For the Love of Pointe
Okay, let's do it. Let's talk about pointe shoes!
I love pointe shoes and I can talk about them all day long. I love the way they smell (when they are new), the way they feel and the way they become almost like a partner in the dance rather than just a shoe.
They are the shoes everyone wants, from little girls who are just starting ballet to grown up women who never took a class but 'always wanted to have a pair'.
We love them, we treasure them, we keep them long after they have died. And rightly so, for these shoes have a very special job to do.
Once a week on a Wednesday evening, I teach two pointework classes. One of these classes is for beginners and improvers (over 18's). It is aimed at ladies who have got to a certain level in their ballet training but never actually moved on to pointe, as well as those who did get on pointe but then stopped for a while for whatever reason, and now feel they would like to return. The biggest complaint I get from students in this class is regarding muscular pain. “My feet keep cramping when I'm on pointe”, “The shoes don't hurt too much, but after class my muscles in my feet ache”
Well, of course they do.
In literally no other area of your life do you use your feet in the same way as you do when you are on pointe. From running to swimming to even gymnastics, there is nothing that works as many muscles in your feet as pointwork does, and so, we need pointe shoes.
You are supposed to run in trainers, but as anyone who has seen their bus turn up at the stop early will tell you, it is possible to run in any shoe, even high heels. You are supposed to wear tap shoes to do tap, but I have done several classes in trainers, jazz shoes and according to this video it is even possible to tap in pointe shoes. (Actually, tapping in pointe shoes is fun, and a great way to soften them up.)
So, what can you do if you forget your pointe shoes? Wear trainers? There is no other shoe that does the job, not even split sole jazz sneakers. And so we NEED pointe shoes.
Before purchasing the all important first pair of pointe shoes, students must be strong enough and mature enough to cope with the demands of pointework. They should have ideally gone through that first initial growth spurt that happens at the beginning of puberty, though they may not necessarily have stopped growing. There are a lot of scare stories out there at the moment of teachers putting under prepared, too young students on pointe with terrible results but do not believe everything you read. In my experience, teachers are very considered when progressing to pointework, assess their students carefully and build up the exercises slowly so as to develop strength and correct technique. After all, they care a lot about their students and want to take this pointework journey with them.
The first pair of pointe shoes are ones that are inevitably 'grown out' of before they reach the end of their use. This is something that students, parents and teachers all have to keep an eye on, as wearing pointe shoes that are too small can impinge movements, create poor technique and aggravate the instep.
This is also where the biggest problem arises: money. Parents do not like it when a pair of shoes they purchased six months ago no longer fit. Ballet shoes in particular are quickly grown out of as they are fitted exactly to the foot, with absolutely no growing room. Think about it; growing room in a pointe shoe would allow the foot to move within the shoe, sliding up and down and twisting. Just as small shoes are a bad thing, shoes that are too large are just as problematic. And so unfortunately it is necessary to purchase new pointe shoes sometimes quite soon after this initial first pair.
Just be very pleased that in doing so, you are actually preventing injuries and the forty pounds you spend on shoes today will save four hundred pounds of chiropodist bills in the future.
There is of course a whole other kind of 'injury' – the blister. When I was training, pre-made padding for pointe shoes was unheard of. Most of the girls in my classes used paper towels, cut off socks or lamb's wool. And we bled and there were blisters and we loved our pointe shoes all the more for it. In fact I had one pair that I bled in so badly it came through the shoe and left trails of blood all over the studio floor. Not an experience I would wish on anyone, and actually highly embarrassing. I still kept the shoes though, and the brown blood stains were part of their charm.
These days, the range of padding for shoes is almost endless, with various sizes and shapes available. Even special padding for individual toes. The Little Dance Shop stocks a wide variety, and I am always willing to discuss padding requirements and advise you on the best solution for your feet and your shoes as well as how to take care of both padding and shoes in order to extend the life of both.
Something I am seeing more and more of recently is the need for toe spacers. As feet are becoming wider, the gap between the big toe and the other toes is becoming more apparent and more girls are needing spacers. This is interesting, and has actually informed my choice of pointe shoe stock, with some new styles for those with wider forefeet.
Yes, in January we have some new friends coming to play.
The Little Dance Shop
1A Church Street
Tel 01937 584733
OPENING HOURS Mon: Closed
Tue: 10am to 4:30pm
Wed: 10am to 2:30pm
Thurs: 10am to 5pm Friday: 3:30pm to 5pm
Saturday: 10am - 4pm Sunday: By Appointment