Let’s do an experiment: go to YouTube, type “first pair of pointe shoes” in the search box, and tell me what you see. 23,000 results? Yeah, that’s something like it.
I don’t mind the young girls (and adults) who take us along to their fitting or their first pointe class. After all, it’s an exciting time no matter what your age.
What bugs me is the kids who absolutely don’t know what they’re doing, probably haven’t even taken ballet classes for very long, shouldn’t be anywhere near pointe shoes…and yet are pretending to be experts. Of course that doesn’t impress an adult, but what concerns me is the effect on other kids.
For instance I just saw a video by a little girl who kept saying something about having perfect feet because they were “tapered,” (actually she had no arch and weak ankles and couldn’t get over the box; having tapered toes has nothing to do with having perfect feet but the other elements — arch, ankle, strength — do). Then she confused the shank with the box when discussing the “four types of pointe shoes” (????) and then, although she admitted that these were her first pointe shoes, she proceeded to explain how she “always” breaks in her shoes.
You guessed it: she had no idea how. The shanks on her shoes were so hard that she couldn’t even bend them with her hands, let alone her feet. She said they were medium shanks, but judging by her difficulty in getting them to bend at all, that wasn’t exactly the truth.
Back in the day, very hard shoes were recommended for beginners (at least they were in the schools I attended). The thought was that although kids already had two to three years of training when they began pointe, pointe was like starting all over again and they needed the help of the shoe for getting up on pointe and staying there. The more specific muscle strength required for pointe work would develop during beginner-level pointe training and continue to evolve after that (probably by fighting to get to, and stand on tiptoe in those industrial-strength shoes).
In time students could graduate to less-heavy shoes. In those days, many professionals bragged about how soft their shoes were. That was the goal. Once you were dancing with the big girls, strong pointe shoes were not cool unless you needed them to help with some injury.
Nowadays the thinking seems to have changed; kids who already have training and are ready for pointe develop their feet by working very hard on specific exercises in class, and with things like Therabands and demi-pointe shoes, for up to a year before getting pointe shoes. Some schools have special classes for pre-pointe students. After all that preparation, the shoes they get depend on their feet, ankles, and overall strength (although the lightest shoes are still recommended only for professionals, and some teachers complain that even after going through all the preliminaries, the kids still aren’t strong enough for pointe).
At the same time, the strongest pointe shoes now seem to be recommended only for fully-developed dancer’s feet that need the extra protection for whatever reason; I’m guessing that feet like these are the super-bendy “banana feet,” but I don’t know. Extreme feet like that were uncommon decades ago, but seem to be more universal now, so maybe someone out there has the answer.
But even the dancers who need strong shoes three-quarter the shanks and whatnot to break them in, because the fact is that you can’t dance very well with concrete blocks on your feet no matter how much training you have.
So how is it that this kid who can barely do a proper demi-pointe — actually she couldn’t at all — ended up with such a heavy-duty pair of shoes? (I think I have the answer; see it in one of the paragraphs below.) The kid also couldn’t tie her ribbons correctly, demonstrated her toe spacers but then didn’t use them under her Ouch Pouches, and mysteriously showed us a ridiculously large bag of lamb’s wool — half a ewe’s worth, it seemed — which she had purchased even though she claimed that her “perfect feet” didn’t need lamb’s wool. No it did not make sense. No one needs both lamb’s wool and an Ouch Pouch, for starters; it’s usually either one or the other, or else you risk overcrowding your box…in which case you should be questioning whether the shoes are properly fitted if they hurt you so badly that you need all that stuff. (Also, if you over-stuff your box, your shoes may end up not fitting at all.)
An aside: lamb’s wool is nothing more than what we used to use for protective padding in the old days before Ouch Pouches. Some dancers still use it. It has nothing to do with how perfect your feet are. Some of the dancers with the loveliest feet don’t wear any padding at all. My feet are average, but I used to use padding only over the tops of the toes. Back in the day I used lamb’s wool because that was pretty much all we had. Hated it because it never worked for me; it would shift and bunch unless you taped it down, which I never wanted to do because I’m allergic to adhesives. Worse for me, lamb’s wool did little to protect from blisters, especially in the “thin layer” that was encouraged for use inside the box.
Later the first pouches came out, but unlike today’s they tended to be thick, heavy suede bags lined with curly wooly stuff. You literally had to go up a shoe size to accommodate them, and they were hot, and they interfered with any feeling you had left for the floor beneath you because they were lined all the way around. Professional dancers laughed at them. Very quickly after they were first released, they were marketed only to students. Shortly thereafter the manufacturers came out with thinner (but still sweaty) vinyl pouches that contained squshy gel, but it was about then that I quit dancing. I recently bought a pair of modern-day gel pouches for my demi-pointe shoes (which I work out in), and was dismayed that although the pouches were lightweight, someone still hadn’t thought not to put gel on the bottom of the pouch. Hence my remark in one of the comments on a previous post about just buying rolls of Silipos gel padding and cutting it to size. One roll of that stuff could last at least a few years, which would save a lot of money over time because ready-made gel pouches tend to be outrageously expensive.
Anyway, back to the story, this kid then claimed that her “teacher just came round and said these shoes are perfect for me.” Um…I’ll bet that never happened. In fact I’ll bet that the teacher, if she exists, doesn’t even know about these shoes. If she’s a proper teacher, she’ll throw a fit if she ever sees that video. The kid just isn’t ready to be on pointe, and given her age, obvious lack of training, and the shape and apparent weakness of her feet and ankles, it will be a long time before she’s ready.
In other words, it looks like mom and dad just got her some toys. I also question if she was actually fitted for them or just chose them online, or told the store she went to that she always uses those shoes. They did appear to fit her, but that could have been dumb luck.
Of course this is a new day and there’s no way of controlling everything kids get into online. I’m not advocating censorship. But if you have a young daughter who dreams of going on pointe one day, be aware that there are videos like this out there. Even though I realize the kids making them have no idea what they’re doing and are just having fun and being kids, that’s just it: they have no idea what they’re doing and could get badly hurt, or cause other kids to get hurt imitating them.
This particular little girl answered, “stop hating! you’re hurting my feelings,” etc. every time someone commented that she probably shouldn’t be on pointe yet, which is another thing that tells me that she definitely shouldn’t be on pointe yet and is just pretending.
That’s the point: it’s pretend. And this isn’t “hate,” which is becoming over-used slang among kids referring to anything said to them that they do not like. (Note to kids: hate is a very strong word and should be reserved for only very serious issues.)
No, this is more like demonstrating ‘tough love’ by pointing out something that is potentially dangerous. Kathryn Morgan touched on this subject recently, only she was talking about bad advice being given on YouTube — again, by inexperienced kids — on the subject of stretching. She has far more authority to talk about stuff than I do, but she said pretty much the same thing I just said: beware YouTube videos. Consider your source if you take advice from them.
And for goodness sake, pointe shoes are not toys.