Every ballerina's pointe shoe process is intense, but some dancers take pointe prep to a completely different level. And New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck definitely falls in that second category.
The New York Times recently did a Facebook Live event with Peck, following her as she chose and prepped her shoes for the evening's performance. (She was about to dance in Alexei Ratmansky's Pictures at an Exhibition.) Peck is a crazy perfectionist onstage—it's one of the qualities that makes her so compelling—and she's just as much of a crazy perfectionist about her shoes.
Ugh, pointe shoe pads: Are they ever not stinky? It's just inevitable: feet + sweat + not-always-breathable materials + confined space = that icky odor we dancers know all too well.
So, what can you do to keep your pads as clean and stink-free as possible? Here are a few tips DS writer Julie Diana got from Kelly Agnew, a teacher at Houston Ballet Academy.
Ah, pointe shoes: They are our forever frenemies. Much as we're obsessed with them, even the most serious bunheads can have difficulty figuring them out.
That's where The School at Steps' Pointe Shoe Workshop and Fair comes in. Part advice panel, part shoe sale, the annual event brings together experts from all corners of the ballet world, as well as representatives from major pointe shoe brands. Whether you're just about to start pointe or are trying to find the perfect pair before your upcoming company audition, you can get a lot out of this shindig.
Behind-the-scenes pointe shoe videos are the stuff of bunhead dreams. There've been many lovely additions to this category over the years, all of which shed light on how intricate and involved the process of crafting the shoes really is.
But National Geographic took it a step further with their short film, "Ballet Shoes: The Craft Before the Dance." The filmmakers traveled to the Freed of London factory, where they interviewed many of the makers we've spotted in previous pointe shoe vids. It's incredible to hear them speak about how long they've been there, and even more special to witness the extreme dedication to their craft. These makers know they play such a huge part in helping a ballerina reach her peak, and because of that, it's safe to say that each pair of shoes truly is special in its own way. Check it out below:
It all started with a question in an old issue of Pointe magazine: “I feel bad sending all of my dead pointe shoes to a landfill. Is there any way to recycle them?” When Katarina Jakimier read the answer—“Currently, there are no specific pointe shoe recycling programs”—her mind started to churn.
“I really care about the environment,” says Katarina, 13, a student at Texas Ballet Theater School in Dallas. “And since dancers go through so many pairs each year, I was pretty surprised they didn’t have a way to recycle them.” After all, “they’re basically made out of cotton, satin and jute. Those are all natural fibers, so they’re excellent candidates for recycling.”
Katarina, then 12, decided to take matters into her own hands. In February 2014, she began working on the Dallas Pointe Shoe Recycling Project. Now, thanks to her work, the Dallas dance community can breathe easier knowing it’s doing its part for the environment: Instead of sending worn pointe shoes to the dump, dancers in the area can drop them off in recycling containers around town. From there, the shoes get picked up, broken down and eventually made into something else.
Katarina shows off a pointe shoe recycling bin at the Ivivva by Lululemon showroom in Dallas, TX (photo courtesy Mary Jakimier)
Putting a Plan in Place
Katarina knew starting a recycling initiative wasn’t
going to be easy. But she had another driving factor. A longtime Girl Scout, she had been searching for the right project to submit for the Girl Scout Silver Award, the most prestigious prize for Scouts in sixth through eighth grades. And because the rules state that candidates must spend at least 50 hours on their projects, Katarina wanted to choose something related to her passion: dance. A pointe shoe recycling project seemed to be the perfect fit.
“My first step was visiting the major dance companies, dancewear stores and studios in town to find out if any of them had recycling programs,” Katarina says. “They didn’t—but they all said to let them know if I found anything. So I became even more convinced our community really needed this.”
A Test of Perseverance
Katarina began calling recycling centers, but finding a local company that recycled textiles—not just glass, plastic or metal—proved challenging. “It was even harder to find a textile recycling plant that accepted shoes,” Katarina says. Many times, she’d reach out to a representative who would, in turn, tell her to call three other people—who would then point her in other directions. And each time, she’d have to start at square one: explaining the pointe shoe cycle. “A few people thought ‘Oh, well, all shoes can be reused,’ ” she says. “I really had to be clear that once pointe shoes are dead, they’re dead.”
By March, Katarina had started forming a backup plan. “I got in touch with a company called World Wear Project,” she says. “They don’t quite recycle—the plan was to collect old but still wearable ballet slippers and redistribute them.” But the reuse idea wasn’t really what Katarina was hoping for. She also thought about collecting worn pointe shoes and mailing them to a center across the country for recycling, but that system was faulty, too. “I didn’t like the idea of asking a dance studio to package the shoes and pay for shipping,” she says. “It would’ve been a big burden.”
The Pointe Shoe Recycling Project
Just when she was getting desperate, Katarina received an email from American Textile Recycling Services. Its representative was able to point Katarina in the right direction: a recycling bin in Dallas that would accept pointe shoes. “My project was back on!” Katarina says. “Even better was that the ATRS collection bin wasn’t far from my house or the dance studios I’d reached out to initially.”
Katarina set her plan in motion. She placed pointe shoe collection containers—with posters and information sheets about pointe-shoe recycling—in three dancewear stores and two studios. “The containers are airtight, so the smell of old shoes won’t leak out,” she says. Once the containers are full, the store or studio owners take them to the recycling bin, empty the contents and bring the containers back to their businesses to reuse.
Later that summer, Katarina found out that her project had earned the Silver Award. But she’s not done yet: She wants to spread her green toes even farther. “I really hope people will see the project and contact me,” she says, “or start recycling projects of their own. I’m happy with how this turned out and I’m excited to help in other areas, too.”
Whether it’s your first pair or your 50th, picking out the right pointe shoes can be difficult. Dance Spirit talked to Victoria Lyman, owner of Allegro Dance Boutique in Evanston and Barrington, IL—the Joffrey Academy of Dance’s shop of choice—to get the lowdown on the latest shoes. These picks are comfortable, flexible and quieter than ever before. Finding your perfect pointe shoe just got a little bit easier!
Lyman says: “Your feet are always changing, so it’s important to make sure you’re fitted for shoes regularly.”
Box narrows slightly, making it a good choice for dancers with tapered toes
Made with a new glue that reduces sound
Lower heel means less bunched-up fabric on pointe
Soft shank helps you get all the way over your box
Elastic drawstring ties on the side of the foot, so it’s easy to hide
Lining wicks moisture and helps keep your shoes smelling fresh
Sleek heel and profile show off your pretty arches
Softer shank lets you roll through demi-pointe more easily
Wide platform helps with balance
Pre-darned platform—the work’s done for you!
High vamps, high sides and medium support make this shoe a good fit for feet of moderate strength and flexibility.
Hard shank will last through countless relevés
Plush lining + built-in toe pad = super-comfortable
Lightweight and quiet
Available with a super-hard shank that’s good for dancers with strong feet
Elastic drawstrings and binding keep the shoe from slipping off your heel
Photography by Nathan Sayers.
Ever wonder what the heck to do with that pile of old pointe shoes you're sick of staring at in your closet but too sentimental to throw in the garbage? Here's some inspiration, courtesy the Cary Ballet Company of Cary, NC: Make them into a fabulous art project.
To be fair, CBC's 60-odd pairs of shoes were never used; they're actually shoes that didn't meet the company dancers' requirements, and so had languished, untouched, in an inventory room for 10 years. Rather than tossing them, CBC teamed up with the Cary Creative Reuse Center and the Fine Arts League of Cary to create The Ballet Shoe Project. They recruited 29 artists—age 8 to old-enough-not-to-tell-their-age—to decorate 164 shoes. Then they strung the bedecked shoes heel-to-toe to create a pretty amazing pointe shoe curtain, which will make its public debut at the Cary Ballet Conservatory this Saturday.
Take a look!
All photos by Andrew Kenney for The Cary News
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