Pointe shoes are a special type of footwear that allow ballet dancers to perform on the tips of their toes (‘pointes’). They have a long and fascinating history that spans over two centuries.
‘Pointe’ is a french word referring to the tip. In this case, tip of the toes!
Here are some of the key events and milestones in the evolution of pointe shoes:
- The first ballet shoes were heeled slippers that limited the dancers’ movements and jumps. In the 1730s, Marie Camargo of the Paris Opéra Ballet was the first to remove the heels from her shoes, creating the flat ballet slipper that is still used today for training and rehearsal1.
- In 1795, Charles Didelot invented a flying machine that lifted dancers up on wires, enabling them to stand on their toes before leaving the ground. This gave the impression of weightlessness and inspired choreographers to incorporate more pointe work into their ballets2.
- In 1823, Amalia Brugnoli was the first dancer to rise on her toes without any wires, using lightly stitched satin slippers with square toes. She performed in Armand Vestris’ La Fée et le Chevalier and amazed the audience with her technique1.
- In 1832, Marie Taglioni became the first to dance a full-length ballet on pointe, in La Sylphide, choreographed by her father, Filippo Taglioni. She used tight-fitting, darned, leather-soled satin slippers tied with ribbons to convey her character’s ethereal and romantic qualities1.
- Throughout the 19th century, pointe shoes underwent various modifications to improve their durability and support. Dancers added leather soles, hardened toe boxes, and insoles to their shoes, and experimented with different shapes and materials. Some of the famous dancers who influenced the development of pointe shoes were Fanny Elssler, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Anna Pavlova13.
- In the 20th century, pointe shoes became more standardized and mass-produced, with different brands and models catering to different preferences and needs. Some of the innovations that were introduced were the use of synthetic materials, such as thermoplastic elastomers and urethane foams, to replace the traditional paper and glue; the addition of shanks, or stiffeners, to provide more arch support; and the creation of different toe box shapes, such as tapered, square, or round3.
- In the 21st century, pointe shoes continue to evolve and adapt to the demands of contemporary ballet. Some of the recent trends and developments are the availability of brown and bronze shades to match darker skin tones4; the use of 3D printing and scanning to create customized and personalized shoes; and the incorporation of technology, such as sensors and LEDs, to enhance the performance and aesthetics of pointe shoes3.
As you can see, pointe shoes have a rich and complex history that reflects the changes and innovations in ballet over time. They are not only a technical tool, but also a symbol of a dancer’s artistry and expression.
We at the Ballet Shop hope you enjoyed learning about the history of pointe shoes. ???? Do remember that we have some great pointe shoes in stock – notably Sansha and F.R. Duval.