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En Pointe

The most well-known ballet shoe is the pointe shoe and when worn, a ballet dancer

is able to dance on the tips of her toes. And although the pointe shoe is a big part of

the history of ballet, it has a history of its own.

The first style of ballet shoes were worn by dancers when women first began to

dance in the Académie Royale de Danse in 1681. These shoes had heels and were

quite difficult to wear, making it hard for the dancer to do any jumps.

It is not known when the heeled shoe was dropped, but it did not stay around for

long. The new looking shoe had a completely flat bottom, enabling dancers to leap,

turn and fully extend their feet. They were secured to their feet by ribbons tied

around the ankles, had pleats on the soles under the toes and looked much like the

demi-pointe shoes worn by ballet dancers today.

However, these shoes did not allow the ballet dancer to rise up on her toes. That is

until 1795 when choreographer, Charles Didelot, invented a wire rigging called the

‘flying machine’ that lifted dancers up onto their toes before leaving the ground.

As ballet progressed into the 19th Century, there was a desire to dance without the

help of wires. In 1832, Marie Taglioni was the first ballet dancer to dance an entire

performance en pointe when she premiered in La Sylphide. Made of leather with the

sides and toes darned to help the shoes hold their shape, these were like satin

slippers, uncomfortable to wear and offered the dancer no support.

In the late 19th Century, the shoes became sturdier with a stronger sole and the front

being flat instead of pointy.

It is said that the modern pointe shoe as we know it today was invented when

Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, first put tough leather soles into her shoes and

flattened and hardened the toe area to give her foot arch extra support.

The average life of a pair of pointe shoes is 10-20 hours for a dance student but a

professional dancer may go through one pair for each performance. There are many

different models because ballet dancers have different feet shapes, arch flexibility

and toe length and a dancer may wear a different model for a different performance

depending upon the style of dance.

The pointe shoe is a very special ballet shoe and contributes to making a

performance, both beautiful and mystifying.

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