As studios seek the best pointe shoes for their dancers and dance retailers build their inventories to provide just the right shoe for each customer, here’s a look at how pointe shoe makers are refining existing styles, introducing new models and adopting the latest technology and materials.
Pointe shoe makers may not yet be 3-D printing custom shoes to fit each dancer’s foot, as one design-school grad imagined. But as the dance world ventures into a new decade, so, too, do pointe shoes: They’re trending toward more comfort—and a lighter, sleeker, more contemporary style. “It’s not your grandmother’s shoe anymore,” says Josephine Lee of The Pointe Shop. “It needs to work through the dancer’s foot and function well, while also looking like a beautiful shoe. There are so many more options now, so there’s no one brand that is perfect for all dancers. It really depends on how functional each dancer feels in a particular shoe.”
Dance Business Weekly spoke with several pointe shoe manufacturers to hear about their latest models and pointe innovations.
Eager to respond to customer feedback, Capezio has been innovating over the past few years to create shoes that are more comfortable, more durable and more beautiful. The Kylee is the softest shank that Capezio currently offers. “It’s great for professionals who want a performance-ready shoe,” says Capezio’s pointe shoe specialist Nikki Azadi. “It’s also very good for girls just starting out, because of how soft and gentle it will feel, and excellent for dancers coming back from an injury.” The low profile of the shoe sits under the Achilles to relieve pressure on the tendon, with the aim of reducing injury.
The Phoenix is Capezio’s newest model, available at many dance retail stores starting this month. The contemporary look of the shoe (a bias seam instead of a side seam and no pleating on the back) is accompanied by a comfortable suede insole, feathered wings and plush elastic binding. The construction allows this light, soft shoe to hold up well, and a flat, big platform will give confidence to beginner students. “Professionals like how quiet the shoe is,” says Azadi. “It’s really an extension of you, and students just starting out will be rewarded with very pretty feet.” The Phoenix is also available in a double-narrow width for those dancers with very narrow feet, which are a challenge for some fitters.
Bloch’s line of Stretch pointe shoes addresses one of the biggest complaints from pointe dancers—bagginess around the heel when they go on pointe (the so-called disappearing heel). To solve this, Bloch created a stretch satin that fits snugly when a dancer is on pointe, then stretches as she comes down to flat. (A suede inner-heel also prevents slippage when rolling up.) The stretch satin works well in tandem with a split outsole, something not usually seen on a pointe shoe. (The Synthesis Stretch pointe style has a full outsole.) The “relevéase” shank has laser-precision scores that help it flex, for a smoother roll from demi-pointe to pointe, and then hold, for stability while on pointe.
One of the latest trends making its way into the pointe world is experimenting with new materials. The star of Só Dança’s Joy shoe is thermoplastic called Elektra Tech, which is used for the box/shank housing and the shanks. The shoe is designed not to break down with use, and it starts out broken-in for a dancer’s demi-pointe. The Joy also comes with customizable shanks that are heated and molded to fit your foot. “We are able to grow with the young dancer,” explains Kelly McCaughey, Só Dança’s North American sales and marketing director. “Dancers can get refitted for different shanks as their feet develop.”
The shoe is also designed to be used without a toe pad. “I’ve had some fantastic first-time fits with girls who, in a traditional shoe, would never know what it’s truly like without a toe pad,” says McCaughey. Following the contemporary design trend, the shoe has no side seams and, surprisingly, no drawstring either, to take pressure off the Achilles tendon. Environmentally conscious dancers and retailers may have reservations about the synthetic material, which will not break down and disintegrate like the materials in a traditional shoe. The Joy is only available in stores that have been trained by the “Elektra Specialist Army.” A full list is available at sodanca.com/elektra-retailers.
For many years, Gaynor Minden offered the 3 box or the 4 box—either very tapered or very wide. Now, Gaynor Minden’s 3+ box not only gives retailers a happy in-between option for their customers, but also a beautiful shape. “We made more space for width without making it square,” explains Eliza Gaynor Minden. The wider platform will also give dancers greater stability on pointe, allowing them to wear a more flexible shank for a better roll-through and demi-pointe.
Gaynor Minden also offers a variety of satin colors, including brown satins in cappuccino, mocha and espresso. “Dancers should always be able to choose the color of their pointe shoe; they’re adult professional artists,” says Minden. New colors may not yet be widely carried by retailers as they test the market for the demands of certain shades.
Russian Pointe has been proud of its best-selling shoe, the Rubin, but knew there were modifications that could be made to fit a broader range of dancers. First, fitters were sometimes finding too much room in the heel, or too much fabric. Then the company wanted to update its shank technology to make it more flexible. And the European market was loving suede tips at the platform, which actually were extending its lifespan. Russian Pointe decided to put all of the features into one shoe—the Rubin Radiance.
Officially launched in August 2019, the shank of the Rubin Radiance is a true three-quarter without an extension through the heel. It also has an altered flexibility point under the center, to give dancers a different sensation when rolling through demi-pointe. While the box shape remains the same, the Rubin Radiance does have a narrowed heel. The look is contemporary—a double-lined satin gives the foot a more streamlined appearance. “The satin holds its shape more, so you don’t get as much wrinkling as you move through the foot,” explains Megan Feuchsl, Russian Pointe’s director of business development. However, the Rubin Radiance is only available at this time in a U-cut and Vamp 2, so dancers will have fewer options than with the Rubin, and those who prefer a harder shank may find sticking with the Rubin suits them better.
The Bottom Line
Dancers themselves may pioneer some of the pointe shoe innovations of the future. In 2018, high-school junior Abigail Freed, a South Carolina ballet dancer, won an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair award for her design of a carbon fiber shank. Frustrated with having to replace her pointe shoes after every performance, she had researched materials for a more durable shank and then experimented with various thicknesses of carbon fiber until she had the firmness that suited her foot. Her shank insert lasted longer—and saved on costs, too. The young inventor has applied for a provisional patent for her idea.
Amy Shope is a dance teacher and writer based in Greensboro, NC.