9 Crazy Moments in Pointe Shoe History
Ah, pointe shoes: We love those beautiful, glamorous torture devices! But pointework didn't always look or feel the way it does today. In fact, pointe shoes evolved over the course of several centuries—with many fascinating (and some straight-up bizarre) stops along the way. Here are a few highlights of pointe shoe history.
French dancer and choreographer Charles Didelot was the first to put ballerinas “on pointe"—but his dancers weren't wearing pointe shoes. Instead, Didelot used a flying machine, with hidden wires that held dancers on the tips of their toes before whizzing them up into the air. Similar machines are still used today in ballets like Peter Pan and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The first dancers to actually stand on their toes didn't have Didelot's fairylike effect in mind. Italian grotteschi dancers, who performed in opera houses throughout the 18th century, specialized in exaggerated pantomime and humorous acrobatic tricks—and in the 1820s, grotteschi dancer Amalia Brugnoli became one of the first people to hoist herself up on pointe.
Not to be outdone, French ballerina Marie Taglioni made it her mission to learn the art of “toe dancing" and to transform it into something graceful and beautiful. In 1832 she performed on pointe in La Sylphide—though she actually danced on a very high half-pointe, because her shoes were soft satin, with no box to stand on. She wore them a few sizes too small so that they squeezed her metatarsals, which provided a little extra support. (Ouch!)
A lithograph of Marie Taglioni (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)
Taglioni's contemporary, Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler, was wildly popular in America—President Martin van Buren was an especially big fan. During one of her visits to Washington, DC, legislators toasted Elssler with champagne at a formal banquet in the Capitol building. The glass? One of Elssler's pointe shoes.
Fans also went crazy for Taglioni, thanks in no small part to her pointework. In 1842, after she gave her final performance in Russia, a group of enthusiastic devotees purchased a pair of her shoes for 200 rubles, cooked them in a stew and ate them.
During World War II, Japanese pointe shoe manufacturers tried to use balsa wood for the stiff boxes of pointe shoes, rather than the traditional layers of paper, fabric and glue, as those materials were needed urgently for the war effort. Unfortunately, the experiment didn't go well—the wood ended up crumbling under the dancers' bodies.
The Red Shoes, one of the first blockbuster dance films, premiered to huge audiences in 1948. It tells the story of a young ballerina whose cursed red pointe shoes cause her to go mad and eventually commit suicide. And you thought your shoes were tormenting you.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo ("the Trocks," for short) arrived on the scene in 1974, bringing pointe dancing to a whole new group of people: men! The all-male company, which is still around today, parodies classical ballets and their delicate female roles—pointe shoes and all.
Center Stage became everyone's favorite dance movie when it was released in 2000—despite the fact that it included one of the most suspicious moments in pointe shoe history. During the film's climactic final dance number, heroine Jody Sawyer's pointe shoes magically change color, from ballet pink to rocker-chick red, in a split second. Physically impossible? Definitely. Delightfully cheesy? Totally.
(From left) Ethan Stiefel, Amanda Schull and Sascha Radetsky in "Center Stage'"s grand finale. (Barry Wetcher, courtesy Columbia Tristar)
Last week Disney Channel star Sofia Wylie released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of her YouTube dance series. Along with some stellar dancing, the video shows the dance community featured in her "4k Dance Series" and the things they've learned from being a part of the dance project. And though the project features dance, we love that it also emphasizes supporting and building up fellow dancers.
Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.
Sometimes, you hear talk about an upcoming class video and it sounds too good to be real. Wait: Todrick Hall made a track featuring RuPaul, and then Todrick personally asked Brian Friedman to choreograph it, and then Brian got Maddie and Charlize and Jade and Kaycee and Sean and Gabe and Larsen and Bailey to come out for the class? I just...that can't be right. Can it?
It is right, friends. It is SO RIGHT.
Team USA is totally taking over "Dancing with the Stars" this season! Casting for the upcoming athletes-only "DWTS" cycle, which kicks off April 30, was just announced. And the roster includes a whole bunch of Olympic favorites—including not one, not two, but three figure-skating standouts.
Winter is drawing to a close and you know what that means -- It's time to really kick this year into gear! Move U has done the research so you can find your best match, look good, and feel great this season with a twist unique to your team! Here are five looks to put your performance on the map in 2018.
With several Shaping Sound tours and TV credits like "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing with the Stars," and "Boardwalk Empire" to her name, you wouldn't expect Kate Harpootlian to be refreshingly down-to-earth. But that's exactly how she is: As soon as you start talking to the gifted dancer and choreographer, it becomes clear that she doesn't take herself too seriously. And she's happy to tell hilarious stories to prove it. (Ask her about the time she did a Mr. Peanut impression when Mia Michaels asked her to improvise, or the time she starred in a Japanese makeup commercial and had to do grand pliés wearing one pointe shoe and one flat shoe.)
That mixture of humor and grace is evident in Harpootlian's growing body of choreographic work. Her one-act show Better Late Than Never, for example, which premiered last summer, has a jazzy, West Side Story vibe, offsetting heavier moments with touches of whimsy. "There's always a balance in my work," Harpootlian says. "I want to use humor to balance out the darker aspects. It's like one of my friends once said: 'You make me laugh, and then you make me feel bad for laughing.' "
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email email@example.com for a chance to be featured!
I grip my quads, and I don't know how to stop. I'm totally overdeveloping my quad muscles. How can I retrain myself so I use my legs correctly? Help!
You know that pirouette dream, when your placement is so perfect you can keep turning forever? That dream is the reality for highly technical tappers, who benefit from the decreased friction of their shoes. Get the placement right and, with a strong spot, they can pirouette for days.
But turning in tap shoes isn't all easy. In fact, those delightfully friction-free shoes bring their own set of challenges, and dancers can easily fall into the spinning-top trap by letting the turn control them, rather than the other way around. Here's how to harness your tap-turning potential.
Given that we're still processing our own sadness about the recent dissolution of the couple formerly known as #TeamTatum, we can only imagine how many feelings Jenna Dewan must be feeling. But like all dancers, Dewan knows the best way to deal with big emotions is to dance through them.