Didn’t want to put “GMs” in the title, but anyway, the subject has come up a few times in the comments.
Mind you I have only personally used the old-fashioned paste shoes, and that was decades ago. I’ve never even seen a GM up close, and the informational video I posted on this blog was taken down from YouTube. It did show an interesting few frames of someone bending a GM in their hand, and it was startling — it was like bending a bedroom slipper. But yet it is said that GMs offer superior support. I don’t get it; I guess I’d have to try GMs on to understand it, but doesn’t look like they make anything easier.
I do know that some schools still won’t permit students to wear them, and at least as of a few years ago, the NYCB forbid their dancers to use them. This may or may not still be true.
In one of her videos, Womack warned student dancers not to use them — “they are for professionals” — yet in a later video she advised students to wear them. I have heard that they make everything harder at first, so the “cheater” thing may be just a fit of pique at something new, just as ballerinas scoffed at Anna Pavlova’s stiffened toe boxes and flat platforms back when she invented them. Yes, she did invent the modern pointe shoe!
Many of the ballerinas who do wear GMs still alter them. But GM is supposedly working to customize the shoes for professionals so they can be worn out of the box (a very few dancers actually do that with traditional shoes as well). Most of the GM alterations I see that are done by users involve that awful, ugly practice of darning the tips, which I continue to believe offers more psychological help than anything else. Decades ago when I was dancing en pointe, almost no one darned their shoes; it was considered a thing of the past. But it has caught on again in the past few decades and a lot of pro’s swear by it, so who am I to say much..except that unless the shoes are very carefully maintained, it makes them look unkempt and sometimes downright filthy.
I used to think that the issue of adding a huge piece of elastic to the top of the shoe was one only faced by dancers with exceptional feet that tend to spill over the top of the vamp, but then I noticed Yulia Stepanova does this and her feet are just okay. It may also make the dancer feel more secure in some way; I don’t know. But Alessandra Ferri definitely needed the extra elastic, and used it. On the other hand, I don’t remember seeing extra elastic on Svetlana Zakharova’s shoes (I believe she uses GMs).
I understand the objection NYCB had/has to GMs is purely aesthetic. The shoes do tend to hide the shape of the foot. If a dancer has average feet, these shoes can make them look subpar, and true banana feet can look average in them, and so forth. Once you get used to the sight of GMs it’s said you can actually spot them from the back of the theater, lol. But for the average ballet audience, I don’t see this as much of a problem.
Apparently studies have shown that dancers who wear GMs are less prone to injury*. Plus, the shoes last up to three times as long as paste shoes, which can break down in a matter of minutes. Having had a pair of ill-considered Gambas break down in one beginner class decades ago (why I had purchased such a light pair of shoes, I don’t know), I can see where that is a huge problem for an actual ballerina faced with dancing the Rose Adagio.
I have also heard, however, that dancers who wear GMs are more prone to bruising and losing toenails, etc. Can’t verify that either.
Personally I have seen dancers who had problems with pirouettes suddenly become able to turn more than competently after switching to GMs. Womack was one of them, and the other I can think of offhand is Oxana Skorik.
I’ve also heard that GMs are quieter than paste shoes, but personally I haven’t noticed this. All pointe shoes are noisy.
As for the Russian soloists’ objections to GMs…I don’t trust it. A Russian newspaper once ran an article speaking out against GMs, claiming that because they are plastic (basically), they are bad for dancers’ health, and Russian shoes (made of paste) are so much healthier, and blah, blah, blah (yeah, having to strengthen your boxes with shellac is SO healthy!).
Apparently there’s been a little campaign there against GMs, which are an American shoe, yet many of the top dancers in big companies still use them. There seems to be an issue here of whining in the face of reality, which tells me that the actual problem may be political in nature and have nothing to do with the shoes. Expect it to intensify in the coming months if that is so.
Freed keeps bringing up the issue that GMs are not recyclable and their own shoes are…but plastics recycling is a big business, so I don’t get that either. I haven’t heard much about ballet companies recycling shoes, to be honest. I think the Royal Ballet does? But I’m not sure.
So anyway, there in a nutshell is what I know about GMs. Lots of questions, very few answers.
*I don’t have any links to studies, but I’m sure the GM website does.