In the course of normal use, there are three predominant types of wear on a pointe shoe that will determine its useful lifetime.
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In conventional pointe shoes, the box is typically made from tightly packed layers of paper and fabric that have been glued together and then shaped into an enclosure. In some newer pointe shoes, the box may be made from plastic and rubber, with rigidity provided by the plastic. For most pointe shoes, the sole is constructed from a piece of leather that is attached to the shoe with adhesive and reinforced by stitching along its edges.
Pointe shoes may be manufactured with either scraped soles, which provide superior traction , or buffed soles, which have a smoother surface for reduced traction. Aesthetic appearance is of paramount importance for modern pointe shoes. To achieve an elegant appearance, the shoe's more decorative outer fabric is prominently featured, covering the maximum possible area of the shoe's visible surfaces.
To this end, the sole is made of thin material to give it a minimal profile, and a margin of satin is artfully pleated around it so that the sole covers only part of the bottom of the shoe. Shanks are typically made from leather , plastic , cardstock , or layers of glue-hardened burlap.
The flexibility of a shank is determined by its thickness and the type of material used. A shank's thickness may be consistent throughout or it may vary along its length to produce different strengths at select points. For example, slits may be cut across a shank at demi-pointe to enhance roll through.
Also, a shank's thickness may transition at some point along its length in order to implement differing strengths above and below the transition. Standard pointe shoes typically have a full shank, in which the shank runs the full length of the sole, or fractional e. Many pointe shoe manufacturers offer a choice of shank materials, and some will build shoes with customized shanks of varying stiffness and length.
Dancers will sometimes wear different pointe shoe models for different performance pieces. In such cases, the choreography often dictates the type of shank required; a lyrical style may call for a softer shoe, while an aggressive style with many turns is more easily performed in a hard, stiff shoe.
A pointe shoe employs two fabric ribbons and an elastic band to secure it to the foot. Most of the work of securing shoes to feet is done by the ribbons. The two ribbons wrap around the dancer's ankle in opposite directions, overlapping one another so as to form a cross at the front. The ends are then tied together in a knot , which is then tucked under the ribbon on the inside of the ankle to hide it from view.
The elastic band—which traverses the front of the ankle below the ribbons—keeps the heel of the shoe in place against the foot when the dancer is en pointe. The locations where the band and ribbons attach to a shoe is critical, as incorrect placement can result in a poorly fitting shoe.
After acquiring a new pair of pointe shoes, a dancer must determine the appropriate attachment locations for the ribbons and elastic bands and then sew them, or arrange for them to be sewn, onto the shoes. A demi-pointe shoe, which is also variously called a break-down , pre-pointe , or a soft-block shoe, shares many characteristics with pointe shoes. For example, its outer appearance resembles that of a pointe shoe and it has a toe box, although the box is softer and the wings sides of the toe box are typically not as deep as those found on pointe shoes.
Demi-pointe shoes are secured to the feet with ribbons and elastic band in identical fashion to pointe shoes. Unlike pointe shoes, however, demi-pointe shoes have no shank and, as a result, they do not provide the support necessary for proper pointe work. Demi-pointe shoes are most often used to train dancers who are new to pointe technique.
They serve to acclimate dancers to the feel of wearing pointe shoes and to strengthen the ankles and feet in preparation for dancing en pointe in pointe shoes. The toe box allows the dancer to experience the feel of a pointe shoe, while the insole and outsole work together to provide the resistance needed for developing foot and ankle strength.
Traditional pointe shoes are usually manufactured using a method known as turnshoe , in which each shoe is initially assembled inside-out on a last and then turned right-side-out before finishing.
Some ballerinas have custom-made lasts that replicate the shapes of their own feet; these may be supplied to a pointe shoe manufacturer for the purpose of manufacturing custom shoes. Dancers typically "break in" new pointe shoes to reduce or eliminate the discomfort they commonly cause, usually by performing releves and eleves that flex, and thus soften, the boxes and shanks in a natural manner. Various other methods have also been employed for breaking in pointe shoes, including deforming them with hands or against hard surfaces, striking them on hard surfaces, and moistening or heating the boxes to soften the glues , but these methods may shorten a pointe shoe's usable lifetime.
A dancer may experience discomfort while wearing a pointe shoe even after the shoe has been broken in. Several devices are commonly used to mitigate the discomfort:. In the course of normal use, there are three predominant types of wear on a pointe shoe that will determine its useful lifetime.
The most important of these is shank wear. As the body of the shoe is repetitively flexed, the shank gradually weakens and loses its ability to provide support. A pointe shoe is no longer serviceable when the shank breaks or becomes too soft to provide support.
The second is the softening of the box and especially the platform on which the dancer balances. The other primary type of wear involves the exterior fabric. In pointe work the front face and bottom edge of the toe box are subjected to friction against the performance surface. This friction will eventually wear through the shoe's outer fabric covering, thereby exposing the toe box and creating loose, frayed fabric edges.
Unlike a weakened shank, damaged outer fabric does not affect the performance of a shoe. Due to its unprofessional appearance, however, damaged fabric may render the shoe unfit to wear in situations other than informal practice or rehearsal. Under moderate usage, a pair of pointe shoes will typically last through ten to twenty hours of wear. For dance students, this often translates into weeks or months of serviceable use from a pair of pointe shoes.
Professional dancers typically wear out pointe shoes much more quickly; a new pair may wear out in a single performance. As a result, most professional ballet companies provide shoe allowances for their dancers to defray the cost of frequent shoe replacement.
New York City Ballet orders about 8, pairs of pointe shoes each year for dancers, while the Royal Ballet dancers use about 12, pairs of shoes for each season.
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