Mon cher Bryan,
Take it from a former ballerina, dancing "en pointe" is indeed very
hard on the feet, and that's not a load of Bolshoi.
When I was a young girl I took ballet lessons for several years. Like
many girls of my age, I was drawn into the world of ballet by the film
"The Red Shoes." Although the plot of this movie is a cautionary tale
about the pain and risk of an obsession with ballet, the seductive
power of the film overrode its negative aspects for a generation of
young women who wished to emulate the exquisite, flame-haired Moira
Shearer, a real ballerina who became an actress.
Young ballerinas begin by wearing soft, flexible slippers during the
time when they are learning the various formal steps and moves of the
dance. Then they progress to the hellishly uncomfortable "pointe"
shoes that make "toe dancing" possible.
I've gathered up some info about pointe shoes. I'll post the online
references first, and then I'll describe my personal experience with
"The foot is supported from underneath the arch by a stiff insole, or
shank. The box of the shoe tightly encases the toes, so that the
dancer's weight rests on an oval-shaped platform. The shank has
varying degrees of flexibility, and the box may have different
configurations. The outer material is usually pink satin and can be
dyed for performance to costume designers' specifications. Most pointe
shoes will fit either foot; there is usually no left or right. Except
in rare cases pointe shoes are worn only by women.
Although the shoe enables the dancer to poise indefinitely on tiptoe,
it is her strength and technique that bring her from the normal
standing position through a mid-position, 'demi-pointe', to the
full-pointe position. Once en pointe she maintains a contraction of
the muscles of the feet, ankles, legs and torso to pull herself up out
of the shoe. Without proper technique an attempt at toe-dancing can
Gaynor Minden,Inc: How a Pointe Shoe Works
"Dancing en pointe can place severe stress on the dancer's feet,
common injuries related to dancing en pointe are:
blisters - caused by repeated rubbing of skin against the rough
hardened inside of the shoe's box. Blisters can be prevented or
lessened by carefully wrapping the dancer's toes with medical tape, or
using some type of thin padding.
bunions - a bone deformity usually in the dancer's big toe, caused by
cramping of the toes within the shoe's box. Dancers can prevent
bunions by putting a spacer between the big toe and the next toe and
wearing properly fitted shoes.
bruised toenails - caused by heavy pressure on the front of the nail.
This can be very painful.
Cuts can also occur between toes as a result of the pressure of a
dancer's toenails digging into the toes next to them."
Wikipedia: Pointe shoes
"Sprains, fractures, and tendinitis are foot injuries common to both
ballet and modern dancers. But several injuries sustained by ballet
dancers are peculiar to dancing on pointe; ironically, many modern
dance foot injuries are caused by the lack of protection provided by
shoes... Toenail ailments... corns... blisters."
Dance Magazine: Foot care for pointe shoes - ballet dancers' health
"When pointe shoes are first purchased, they are hard, restricting,
and impossible to dance in. The toe box, which encases the toes, is
often made from layers of burlap and paper soaked in glue. This part
of the shoe must be exceptionally strong, as it needs to support the
dancer?s entire weight as she balances and maneuvers. The toe box can
be so hard that the audience can hear the shoes clapping against the
stage over the sound of the music.
A hard insole, the shank, supports the arch of the foot as the dancer
is en pointe. Shanks are made of anything from cardboard to steel,
depending on the desired strength. If a dancer has a weak foot that is
flexible, she needs a strong shank to support her arch. If, however,
her foot is strong and relatively inflexible, a weak shank allows the
foot to arch without inhibition. The entire slipper, or boot as it may
be more accurately called, is deceptively covered in delicate pink
satin, hinting at the ideality of softness rather than the reality of
Intersections: The Hidden Tribulations Behind Ballet Shoes
"What injuries commonly affect dancers?...
--Anterior ankle impingement syndrome
--Posterior ankle impingement syndrome; often mistaken as peroneal tendinitis
--FHL (big toe) tendinitis - dancer's tendinitis; often mistaken as
posterior tibialis tendinitis
--Os trigonum syndrome
--Painful accessory navicular
--Lateral ankle sprain - inversion injury
--Osteochondritis dessicans of the talus
--Fractures (acute and stress), dislocations, arthritis
Acute muscle strains
--a. stress fracture base of 2nd metatarsal (foot bone)
--b. stress fracture base of 5th metatarsal
--c. avulsion fracture base of 5th metatarsal
--d. acute fracture distal third of 5th metatarsal - dancers fracture
Epiphysitis - first ray, proximal phalanx
Plantar flexion sprain of the 1st MTP joint
Hallux rigidus - deformity of big toe
MTP joint subluxation; dorsiflexion sprain, gradual capsule stretching
in older dancer
Avascular necrosis of the metatarsal (Freiberg's disease)
Interdigital neuromas - abnormal tissue growths
Sesamoiditis - contusion,sprain, stress fracture, avulsion fracture of
proximal pole, osteonecrosis, osteoarthritis, entrapment neuropathy"
Cleveland Clinic: Ballet: Ideal Body Type
Injury Treatment and Prevention
As I mentioned earlier, I had some training in ballet when I was
young. While I loved the music and the graceful moves, the infernal
shoes were the sticking "pointe" that caused me to drop out. I am a
very small-boned person with narrow feet and high arches, and neither
my feet nor my ankles were well suited to the rigors of dancing en
pointe. I suffered from blisters, hyperkeratosis, tendinitis, and
nerve damage. I still experience foot pain today which I attribute to
the damage I inflicted upon myself while trying to be Moira Shearer.
It is said that ballet causes more injuries than contact sports, and I
believe this. Ballet is no place for sissies. In order to present an
appearance of effortless grace, a ballerina subjects herself to great
suffering and stress. Is it worth the pain? For me, it was not. But I
have immense admiration for those who practice the art, and I am still
enchanted by classical ballet, which can make large, clumsy,
earthbound human bodies seem light and fluid and free, if only for a
brief, precious time.
My Google search strategy: ballet shoes pointe
Pink (AKA "Tulsa Twinkletoes")