A Brief History of the Origins of the Pointe Shoe

A Brief History of the Origins of the Pointe Shoe

 

Have you ever wondered where the pointe shoe came from? How it was invented and who came up with the idea of dancing on the ends of your toes? Well, wonder no more as we take you through a brief history of the origins of the magnificent pointe shoe.

 

Before pointe shoes came about, the first shoe that can be likened to a ballet shoe actually had a small heel and were tapered at the front. As you can imagine, these did not lend themselves very well to the emerging style of ballet that was beginning to incorporate more leaps and turns and much lighter movements.


In 1795, a person by the name of Charles Didelot developed his 'flying machine' which allowed dancers to be lifted and take on a much more angelic and weightless appearence. It also enabled them to dance on the very ends of their toes which proved greatly appealing at that time.


Moving forward into the 19th Century and technique and skill were developing and becoming increasingly important to these dancers. The desire to be able to dance as gracefully and angelic like without the need for the flying machine was strong. Dancers such as the renowned Marie Taglioni are noted down in history for dancing 'en pointe'. Marie Taglioni famously was known for dancing the whole of La Sylpide en pointe with shoes no stronger than satin ballet shoes that were darned at the sides and end for reinforcement. In the early days, dancers would have to rely on their strength alone to achieve their desire to dance en pointe.


Modifications throughout the 19th Century to these shoes saw, by the end of the century, Italy champion a much sturdier shoe with a flattened toe end. This flattened end (the platform) helped the dancers to dance on their toes whilst protecting their feet. This latest development was created by packing layers of fabric together to create the box and also reinforcing the sole.


Continued improvements to the shoe and dancer allowed for both dance style and emerging technology to push developments of the pointe shoe forward with the times. Even within the last 50 years we have seen some major advancements in the humble pointe shoe. From just 1 supplier (in the UK most people could only buy Freed) that was basically a one style fits all shoe, we have seen the rise and development of so many options and brands now to select from:


- Varied shank strengths
- Varied box and vamp depths and sizes
- Pre-arched
- Varied widths
- Various materials - Satin, Canvas, Leater, Diamante!
- Various soles - Full sole, 3/4 sole, 1/2 sole, split sole
- Custom made
- Pointe shoe accessories - gel pads, toe protectors, wool...

Pointe shoes today are a science, with so many shapes and styles almost everyone can find a perfectly fitting pair for their feet. Although still providing the graceful and angelic look they were originally designed for, shoes today are designed to support, protect and complement the feet; allowing dancers to dance much more complicated steps, for longer.


The point shoe epitomises what it is to be a ballet dancer. It has developed over hundreds of years to be what it is today and we are certain that we havent seen the end of the evolution of the pointe shoe just yet!

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