These are pointe shoes, made for ballerinas who sometimes dance ‘en pointe’, or on their tip toes. One shoe has never been worn (although it’s been handled a lot as it’s part of the Hand-on collection), and the other is well used. The toes of both of them are hard. They have had multiple layers of glue, paper and burlap applied inside to make this sturdy squared ‘toe box’ to support the dancer when up on her toes. Both shoes are made of silk satin. The newer one feels smooth and satiny. It it has two long ribbons that criss-cross up the leg and are tied to keep the slipper securely on the ballerina’s foot.
Ballet dancers have strong opinions about their shoes. They sew their own ribbons on so that they can place them exactly where it feels right for their foot. They might ‘break’ the sole to make it easier to achieve the perfect position for their foot when en pointe. Sometime they do this by slamming a door on the sole!
The used ballet shoe belonged to Evelyn Hart, who danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for almost 50 years. She gave them to the Hands-on collection so that people would see what hard work it is to dance ballet. Ballet shoes wear out very quickly as the soft silk satin beats down on the hard wooden dance floor. Notice the soles of Evelyn Hart’s shoes. She has cut a piece out right where the arch of her foot would bend, making it easier to position her foot in the perfect way.
Fun fact: A professional ballet dancer might go through as many as 65 pair of ballet shoes a month!
In ballet, the foot is considered an extension of the leg. This means that a dancer’s slippers have to be the same as their skin tone to create a clean line from leg to toe. Ballet shoes used to be either pink or peach-coloured. That didn’t work for dancers with darker skin. They had to colour their shoes with makeup or paint to match their skin colour. Happily, since 2018 a company has started to produce darker shades so that every ballet dancer can easily achieve the graceful look of the long leg and foot.
Activity to try
You will need: a balloon for each dancer, and some great dance music. Get started with Footloose!
Balloon dancing is not exactly ballet dancing, but it’s a lot of fun. It helps make you better at coordinating your hands and feet.
Get the music going. Give each dancer a balloon. They must juggle the balloon in the air without letting it drop to the ground. Try dancing on your tip toes to appreciate the challenges ballet dancers face. Don’t let that balloon fall to the floor!