While I’m in my haranguing phase, let’s talk about pointe shoes.
I’ve said over and over in this blog that I was never much of a dancer. In fact, I never got past being a pretty piss-poor dance student. Part of it was my inability to follow directions — I could forget the most simple of combinations within a split second of being ordered to perform it. I now have two young relatives, both Irish dancers, who are just the opposite and their ability astounds me.
Part of it was also my height; standards were different 40 years ago, as I have frequently mentioned.
I did have some gifts that included having what someone described as “lovely, boneless arms,” (that is very, very kind; of course, it may also have been a euphemism for me standing there waving my arms around like wet noodles), but my legs weren’t (and aren’t) very straight and that kind of killed it, and my feet are…well we won’t go into that. In spite of that, my one Russian teacher said that physically, I had it all. (Later, one of my skating coaches said the same thing.) Mentally, it was another story. So I’m confused on this subject, and will only say that I could never have danced because I could never remember what I was supposed to be dancing.
Anyway, someone alerted me offline that having mentioned certain specific types of pointe shoes, I might start getting messages from students and moms asking for advice about what pointe shoe to get. So I have to say this right now: I don’t know.
What you need to do if you are in the position of buying a first pair of pointe shoes, is to go to the nearest dance shop that offers them. If it is a good dance shop, there will be someone on staff who is trained to fit pointe shoes. Yes, one has to be trained to do this. It is an exacting process, and with today’s choices of hundreds of different styles, well…I can’t help you in an email.
I started off with Selva pointe shoes (click link for further info). Never heard of them? That’s because they are long out of business. They used to be offered in shops in just about every major mall. These shops would sell customers pointe shoes with very few questions asked. I think their business started to fade when, in the mid- 70’s, it became chic for girls to purchase pointe shoes to wear to prom. Please note there may be a timeline issue here; my source indicates that Selva ceased to exist in 1970, but I remember seeing their pointe shoes in these shops for several years after that. I also remember a discussion, circa 1976,with a sales clerk in one of the stores about untrained girls buying pointe shoes to wear to prom, and the fact that many of these stores were by then refusing to sell pointe shoes because of a liability problem.
Of course this was a silly and dangerous fad, as fads usually are. And kids likely broke their ankles and sprained their feet in faulty efforts to haul themselves up onto pointe. Sometime not too long after this fad, the shops with the Selva shoes first switched to offering soft ballet slippers only, and then disappeared. (Again, there may be a timeline issue.)
Since they are gone I can say that two of the three pairs I went through had rounded platforms that I almost killed myself on. I won’t say anything this extreme about any company still in operation, but I won’t say that Selvas were quality pointe shoes. I’m sure there’s somebody my age or older who disagrees, however. I do know that for a long time — a few decades, in fact — Selvas were pretty much standard in ballet classes in my area, if for no other reason than that they were so readily available. And their market was fairly large, because if I remember correctly, the study of ballet was a rite of passage for well-brought-up young ladies in the mid-1900’s (probably the 1940’s until the early 1970’s or so).
I went from Selva to Capezio, with a brief stop-off at Gamba in between. I won’t say much about Gamba except that they weren’t for me. I will say that I went through a few different Capezio models before settling, not entirely comfortably, on the Contempora. And then I quit dancing. All in all, I went through about 10 pairs of pointe shoes in my “career,” which may show you how brief it was.
I read somewhere that at one point Capezio was working with George Balanchine to create the pointe shoe that would give his dancers’ feet the look he wanted: something about “creative bunions.” I think I had trouble with Capezios because I didn’t want those bunions. I like my square feet, thanks, and didn’t want them rearranged. Even the Contempora shoes of the day felt like they were eating my toes off.
One day a few years ago I happened upon an ad for Sansha pointe shoes, specifically the Recital. Since I was considering eventually going back to ballet class (having tired of slipping and sliding on the ice while skating and nearly killing myself by hitting my head on the boards during a tremendous crash caused by a blade that had been sharpened incorrectly), and the shoes were incredibly cheap, I bought a pair. I slipped them on and, in spite of a shank that was and is so hard that I can’t even bend it with my hands, it felt like a bedroom slipper. Finally, a comfortable pointe shoe! And what a HUGE platform:
Not as easy to see as it should be, but the Sansha is on the top of the photo and the Capezio on the bottom. Mind you I don’t know if the current Contempora is the same. This shoe you’re seeing is from decades ago.
Will I go back to ballet class? Remains to be seen. When you’re over 50, you discover aching body parts that you didn’t even know you had at age 20. The prospect is not tantalizing.
On the other hand, I do have a totally brand-new pair of pointe shoes sitting here doing nothing, and eventually, perhaps, I might be able to use them.
In the meantime, however, I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice on styles of pointe shoes or fitting them. Apologies in advance.