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While We’re On Our Pointe Shoe Tear… January 10, 2013

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 6:35 am
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I went over to my old haunt YouTube tonight and this was on my “Suggestions” page:

Funny how that happens.

This video is 10 years old, but it does explain a bit about how Gaynor Minden came to be and some of the objections to the shoes (I had heard about Merrill Ashley’s outspoken comments previously; here they are on video for all to see).

As a reader commented on a previous post, Mindens do not flatter less-than-curvy feet and they can even make spectacular feet look plain.  That is a huge drawback for some ballet aficionados.  I know I had to look several times at the feet of one of my favorites, Obraztsova, before deciding if they were one of her many strengths  (she is a GM wearer).

It seems odd that as pliable as GMs are, they don’t quite follow the lines of the foot or enhance them in any way.  I could never get away with them with my feet, which have what may be politely called a “shallow profile.”  However, this doesn’t matter to someone like me.  If I ever make it back on pointe I’ll be happy with my Sansha Recitals, which are very conventional pointe shoes (mine didn’t even come with that removable plastic shank Sansha is known for)…and very inexpensive as well.

I leave this argument to serious students and to professionals.  It does seem that more and more professionals are taking the stage in the GMs.  I’m starting to be able to pick them out from a distance without too much of a problem.

Certainly this represents some financial relief to their companies, and probably also some physical relief to the dancers as it may free them from suffering an excessive number of pointe-related injuries.  That’s the positive side.

On the negative side, some people just hate looking at them.

A reader mentioned in a comment that over the years — especially in the last few decades — the ideal ballet foot has changed.  Honestly, you didn’t used to be required to have banana feet; all that was required was that you got over the box and didn’t wobble.  Have you ever seen Margot Fonteyn’s feet?  Sheesh.

The other day I happened upon an ABT program from the early 1980’s, just before Baryshnikov took over as Artistic Director.  This was my generation of dancers.  All of the principals and soloists were photographed in dance poses; the corps kids were photographed in small groups.  You got to look at and compare a lot of feet.  My verdict: very few of these dancers would be allowed into ABT these days.  Not only is the training better now, but back in the day your average pointe shoe was prettier than your average ballet foot.  Nowadays, apparently one is not permitted to have less than curvy feet.

Earlier ballerinas not only didn’t have banana feet, but they didn’t even get over the box, nor did they stand particularly straight (again, this has already been pointed out by a reader).  A good example is the following video of Yekaterina Geltzer from 1913.  She was the ballerina who kept the ballet fires burning at the Bolshoi after the revolution; prior to that, she had been considered a powerhouse pointe technician.  Take a look at this video — most particularly at her pointe technique — and you’ll see what we’re talking about here:

The conclusion I’m drawing is that times change.  The eye changes.  And certainly, money talks.  If these shoes prove to save ballet companies lots of money and dancers lots of injuries, they may be the future of pointe shoes regardless of how they look.

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5 Responses to “While We’re On Our Pointe Shoe Tear…”

  1. atlantic Says:

    The ideal foot did change. I think it is part of general trend to extremisim in ballet. Extreme extension, extreme thinness, extreme arches. I’ll be the first to admit I wish I had feet like Ferri or Zakharova, However, I know that it does not make a better dancer. The ability to get ‘over’ the box comes from ankle flexibility, not arched feet. However, I think the banana feet obsession started with a desire to finish the ‘line’. As seen above the in the video, despite her acting a stage presence, she does not have the best line due to her lack of strongly pointed feet.

    Maybe this is too off topic: I feel that ballet is mimicking rhythmic gymnastics. It is huge in Russia, and it based on the athlete being extremely flexible and having a strong, pointed foot. Could this be the source of the change? Or is it the Balanchine aesthetic (esp regard to flexibility)

    I think our eyes can be retrained. If it is better for the dancer and the finances of a company, I say that the dance community must accept them. I know Merrill Ashley is a vocal critic. Are there any NYCB dancers wearing them by chance? Would they be allowed to? I know they get special Freeds, but sometimes dancers need to wear GMs due to injury (Alina Cojocaru).

    I found this video on YT of a dancer with GMs on, and her feet actually look quite good in them. Her arch is really showing, but she also seems to have banana feet.

    I know that GMs come in different shank strengths. They offer very soft shanks (Pianissimo, feather flex). Maybe a very supple shank would be a solution?

  2. Cat Says:

    I’ve tried GMs, however I kept going back to the old stuff simply because no matter what, the shoe will never shape to your foot as well as an old-style shoe. Once you’ve been sweating in a somewhat broken-in shoe it literally molds to your foot, and even though it might have been more painful I felt more like the shoe was an extension of the foot/leg, rather than a foreign object tied on. (Apart from the fact that I’m so not crazy about how they look) plus, ballet technique these days is over the roof as it is with the whole ‘gymnastics’ extensions and ‘who can do more pirouettes’ attitude. Obviously I did notice that such things (pirouettes, balances) came more easily on GMs, but with a lot of dancers I feel the this kind of shoe enables them to showcase ‘too much’ of the technique and not enough artistry. I’m not sure if I explained this well….. I don’t care whether a dancer is doing two or ten pirouettes, I want the focus to be on the art behind it and not on the technique, whereas I find some (of course not all) GM dancers end up solely showcasing technique.

  3. theworstat Says:

    Here’s a list of companies with GM-wearing dancers:
    http://www.gaynorminden.com/CompaniesInGMs2010.pdf

    NYCB is not on the list; neither is the Joffrey. But the Royal Ballet isn’t, either — and I know at least one of their principals wears GMs, as has been mentioned here. Interesting. It would be nice to be able to see a typical dancer’s contract and see what is mentioned about shoes.

    I’ll be writing more later; off to work.

    • theworstat Says:

      I take that back, I now see the Royal Ballet on the list.

      • atlantic Says:

        It seems that GMs have really taken off in Russia. I wonder if this is all due to preference or the fact that GM will pay for the dancers to promote the product. Based on the alleged poor pay conditions, I could see this being a real incentive.

        I wonder if NYCB would let a dancer switch. The company seems to only use Freeds, whereas other companies allow the dancers to pick any brand.


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