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How the right pair of pointe shoes can make all the difference to a dancer

When it comes to creating and customizing pointe shoes for performance, every millimetre counts.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

28 November 2017 at 9.45am | 7 Comments

'Pointe shoes are so important to dancers. When I'm dancing, they become part of my body', says Royal Ballet Principal dancer Akane Takada of a ballerina's signature tools of the trade.

'My first pair of pointe shoes was a present from my mum, and I just loved them. I still love everything about wearing pointe shoes – even the noise they make when you walk in them!'

Takada is one of the faces of this year's Royal Opera House Pointe Shoes Appeal, which raises valuable funds for The Royal Ballet, ensuring that every dancer in the Company can train, rehearse and perform throughout the year. With more than 6,000 pairs of pointes required each Season at a cost of more than £250,000, the campaign is vital to the continued success of the Royal Opera House, which is a registered charity.

Even a small donation can make a big difference: a gift of £5 could pay for ribbon for five pairs of shoes while £39 could provide a pair of pointe shoes for use during a performance.

Dancers often require specific styles of shoe to suit specific roles, as explained by Takada's fellow dancer, First Artist Camille Bracher:

'A softer shoe is better for lyrical dancing, whereas in a ballet like Giselle I need a harder shoe, as it's so classical and technical I need to feel well supported'.

The specifics of each dancer's technique however, requires further customization than is possible from box-fresh shoes, and so Royal Ballet dancers tend to make personal adjustments to suit the requirements of their own unique performance style – often in surprising and inventive ways:

'I use dental floss to sew the ribbons and elastics on my shoes because it's really strong', reveals Bracher. 'Sewing is definitely the most time-consuming part of pointe shoe preparation – each pair takes at least 45 minutes'.

Soloist Meaghan Grace Hinkis and First Soloist Itziar Mendizabal agree that with such a precise artform, small margins of detail and attention matter:

'The tiniest things make a such a difference to us; even a millimetre can ruin a shoe. Professional dancers are always changing and adapting their shoes', says Hinkis.

‘One of the reasons I love being in The Royal Ballet is dancing on pointe' says Mendizabal. 'We train so hard, and I feel privileged that we are able to dance in such great pointe shoes.’

To donate to The Royal Ballet’s Pointe Shoes Appeal, visit www.roh.org.uk/pointe

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

28 November 2017 at 9.45am

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Akane Takada, Camille Bracher, Itziar Mendizabal, Meaghan Grace-Hinkis, Pointe Shoe Appeal, pointe shoes

This article has 7 comments

  1. Sharon Keogh responded on 28 November 2017 at 4:51pm Reply

    Interesting article, I understand that each dancer has their own needs regarding pointe shoes, on how much support they require or how they do their darning. And of course having the right fit is essential. So I am curious as to why Akane Takada cuts down the side of her shoe? You can see it on the above photo and it was also very clear when she was dancing Titania (& other roles). Does Akane cut the side of the box because it is more comfortable - if so why not get a wider fitting? Because in all honesty it does not look good. Her lovely dancing in The Dream was ruined for me as I was distracted by her foot/shoe. Your eyes are obviously drawn to the ballerina's' feet so therefore the pointe shoes should be in beautiful condition - and not look like a little toe is about to poke out. If this is because of an injury I obviously appreciate why she does it, but an explanation would be helpful.

  2. Lovely piece, thank you. Chris. I wish I'd done this interviews.
    But do tell me that dancers don't need to wear tutus to darn their shoes.. It was just for the camera. But interesting camera work!
    Nicola Barranger

  3. Jenny Reed responded on 28 November 2017 at 6:27pm Reply

    I suspect a wider fitting would end up being too big at the back, unless pointe shoes come with separate front and back width fittings. Even with with the ankle ribbon, a shoe that is too wide at the back would probably cause problems.

  4. Sharon Keogh responded on 29 November 2017 at 3:57pm Reply

    Maybe you have a point Jenny, but considering the expense of the shoes don't you think that the shoes could be amended so they'd be wider in the block but smaller at the back. It's not rocket science. On a couple of these pointe shoes videos, it's been mentioned that one 'cobbler' works on various dancers shoes - & how devastated they are when he retires etc. If that's the case maybe there is one particular 'cobbler' who is making Akane's shoes?? Surely something can be done -because at the end of the day, Akane is at the beginning of her career as a principle of The Royal Ballet, and hopefully she's not intending to dance with a a rip down the side of her pointe shoe for the next 20 years or so......

  5. CHRISTINA JAMES responded on 29 November 2017 at 5:49pm Reply

    Sharon ,i think her foot health and comfort is paramount and if you are distracted by her footwear then perhaps you should not watch her perform if it puts you off , i remember how painful pointe work can be especially with shoes that don't fit to our exact specifications and needs so try and think of her instead of how you feel, it isn't rocket science but you can't redesign shoes as their balance and weight would be wrong so i am fine letting her do whatever she wants to her shoes

  6. Sharon Keogh responded on 29 November 2017 at 10:25pm Reply

    Christina, I also remember how painful pointe work was and in them days we had less choice of pointe shoes - just Freed and Gamba I think. I am of course concerned for Akane's well being that goes without saying, as I mentioned in the first email maybe it was due to an injury? If it is than I wish her a speedy recovery - but if the problem is about comfort then surely dancing with shoes in this condition for the rest of her career is not the answer. To insinuate that I am uncaring of her well being is unnecessary. I am entitled to my opinion - I prefer clean, neat pointe shoes on the dancers, as opposed to dirty or torn shoes - just as you are entitled to yours.

  7. Cathy responded on 9 December 2017 at 5:01pm Reply

    Just to say I agree with Sharon - I thought she’d broken a pointe shoe and it did distract ( The Dream) as I was concerned for her!

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