You may often hear a dancer say that their pointe shoes are ‘dead’. Sounds rather strange, since they were never ‘alive’. Although, if you are ever lucky enough to observe a pair of pointe shoes being made from scratch, it seems they do have quite ‘a life’.
Dancers say they have dead pointe shoes when they consider that the shoes have little to no dancing life left in them. By that, they mean that either the shank is no longer providing the necessary support or the platform has softened too much, sometimes so much so that they can feel their toes on the floor!
There are so many different materials involved in making a pair of pointe shoes, including satin, cotton lining, cotton drawstring, cardboard, insoles, outsoles, paste, nails etc. Each dancer either prefers a style or a particular maker depending on the brand of pointe shoe. Sometimes the dancers are able to meet ‘their maker’, and develop quite a strong friendship with them, as the pointe shoes are their livelihood and one of the most important things in their lives. If a ballerina’s pointe shoemaker retires, this is quite often a very stressful time. Pointe shoemakers take their profession very seriously, and realise that the specifications given to them by the dancer, need to be accurate and exact in every single pair of shoes. Each minute change in detail will be recognised by it’s dancer. Dancers can wear their pointe shoes for up to 8 hours a day, this impact, coupled with sweat, causes the shoes to breakdown.
Some brands of pointe shoe have elastomeric shanks and boxes or shanks made of polymer compounds, which will last longer. However, the choice is up to the dancer and how the pointe shoe fits and feels. In these particular brands of pointe shoe, the more traditional materials, like the satin will break down naturally over time, as it is a delicate fabric.
Written by; Vicki Attard