Life en Pointe – Pointe Shoes and their Significance
by Lidia Haderaj
June 5, 2023
Most dancers lace up their first pair of pointe shoes between the ages of 10 and 12, taking their inaugural steps into a career of passion and discipline. The soloist, the principal or the corps dancer, before class, will sit in a deep concentration as she takes her new shoes out of their wrapping and begins the process of making them her own. Ten, even fifteen years before, you could find her doing the same thing – breaking the shank, measuring the ribbons, carefully darning the perimeter of the platform. Her pointe shoes have been her close companions. They represent something larger than her, but also what makes her part of such a complex and beautiful artform.
Chelsy Meiss in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Every pointe shoe tells a story, and every dancer has a special relationship with the tool that supports her craft. This month, First Soloist Chelsy Meiss and Corps de Ballet Member Tene Ward reflected on the significance of their pointe shoes throughout their careers. Chelsy received her first pair of pointe shoes at the age of 10, the youngest in her class to do so. She recounts the story with great fondness, remembering the excitement and the pain of standing on her toes for the first time. Tene described her first experience en pointe as the moment she fell in love with ballet, stepping into a new phase of her journey as a dancer. Symbolically, the pointe shoe represents the very root of ballet, an enabler of talent and expression.
As the story goes, the shoe seldom fits on the first try. While going en pointe is thrilling, it is also incredibly uncomfortable. Young ballerinas must learn how to morph their shoes to perfectly complement their feet. Tene calls her shoes her “second skin” but achieving that level of comfort comes down to preparing the shoe. Chelsey cleverly called it “her second job”, preparing up to 20 pairs of pointe shoes per production. With swift movements and precise technique (aided by scissors, hammers, “Stanley knives” and scrapers dancers carry with them in their bags) watching a ballet dancer prepare her pointe shoes is just as thrilling as watching her onstage.
At The National Ballet of Canada, the pointe shoe has gone through changes that we are proud to share with the world. Reflecting on the idea of the pointe shoe being a second skin, dancer Tene Ward belongs to the generation of dancers who are now able to get their pointe shoes customized to match their skin tone, a change spearheaded by Hope Muir. Tene remembers her performance of Balanchine’s Symphony in C from the March season with immense pride and appreciation, especially to Lacey Harrington, Footwear Coordinator, who worked with several artists to perfectly match the pointe shoes, ribbons, thread, and tights to their skin tones. The National Ballet was the first company to see its dancers perform Symphony in C in shoes and tights that matched their skin tones.
Artists of the Ballet in Symphony in C. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Ballet possesses a mystique, a kind of veil that is seldom lifted for the public. The rigour and beauty of ballet manifest in the pointe shoe. As an extension of the dancer’s body, the shoes make a great deal possible onstage. A new vocabulary of dance is accessed en pointe, elevating the performance and opening a world of capabilities for the dancers otherwise impossible. “The shoe is everything” explains Chelsy. “Shoes make us our most authentic and beautiful selves when we’re dancing.” Tene affirms this saying: “when I have the perfect pair of shoes, I trust myself, I have full confidence in myself. There is a kind of freedom out there on that stage.”
To end off the 2022/23 season, The National Ballet of Canada is launching its Pointe Shoe Fund inspired by the universality and importance of the pointe shoe in ballet. Help keep the dancers on their toes and donate today!
Pointe Shoe Fund Video
Pointe Shoe Fund