How To Look At Pointe Shoes

© Copyright 2017 Deanna Bucco, Ryerson University.

When we view a ballerina, poised in passé–balanced on the toes of one foot, while the other leg bends so the toes touch the opposite knee–our gaze tends to focus on the unbelievable beauty of the posture, costume, and confidence of the dancer. What we rarely notice; however, are her shoes. As we watch the ballerina effortlessly jump and turn across the stage, the shoes appear to be an extension of the dancer rather than an entity on their own. If we separate the shoes from the dancer, a close examination of the craftsmanship of the shoe, as well as the tears and scuffs it has endured, can reveal more about the dancer than any performance ever could.

A pair of well worn pointe shoes pictured on a carpet. One with the toe pointing forward. One with the heel pointing forward.
Looker, Tania. The Secret Lives of Pointe Shoes. 2013. Photograph.

The construction of a pointe shoe is an interesting process to behold when you consider that these objects are made for feet. The soft outer satin that creates the beauty of the pointe shoe conceals a box, made in paper mache style, of hardened fabric and glue that supports the dancer’s toes. The front of this box is flattened to provide the dancer a base to balance on. The sole and inside shank of the shoe are made from leather used to secure the unfinished edges of fabric and to provide a pleasing aesthetic appearance. The ribbons and elastics bound near the heel of the shoe are used to secure the foot. Since every dancer’s foot is different, the creation of a pair of pointe shoes is unique to each dancer. A well made pair of pointe shoes can only last 12 hours of use.

Although there is some debate as to when the first pointe shoes were ever used, it is widely agreed upon that their premiere was in Marie Taglioni’s performance of La Sylphide in France in 1832. Since then, the fascination with the hardships that dancers endure–eating disorders, pain and exhaustion of the body, bloody, misshaped feet, etc.–has been widespread, but the mangled shoes that remain after a performance are rarely as discussed.

Let us examine pointe shoes after a performance, the ones pictured here. Notice the torn and frayed fabric at the toe of the shoe, highlighting how grounded the dancer was during the performance and how often she used to floor to support her movement. The black scuffs along the top and sides of the shoes reveal all parts of the foot used in the dance. The stiff elastic and wrinkled ribbons display the grip held on the ankle for hours to ensure the dancer’s support and strength in her legs. The torn leather at the bottom of the shoes shows her dedication to the movement. Spots of blood would also be noticed on the inside of the shoes, depicting that although dance is hard and extremely painful, a ballerina knows how to conceal this and reveal only the joy, beauty, and freedom experienced through dance.

Pointe shoes may be simply dismissed as an aid to a ballerina’s movement, or maybe even revered by fans, such as Taglioni’s who cooked, served with sauce, and ate her shoes after her final performance; however, only by examining them closely can we fully understand the hard work and dedication endlessly applied by the dancer and the important function of the pointe shoe as an entity on its own.


Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000

Laemmli, Whitney E. “A Case in Pointe: Romance and Regimentation at the New York City Ballet.” Technology and Culture, vol. 56, no. 1, 2015., pp. 1-27 Business Premium Collection; Research Library; Science Database,

Looker, Tania. The Secret Lives of Pointe Shoes. 2013. Tania Looker. Web. 7 February 2017.


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