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Dispelling the common myths: pointe and the young dancer.

In September 1994, I began teaching at a school in the suburbs of a very large city, and I discovered that most of the students had lots of questions and much misinformation about ballet and about pointe shoes. I decided to interview some of these young students about their expectations and their fears, particularly those concerning pointe work. Here are some of the questions they asked; this is only a small sampling of our long and interesting conversations.

Q: Why is there wood in pointe shoes?

A: There is no wood in the block of the pointe shoe, although it may sound and even feel that way. Believe it or not, most shoes are hard because of layers of "secret ingredient" glue and different types of materials which, after multiple layers of application and long drying periods, form a hard box.

Q: Is it true that your feet bleed after wearing pointe shoes?

A: The word blood is a bit scary, but, yes, sometimes dancers' feet do bleed. Toes are tender, and pointe shoes are a bit harsh. If pointe shoes weren't hard, they wouldn't provide enough support. It is only a matter of time, however, before a dancer's skin toughens and her feet strengthen. Serious dancers often prepare for pointe class or rehearsal by wrapping tape or bandages around each toe or tender spot to make their feet more comfortable in the shoes.

Q: Is it true that when you break in your pointe shoes they get softer and make less noise?

A: Yes, they are just like any new shoes. They are stiff and uncomfortable at first, and just as they begin to feel good, it's time to buy a new pair.

Q: Do regular ballet shoes train your feet for pointe shoes?

A: The use of your feet inside the soft, flexible ballet shoe does help prepare them for pointe shoes. The tendus, degages, and almost all movements of the feet against the floor will strengthen the foot because of the friction against the floor.

Q: Is everything even harder on pointe than it is on flat?

A: Yes! Especially in the beginning, you will have to build stronger muscles than you needed to rise to three-quarter pointe. In addition, you may find it more difficult at first to find your balance, because it is harder to feel the floor through the thicker shanks. However, many dancers find after doing lots of releves and echappes that dancing on pointe is fun!

Q: Why are so many pointe exercises done at the barre?

A: The exercises are usually steps or parts of steps. With the aid of the barre, they can be practiced before the dancer has the strength to do them on her own in the center. For example, the photographs on these pages illustrate an exercise designed to develop strength in the upper body by requiring the torso to be held "high" over the supporting leg. The dancer must not "sit" into the hip in a plie.

Q: If you're only a so-so ballet dancer, can you start pointe classes?

A: Most teachers will not allow a student to go on pointe until her technique justifies it. Pointe work takes more developed muscles and a greater understanding of placement. It's frustrating to study anything if you are not prepared.

Q: How can I keep the heels of my pointe shoes from falling off?

A: Many dancers in the United States sew bits of elastic on the shoe. The elastic fits around their ankle, keeping the heel of the pointe shoe in place. When abroad, I found that especially the English think this is something that one must never do. They feel if the shoe is fitted properly, there will be no need for this elastic. They do, however, sew an elastic into the front of the shoes, which not only keeps high insteps under control, but also helps the shoe stay on the foot. This is called a vamp elastic, and it is almost impossible to find in the United States. Freed of London might be able to locate it for you. Another option is to dip your heels into water or a little rosin before slipping them into your shoes. But be careful: rosin can irritate some feet.

Pointe shoes are the tools of our trade. There are no questions about them that are silly or stupid. Shoes not suited to our feet can ruin a performance or class. Only shoes that fit and support the feet well will enable a dancer to live up to her potential.

Do you have innovative answers to questions other young dancers may have about their pointe shoes? For example, do you have a special way of darning the tips of your shoes or attaching your ribbons securely and easily that others may be interested in? How do you preserve your shoes and your feet? Please send tips about pointe shoes to: Caitlin Sims, Associate Editor, Dance Magazine, 33 West 60 Street, New York, NY 10023, or e-mail to: dancemag@panix.com.

Janice Barringer is an internationally renowned teacher of ballet and pointe. Her recent The Pointe Book has become a widely read, important reference.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:ballet pointe shoes
Author:Barringer, Janice
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1995
Words:866
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