping the gun on a dancer beginning to dance en pointe. Proper preparation is needed as well, which is why dance schools require “pre-pointe” classes. Pre-pointe classes not only teach skills for strengthening, but prepare the mind as well, helping dancers to understand the dedication and discipline necessary to successfully dance en pointe.
Myth 5: Pointe shoes keep your feet from growing.
I heard a theory growing up that pointe shoes stunt the growth of your feet. I can assure you that the growth of one’s feet is not dependant on dancing en pointe or not. If this theory were true it would assume that dancing on pointe constantly smashes the toes and keeps them from being able to grow. This is rather ridiculous! Feet are quite capable of growing as big as they are already intended, no matter the dancing involved. If anything, training to dance on pointe strengthens your feet and improves their dexterity. It takes great foot strength to roll through layers of canvas and leather, to keep ankles in alignment while feet are pointed, and to balance all your body weight on a platform smaller than a hot-wheel car.
There are many myths and questions people have about dancing en pointe. If you ever have a question, ask your dance teachers! I can assure you that any ballet teacher would love to share their knowledge with you about dancing en pointe, and to help clear up any questions or misconceptions about it.