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The design puzzle of ballet shoes
Alright, here we go! Another one!
If you’re feeling brave, you can google what ballerina’s feet look like, but I won’t put it here. You can imagine that putting your whole body weight on the very tips of your toes would leave some bruises, some calluses, and even some black toenails. Dancing on your toes is a pretty painful experience, to say the least.
And yet. The ballet shoe, by and large, has stayed intact since its invention in the 1830’s.
It’s essentially made of paper, satin, leather, and glue. And that’s it. To support your entire body weight on your toes.
If the ballerina wants to add any padding, oh, to say, maybe, HELP EASE THE PAIN OF PUTTING YOUR ENTIRE WEIGHT ON THE TIPS OF YOUR TOES they have to put it in themselves. These are some of the ways they do it.
It’s all very macgyvered together. Or at least it was.
In the 90s, a company came along to revolutionize the pointe shoe, by adding shock absorbing foam. Sounds obvious, right? Like it was only a matter of time.
But so many dancers and dance companies and dance schools hated these shoes.
In fact, to this day, some dancers still don’t want to use them.
Why why why?!
You’ll have to listen to the episode.
And if you do listen to the episode, here are the two images I promised you:
Look at just a section of the storage at Dance Theater of Harlem. Ballet dancers wear out soooo many ballet shoes. At the professional level, pointe shoes are almost single-use. Wardrobe manager Katy Freeman told me that when the company is on tour, they’ll even ship big boxes of shoes in advance, just to meet them in whichever city they’re going to. It’s that intense.
And at Dance Theater of Harlem, a lot of these shoes will be painted. Here is a shoe, on the right, that I watched dancer Amanda Smith hand-paint to match her skin tone. On the left is a shoe that comes readymade by Bloch. Pretty good, right? It’s a solid match! I almost can’t see the difference.
(That little ketchup bottle is full of Amanda’s custom paint)
So does that mean the tradition of painting shoes will die out? I dunno. This seems to be an art form that holds on to traditions.
But thinking about pointe shoes really made me want to see some ballet- I’m going to catch Dance Theater of Harlem in their New York run! And then they’re going to go on tour! Consider going to see them!
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There are so many fun fashion exhibits about to happen in New York. I’ll probably end up doing stories about them, but I’m too excited to keep these to myself:
You’ll hear more about this in a future episode, but I’m currently in Logan, Utah at the Outdoor Recreation Archive. It’s very very cool.
Ok, until the next two weeks.