Phaedra392

Noisy pointe shoes

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It seems that in recent years I've noticed that pointe shoes are often incredibly noisy. A corps boureeing across a stage creates a clattering that can completely break the spell. A single dancer landing from a jump destroys the illusion of lightness with the clunk created by her shoe.

I could swear that this was not always true. I can't remember ever being so aware of it. Yet when I saw the Kirov in D.C. a few years ago performing the Kingdom of the Shades scene, the clunky shoes wrecked the whole thing.

Are shoes different now? I know about the newer, controversial, longer-lasting shoe (whose name escapes me), but I thought they were worn by relatively few dancers.

Is it the shoes? Has technique deteriorated? Or have shoes always been this noisy???

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IMO, 'twas ever thus.

I have not noticed any appreciable difference in the sound of pointe shoes in the last few decades, and expect it as part of the ambience of a live performance.

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It's hard to believe that I've imagined it, but I guess I did. In reflection, perhaps what I noticed is the difference between taped performances (which is all I got to see till I was in my twenties) and live ones. The sound of pointe shoes may have been engineered out of the recordings.

Thanks.

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I noticed, as far back as the '80s, that Russian companies tended to use noisier shoes -- or possibly put less care into making them "performance ready" -- than other companies.

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I could swear that this was not always true. I can't remember ever being so aware of it. Yet when I saw the Kirov in D.C. a few years ago performing the Kingdom of the Shades scene, the clunky shoes wrecked the whole thing.

Are shoes different now? I know about the newer, controversial, longer-lasting shoe (whose name escapes me), but I thought they were worn by relatively few dancers.

I've seen videos of Bolshoi Ballet performances from the early 1980's and you can definitely hear the sound of the pointe shoes, especially with a large corps de ballet on stage. I think this is because if you've seen a real Russian-made pointe shoe the toebox is very hard.

You're referring to the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe, the first pointe shoe designed using the same principles as athletic shoes (especially with the use of elastomeric foam). I've seen videos of female ballet dancers wearing these shoes and they definitely land much quieter than a Russian-made pointe shoe. A number of well-known Mariinsky Ballet dancers are using them extensively (two of the most popular younger generation female dancers in the troupe, Ekaterina Kondaurova and Evgenia Obraztsova, are spokespersons for these shoes).

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Phaedra, I agree with you that pointe shoe sounds are louder, be it from louder shoes or less effort to prepare them in advance. I suspect it's a little of both. I think that the change is happening mostly at the dance school level.

I think some of the issue is that some ballet schools are not as conscientious about teaching their students how to break in a pointe shoe for quietness. In the past, there were fewer pre-professional ballet schools in the USA at the level where students would go on to dance professionally. Many, but definitely not all (and I can think of one well-known US school and company who has never paid much attention to the sound of the shoes), of those schools insisted on quiet shoes for their school performances.

But ballet school training really expanded in the 80's and 90's, with more and more schools in operation; I'd say that it's been in the late 90's up to present time that I've noticed louder and louder performances. BTW, I agree that the Russians have always been loud, and it doesn't seem as though there's any change over the years, but I do think there is a change in the loudness of many American dancers' performances.

For 12 years, my daughter attended a pre-professional ballet school whose director passionately hated loud pointe shoes. It drove her nuts when she'd attend summer ballet intensives that didn't require quiet performance shoes. In her professional dance life, my kiddo has said that she can identify where some dancers trained based on the loudness of their shoes :thumbsup: , with graduates of her school having the quietest shoes. They simply grew up having to make sure their shoes weren't loud, and while they complained a lot about the practice, in adulthood they can't bear hearing noisy shoes, finding that it interferes with the aesthetic.

My feelings exactly.

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It goes back before the schools.

I believe that it has to do with the changes in the hardening substances used in the boxes of the shoes. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian shoemakers continued to use a very old horsehide glue formula. After, they began adding a casein-based vinyl, not unlike Elmer's Glue, into the mix. They last longer, and the boxes are more elastic than simple horse glue, but they do make a noisier box, especially considering the bell-like form!

Polyvinyl acetate additives to shoe glue started in the 60s in the west. Very few makers are still using a "true glue" mixture any more.

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It occurred to me to wonder whether the differences in stage flooring might also be a factor in how noisy the shoes are.

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II believe that it has to do with the changes in the hardening substances used in the boxes of the shoes. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian shoemakers continued to use a very old horsehide glue formula. After, they began adding a casein-based vinyl, not unlike Elmer's Glue, into the mix. They last longer, and the boxes are more elastic than simple horse glue, but they do make a noisier box, especially considering the bell-like form!

And now, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are going to the same elastomeric foam used by real athletic shoes. While not perfect, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are the prototype for the future of pointe shoes, one that is designed with more advanced space-age materials that could be customized for each individual dancer's feet, offer way more shock absorbency than traditional pointe shoes (especially in the critical shoe box), and makes far less noise even on a hard landing. Now, if we can just convince the likes of Nike or Reebok to use their very extensive research into athletic shoes to make a state-of-the-art pointe shoe that is built more like a real athletic shoe....

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I think I might just hate to see what that would look like. Can you imagine trying to convince that entrenched corporate structure that the Swoosh is NOT a feature that would appeal to dancers?

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I think some of the issue is that some ballet schools are not as conscientious about teaching their students how to break in a pointe shoe for quietness. In the past, there were fewer pre-professional ballet schools in the USA at the level where students would go on to dance professionally. Many, but definitely not all (and I can think of one well-known US school and company who has never paid much attention to the sound of the shoes), of those schools insisted on quiet shoes for their school performances.

I vote a little that pointe technique is changing and some of it has to do with the cost of the shoes... at what they cost nowadays, no wonder beginning students (and their parents) are leery of breaking them in enough to be quiet and supple... and perhaps what starts with beginners continues as a trend as the students become more advanced... (and shoes like Gaynors don't actually break in, though they are perhaps quieter)... it all leads to a different technique if you can't roll quietly through your shoes or you're letting the shoe do the support work instead of the muscles... one tends not to slam one's toes down on the floor in a soft broken in pointe shoe.... (maybe we should put some blame on those toepads too....)

and then again,who outside of RAD has time to darn them?

I think cost is part of the trend.. not the whole story but definitely a strong influence.

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:clapping: Once a dancer is employed in a Professional company, in general they are provided with a set number of pairs of pointe shoes. It is then their responsibility to ensure their shoes are not too noisy. This is something that has been handed down over the generations, to people as they enter their professional career. So the fact that their schools may have not suffiecently covered the subject should not effect the end result when we experience too much shoe noise in performances.

Either the Shoe Mistress or the Wardrobe Mistress, can help overcome this problem. After all whether we are talking Head to Toe, everything comes under the description of "Costume". Generally speaking in my days( we had to oversee, the whole of the costume, we were not just laundty hands or Ironing ladies, but had to know each and every costume off by heart. There were not costume or accessory lists, it was something we learnt by a hands on approach and a good memory.

The items provided by the company were, Hair attachments, headressses, jewellery, gloves, tights(other than traditional pink ballet tights) and shoes such as character and boots. The pointe shoes were given straight to the dancers, while the other items were kept in the costume stores, or in the theatre during times of performance.

I can :) remember actually darning point shoes, but I most certainly had been trained how to do it, as well as the way to brake in shoes.

The girls used to almost wreck their shoes, cut off the satin on the end of the block pull out the tongue inside the shoe, and bend up the metal rod, sometimes even removing it. They would sew the ribbons on, and only sometimes darn the end of the block.

If extra support was needed to hold the shoe in place, a wide pink elastic strap would be sewn across the arch and fixed each side to the shoes just below the ankle. Before using the shoes, the dancer would then take them into the corridor, where there was a concrete floor and steps, and holding the shoes around their ends, they would knock the block ends, very hard on the concrete surfices until the shoe was broken down, and soft in texture. Before they went onto the stage, they would fill a basin or other vessel with warm water, and

standing on one foot,with their shoes on, dip the heel of each foot, into the water to shrink the shoe making it fit closerly into their feet.

The other types of footwear were maintained by the Wardrobe staff. As were the hair pieces, wigs jewellery and some costume related props. The requirements were quite extensive, you had to be not only a wardrobe mistress, but also a costumier, hair dresser, millaner, shoe maker, jeweller to say the least.

It would be most interesting to contact a couple of the current shoe suppliers to see how much the manufacture of point shoes has changed or differs nowadays. If I can gleam any information,I will let you know. I may even try to get in contact with some Dancers and make it a research project. Perhaps we as an audience are deserving of an answer.

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I think I might just hate to see what that would look like. Can you imagine trying to convince that entrenched corporate structure that the Swoosh is NOT a feature that would appeal to dancers?

If Nike could develop a pointe shoe that meets the criteria I mentioned earlier, what better way to make a splash than to provide it gratis or at much-reduced cost to a major ballet company? Remember, with modern manufacturing technology the entire shoe structure could be custom-made for each individual dancer; even a difficult-to-fit dancer like the Mariinsky Ballet's Ulyana Lopatkina (who has to wear custom-made shoes anyway because she is one of the tallest dancers ever associated with a Russian ballet troupe) could benefit from a pointe shoe custom-tailored for her feet with the right shoe size and custom-made shoe padding, especially the critical toe box.

I still think what the Gaynor Minden shoe pioneered is the future of pointe shoes anyway. Remember, a female ballet dancer en pointe imposes incredible amounts of physical stress on the entire lower half of body, often far beyond what a regular athlete wearing normal athletic shoes has. A such, lower body injuries among ballet dancers are major issues, and what better way to reduce that problem (and all the expensive medical insurance that ballet companies need!) by ballet dancers switching to a modern pointe shoe designed to better protect the dancer's feet?

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I believe that there's an old saying that "if" is the biggest word in the English language.

Yes, modern technology can be applied to ballet shoes, but the market is comparatively small and select. Developments in this area will probably be very slow, and in the rollout, rather expensive at retail to the customer. As to donations, I wouldn't hold my breath while the financial markets are where they are.

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I believe that there's an old saying that "if" is the biggest word in the English language.

Yes, modern technology can be applied to ballet shoes, but the market is comparatively small and select. Developments in this area will probably be very slow, and in the rollout, rather expensive at retail to the customer.

The number of users is very small, but then, the usable life of a pair of pointe shoes are very short indeed. According to an article in The Independent (London), Ulyana Lopatkina goes through two pairs of pointe shoes per full-length ballet, and that means the amount of pointe shoes used can be mind-boggling, given the average price of one pair of pointe shoes nowadays! :devil: Anything to make them last longer and offer more comfort will be welcomed by every ballet dancer out there, that's to be sure.

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:D Following my earlier post on this, I decided recently to find out more about this subject,

As one of Freed's factories is at Norwich, near where I live, I telephoned their Assistant Manager, and had a very interesting conversation with her. She told me that the process of manufacturing where they are concerned has not changed over hundreds of years. Each shoe is handmade to the Dancers pattern and requirements. which can mean a different end to the toe area, more or less paste, all adding to the effeciancy in peformance. She agreed that shoes sometimes are more noisy than others, and suggested it could be down to more than one reason. That the shoes had not been broken in properly, to the fact dance mats are used on stages, that the shoes are made harder at the Dancers request, thus making them more noisy. So it would seem as far as Freeds are concerned the same materials are still used, and they are not looking to change things.

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:D Following my earlier post on this, I decided recently to find out more about this subject,

As one of Freed's factories is at Norwich, near where I live, I telephoned their Assistant Manager, and had a very interesting conversation with her. She told me that the process of manufacturing where they are concerned has not changed over hundreds of years. Each shoe is handmade to the Dancers pattern and requirements. which can mean a different end to the toe area, more or less paste, all adding to the effeciancy in peformance. She agreed that shoes sometimes are more noisy than others, and suggested it could be down to more than one reason. That the shoes had not been broken in properly, to the fact dance mats are used on stages, that the shoes are made harder at the Dancers request, thus making them more noisy. So it would seem as far as Freeds are concerned the same materials are still used, and they are not looking to change things.

Thank you for that interesting information.

I also hate noisy shoes especially when a whole corps de ballet clatters. It started with principals in various companies in the late 1960.s and hit various corps de ballets in the 1980's as far as I can recall.

Is it the result of over use of the microwave oven?

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Nanarina, you have the soul of an investigative journalist. Thank you for your research!

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There's a segment in Magic of the Dance where Margot Fonteyn traces the evolution of the pointe shoe from the time of Taglioni (when women were really dancing purely on their toes, literally) to the present day pointe shoe. She said that Anna Pavlova's pointe shoes were made by some shoemaster named Nicolini who had a magic potion of making the shoes extremely strong and supportive without being noisy. She said that when Nicolini died he took his secrets of how to make these strong, quiet shoes to the grave. :D

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No matter how Nicolini made them, they never hit the stage that way. Pavlova made something of a parade of her preparation of pointe shoes, which she would get in lots of 100 shoes at a time. On opening the crate, if there were witnesses present, she would go into High Dramatic form, and weep and swear that not a single shoe was good enough. Then would come mitigation, where she admitted, well, maybe some of these things could be salvaged. She then set upon an orgy of ripping, hammering, slamming in doors, and other mayhem against the shoes. A shank in this one would be better in that one, the outsole on these needed to be hammered flatter, and of course, ending with the inevitable darning of the shoe. After all they went through, those brand-new shoes needed it, just to hang together. Many students today continue to darn their shoes, even though they don't go through the rest of the process, and the shoes generally don't need it. Hangover from Pavlova.

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:tiphat: Thank uyou all for your posts, I was very keen to find out more about this matter, so contacted Freeds.

On the POB La Sylphide DVD , there is a documentary about Taglioni, and how she improved her shoes to be able to dance on pointe. Pierre Lacotte, found the original costume lists, and for her, added was so many ppieces of cardboard. I t appears she strengthened the shoes, by using the cardboard and paint. I wonder if she was one of the first Dancers to do this?

Back to more recent times, certainly in the 60/70's girls were breaking in their shoes, like already mentioned, shutting them in doors, hitting them on concrete (The Opera House stairs were a favourite spot) cutting off the satin from the end of the block, and darning them. Some people removed all or part of the inner sole, or bent the metal strip underneath it. The outside would atill look new and clean, but the actual shoes were made much softer.

I really dislike the sound of noisy shoes, it really spoils the illusion fopr me. It is very off putting to hear a loud thud when the otherwise graceful Dancer lands. You sometimes even get Men landing badly, with a loud thump, but their shoes cannot really be blamed for it, maybe it is the floor, or simply they do not bother to mute their landings.

I must say with ABT at the Coliseum in Le Corsaire, they were not noisy, neither was Onegin at the Palais Garnier. Which delighted me, as sometimes on DVD I have noticed certain members of the cast can sound noisy. The Ballerina's shoes nowadays often look so prestine, it makes you wonder what they have done to their shoes.

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bent the metal strip underneath it.

Metal strip? The two nails? The staple? The shank, except in specially made shoes (usually for men), is made of leather or composition.

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Metal strip? :lol:

I am not a fan of Russian made shoes, and prefer anything but.

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spot-spot, are you saying that from the perspective of a dancer who has danced in Russian shoes, or from an audience member perspective? Or, do you have a different perspective all together? :lol:

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bent the metal strip underneath it.

Metal strip? The two nails? The staple? The shank, except in specially made shoes (usually for men), is made of leather or composition.

I don't know if still available, but Schachtner's used to have an option for a steel shank...I danced with a girl who had those 'super banana feet' that used them.

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