Ballet is one of the most beautiful and controlled form of dance. The dancers seem to float upon the stage as they are slight in figure and dressed in ethereal barely there costumes to contribute to the illusion of weightlessness. The truth of the matter is, these dancers are putting enormous stress and pressure upon their feet and by the time they are finished with their onstage careers, their feet will be an unsightly mess. Their extreme control over their bodies is epitomized in their control over their feet. The ballet can be traced back to Italy during the 15th century. The first documented ballet told the story of the Greek myth of Circe. Circe had magical powers and could turn men into animals. The traditional ballet shoes were probably not worn at this first five and a half hour performance, performed in honor of a wedding.
Ballet dancers are specifically trained to ‘dance on point’. This means they are standing on tip-toe inside their shoes. The dancer uses both strength and technique to keep herself aloft in this position. This technique included utilizing the muscles of her feet, ankles, leg and torso to pull herself and her body up into the position.
A ballerina is not encouraged to ‘dance on point’ until she has been trained properly to do so which is why children never ‘dance on point’. Dancers wear soft slippers before they wear point shoes. Once they are allowed to use the point shoes, they only do so for brief periods of time and build up that time until they can do so for the length of an entire class. Point shoes are built to be very stiff in order to support the foot. They have a stiff “shank” underneath the arch that envelops the foot firmly allowing the dancer to rest her weight on the bulk in the toe of the shoe.
Male dancers rarely wear point shoes and the upper is usually made of pink satin or dyed to match the costume of the dancer. Point shoes are made specifically for the wearer and so do not have to, as in the past before this was common practice, be broken in. The new technologies and materials used to create these shoes make them slightly safer and also more resilient to their forebears. This is good for both the expense and the health of the dancer.