Have you ever gazed in wonder at the seemingly effortless way a delicate ballerina glides across the stage dancing only on her toes? We sit transfixed questioning how it is possible to support your entire body weight on only the tips of your toes?
The “secret” to the way a ballerina dances is partly in her ballet shoes and mostly down to many, many years of lessons, practice and hard work of course!
The truth is that what we, the audience, see as a few magnificent dances on an evening out has taken years of training, dedication and determination by the young ladies (and men!) whose only goal is to perform for us. Every muscle of the body is trained during ballet lessons from the tips of the toes to the ends of the fingers. Each movement is practiced and rehearsed many times until strength is built and elegance flows. The body of a ballet dancer is as sculpted and toned as any other athlete. Make no mistake, this is hard work.
Almost every little girl dreams of being a ballerina: few will fully realize that dream. But the reality is that it takes more than a dream to make it into that elite band of ballet dancers who can dance en pointe. Once you have the ballet bug all you can think about is the day that you will finally be allowed to change from your flat ballet shoes to wear your first pair of ballet pointe shoes.
For a ballerina to dance on her toes she must build up incredible strength in her feet, ankles, calves and in every muscle along her leg and body core. This takes many years of practice of precise techniques to ensure that the ballet dancer is safe when making the transition in to dancing en pointe. However, there is a little “secret” in the ballet shoes themselves. The truth is that the ballet dancer is not dancing entirely supported on just their toes. The design of the ballet pointe shoe ensures that the body weight is supported through the entire lower part of the foot and beyond.
This is achieved mainly by the box which is the part of the shoe where the toes live (although each element of the shoe plays an important part in getting the right fit for each individual dancer). You may be surprised to hear that, contrary to myth, there is no wooden block inside pointe shoes. You may be equally surprised to hear that traditionally the box is strengthened by a paste of flour and water – that’s right paper-mache is what is supporting an entire body weight! Only one brand, Gaynor Minden, eschews the paste and burlap construction and embraces modern materials and sports technology to produce shoes in-keeping with 21st Century design expectations.
The box, as the name suggests, is a stiff, principally rectangular construct which hugs the toes and the lower part of the foot and ensures that the ballerina’s foot remains stationary within the shoe. With the assurance that her foot will not slip within the shoe and that her weight is supported the dancer can then confidently concentrate on building the necessary strength and flexibility within the feet, legs and body core to perform those dazzling displays of delicate ballet dancing that so enthrall us all.