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The Pointe Shoe:

The History, Manufacture, and Parts of this Classical Ballet Tradition

Caitlin Miller 3/14/2012

This Descriptions Audience and Scope


The purpose of this document is to familiarize the reader with pointe shoes, a type of footwear commonly worn by ballet dancers. The pointe shoes history, manufacturing, and specific parts will be discussed in detail, and the reader will hopefully gain an increased appreciation for their use in ballet today. This document was meant for an audience without much firsthand ballet experience and therefore takes an introductory and simplistic approach to the subject. It is best suited for publication on a dance appreciation blog or within a dance appreciation reference book.

The History of the Pointe Shoe


A pointe shoe is ballet footwear, traditionally worn by women, which allows the dancer to balance upon her toes. The modern pointe shoes earliest predecessor was worn sometime during the early 19th century by Marie Taglioni as she danced in La Sylphide. Taglionis shoes were merely satin slippers with a special leather sole meant to provide support, and their basic design forced dancers to build astonishing foot and ankle strength. In the late 1800s, Italian dancers began to wear a new version of the shoe that was less pointed and had a thicker platform sole. Additionally the part of the shoe surrounding the toes, called the box, was made sturdier with numerous layers of fabric. This Italian version of the shoe was further altered in Russia, where the dancers removed the nails in order to make their movements quieter. In the 1930s, Broadway dancers began to wear shoes with steel soles to allow for toetapping. Ballet dancers borrowed this idea and started wearing slippers with metal soles for increased support. However metal for pointe shoes became hard to find during World War II, so dancers experimented with using glue, wood, and fabric instead.

The Manufacture of a Modern Pointe Shoe


Today, all pointe shoes are made in a relatively similar fashion. 1. To begin, a pattern is used to cut three pieces of pink satin and three corresponding pieces of cotton. These six pieces are then sewn together to form what will later be the shoes satin outside and inner cotton lining. 2. A special machine is used to fold ribbon around a thin piece of elastic and sew both the ribbon and elastic along the top border of the satin. The enclosed elastic will later serve as a drawstring, allowing the dancer to pull the shoe tightly around her foot. 3. The shoemaker then lays the satin across a wooden form, the size of which determines the size of the shoe.

4. The inner cotton lining is nailed to an insole at the bottom of the form. This insole is made of both stiff cardboard for support and plastic for flexibility. 5. Glue is used to further attach the lining to the cardboard, and the nail is removed after the glue dries. 6. The next step is to build the part of the shoe that covers the dancers toes, called the box. The boxs base is formed using fabric and paste, almost like paper mch. A layer of resin-coated cotton is smoothed over the toe, followed by two layers of burlap and a layer of pure cotton. The shoemaker uses a unique mixture of flour, water, starches and resin to attach each layer to the shoe. This paste is crucial to the process, because it allows the box to be stiff enough to sustain the dancers weight but supple enough for the dancer to move gracefully. 7. Before the paste dries, the shoemaker hammers the tip of the box so that it is perfectly flat and can be balanced on by the dancer. 8. After the shoe is allowed to sit for twenty-four hours, the cotton lining and the satin are folded into dainty pleats and glued to the insole. 9. The shoemaker uses extra-strength vinyl glue to attach a foam filler to the bottom of the shoe and then leaves it to air-dry. 10. Another twenty-four hours later, the shoe is heated to 200 Fahrenheit, and the heat reactivates the dried vinyl glue so that the outer suede sole can be attached. 11. The last step is to place the shoe in a press for fifteen second so that the bond between sole and shoe is solidified. Once the shoe is completed, the wooden form can be removed and the shoe can be packaged for sale. Depending upon the shoes quality, one pair can be sold for approximately $50 to $90.

The Parts of a Pointe Shoe


The parts of a pointe shoe are referred to as follows (pictured in Figure 1): 1. Ribbons- The ribbons are sewn to the side of each shoe and then wrapped around the dancers ankle to secure the shoe to her foot. 2. Throat- The throat, located at the top of the vamp, is where the elastic drawstrings can be pulled tight, tied, and tucked inside the shoe. 3. Vamp- The vamp is the top of the shoes box. It covers the top of the dancers toes. 4. Quarter- The quarter is the piece of fabric that covers the side of the dancers heel. Each shoe has two quarters. 5. Sole- The sole is the piece of suede covering the bottom of the shoe. The pointe shoes pictured in Figure 1 have split soles. Pointe shoes can also be made with just one long sole, called a full sole. 6. Box- The box is the stiff part of the shoe covering the dancers toes. The top of the box is called the vamp, and the part of the box that the dancer balances on is called the platform.

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Figure 1: The parts of a pointe shoe

Conclusion

Centuries after its conception, the point shoe has evolved from a simple ballet slipper into the carefully crafted work of art it is today. As can be seen in Figure 2 below, professional ballet dancers continue to inspire and awe audiences worldwide by dancing en pointe. Forever a symbol of grace and refinement, there is no question that the pointe shoe will remain central to ballets identity for years to come, reminding us of dances rich history yet carrying the ballet communitys creative vision ever forward. (In closing, it is important to note that the use of pointe shoes without proper training and supervision can be severely damaging to ones physical health. Dancing en pointe requires years of diligent practice and strengthening work in order to be done safely.)


Figure 2: The ballet of Kiev performs Swam Lake.

References
History of Pointe Shoes. University of California, San Diego. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://acsweb.ucsd.edu/~liw013/CSE3/Lab2/MyInterest..pdf>. How Ballet Pointe Shoes Are Made. YouTube.com. ChrisIIIcube, 2 Sept. 2008. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzB1yY2397E>. (Photograph on title page) Melalouise. Some of My Dead Pointe Shoes. 2006. Photograph. Flickr.com. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/melalouise/256819888/>. (Figure 1) Photograph. Best Pointe Shoes for Beginners: Types of Pointe Shoes & What to Buy. Ballet Dance Experts. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <Best Pointe Shoes for Beginners: Types of Pointe Shoes & What to Buy>. (Figure 2) Ebling, Andreas. Swan Lake - Pas De Quatre. 2011. Photograph. Flickr.com. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/eblingandreas/5602910026/>.