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Q: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   7 Comments )
Subject: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Performing Arts
Asked by: probonopublico-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 08 Aug 2006 10:53 PDT
Expires: 07 Sep 2006 10:53 PDT
Question ID: 753852
Last Friday, I went to see The Bolshoi at London's Covent Garden and,
even though I've got two left feet, I do enjoy watching the ballet.

But I am always amazed when I see Ballerinas dancing so gracefully on their toes. 

Who had this idea in the first place?

And is it unkind on their feet?

Fortunately, being a man, it's not something that's ever been expected
of me so I have no experience.

However, I am quite sure that the multi-talented Pinkfreud will have
twinkled a toe at some stage and that she can probably speak
knowledgeably from personal experience.

If not, I am sure that she knows someone who knows someone who knows
someone who knows someone who knows someone who knew Anna Pavlova.

Many thanks!

Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 08 Aug 2006 12:03 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
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
these shoes.

"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
cause injury."

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
--Achilles tendinitis
--FHL (big toe) tendinitis - dancer's tendinitis; often mistaken as
posterior tibialis tendinitis
--Trigger toe
--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
--e. sesamoid 
Epiphysitis - first ray, proximal phalanx 
Cuboid subluxation 
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

Best always,
Pink (AKA "Tulsa Twinkletoes")

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 08 Aug 2006 16:45 PDT
Oops. As Myoarin was wise to "pointe" out below, I did not answer the
first part of your question, about the origins of dancing "en pointe."

There's some good information here, and on subsequent pages:

Gaynor Minden, Inc.: History of Pointe

probonopublico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
Fascinating, Pink, Very Many Thanks!

And a great link into the history.

Two minor quibbles though:

1: No versification that we have all come to expect in any PianoForte Answer; and

2: No JPEG illustrating either the GAR or members of her managerie
strutting their stuff.

Ah well, nothing's perfect.

The mention of Moira Shearer reminds me that she died earlier this
year; she really was exquisite.

Next time my friend loans me his box, I intend to invite you, the
Timely One, and ye Olde Hoary Oarsman to be my guests.

How's that?

All the Best


Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: kemlo-ga on 08 Aug 2006 13:52 PDT
I remember seeing a TV documentary of the ballet "the Tales of Beatrix
Potter" where the male dancers danced En Pointe. Dancing out the parts
of mice


Yes Bryan it doesn't show how to sepll proper names
Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: timespacette-ga on 08 Aug 2006 14:34 PDT
Well I guess I could qualify as the someone who knew someone, and only
once removed !

when I was 14 my 83 year old Russian ballet teacher, Madame Olga
Ziceva, had been in the Ballet Russe in her day during the early part
of the 20th century, and she said she did dance with Anna P

Pink is telling it like it is: ballet is exquisite torture

my ankles were too weak and I was too clumsy to dance ballet en
pointe.  I gave it up and went on to learn East Indian Manipuri dance,
from another Russian ballet dancer, Kira Ivanovsky, who had spent the
war years in India.  Unlike ballet, Manipuri is considered to be a
healing dance. I still practice the hand movements; it's like doing
your own acupuncture, it wakes up ye old meridians.


* * *
Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: myoarin-ga on 08 Aug 2006 16:28 PDT
Personally, I never made it past being a flower or frog as pre-school
ballerino, despite having learned first through fifth position and
what a pliť is from my sisters.
And the family all went to see "The Red Shoes", holding our breath as
Moira spun closer and closer to the edge of mirror covered stage.
while wallowing in painful recollections, the ladies passed on the
Bryan's first question.

These sites say that en pointe dancing began in the early 19th century, 
ca. 1830, according to the second one.

I learned somewhere that ballet was an important part of early opera,
to give the men something to look at.

Dame Margot Fontaine must have had a perfect physique for the
profession to keep dancing into her fifties.  Sorry about your feet,

Cheers, Myo
Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: probonopublico-ga on 08 Aug 2006 22:21 PDT
'So what is a 'managerie'?', I can imagine Kemlo asking.

Well, go on ask ...
Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: kemlo-ga on 09 Aug 2006 01:32 PDT
I think 'managerie is a substitute for butter
Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: pinkfreud-ga on 09 Aug 2006 11:27 PDT

Merci beaucoup for the five stars and the handsome tip!

I am sorry that I omitted the usual versification & illustration. 

Here is a tiny po:

The shoes of ballet:
Ah, what can I say?
Ouchy and stricturey,
Footcracker suite,
The thrill of victory,
The agony of de feet.

Here's a piccie for you:

And this one is for Daisy:

Subject: Re: Ballerinas: Is Dancing on Their Toes Unkind to Their Feet
From: probonopublico-ga on 09 Aug 2006 11:35 PDT
Many thanks, Pink, for the po & the illustration.

I think 'de feet' would have made Larry Hart, Cole Porter and Dorothy
Fields very proud.

And the piccy is just like Daisy!

Do you realise that if we could find a talented composer we could
write a Broadway Show?

All the Best


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