Pointe shoes, let’s talk about them! Notoriously known for their beautiful addition to ballet dancers’ lines and feet, their history and unique structure make for an interesting topic of conversation. In this interview with Anamarie McGinn, Orlando Ballet’s Shoe Manager, we discussed why each dancer needs a specific shoe, the newest in the industry, and why shoes, in general, are such a principal component to ballet.
- We all know that dancers have unique preferences when it comes to their pointe shoes. Can you spill the beans on some of the most interesting and unusual requests you have received from dancers? How do you make sure their wishes are fulfilled?
Over the years I have spent in this position I have seen a few unique requests yes, I had one dancer who used to order two completely different shoes, different styles, one for her left foot and one for her right because she had one very strong and flexible foot and one not as much, it was an interesting system we had going so I just ordered her half and half and she would switch each pair as she went but it worked great for her! Although, most of the ladies here at OB are quite easy to accommodate, and after years of working with them it gets easier and easier on my end to meet their expectations since we work closely each day in the studios
- When it comes to specialty shoes for performances, things can get pretty creative. Can you share a fascinating example of a performance that required exceptionally unique footwear? How did you go about fulfilling that request?
Yes, there have been a few interesting requests over the years! For example, when we performed Val Caniparoli’s A Cinderella Story, there was a ballroom scene and I had to purchase lots of ballroom shoes, something I had not had to order before and/or dance in myself! It was tough getting the sizing correct because they run very differently than typical shoes, I am familiar with ordering, but after some trial and error I was able to figure out the sizing and the dancers enjoyed the scene very much! Another example would be when we performed Artistic Director Jorden Morris’ The Great Gatsby. For the character of Tom, there were some riding boots he wore throughout the ballet that had to be custom made and tailored to the men’s feet exactly, I had to take several different measurements of their feet, calves, and shin bone. Then I had to send them off to China to get them custom made, since there is nothing like them on the market, if I were to purchase just a standard riding boot then the men would not be able to dance in them since they typically have a very hard sole, and we needed something very flexible that still had the aesthetic of a true riding boot. So, I was able to get two pairs custom made in just a few months!
- As a company dancer and shoe manager, you have the insider knowledge! Are there any secrets or hacks you can share about selecting and fitting pointe shoes? Any tips that aspiring dancers should know?
Over the many years I have been in this position I have personally learned so much! I usually have a deeply knowledgeable rep from Freed of London come every other year to do fittings for all the company ladies. Over time I have been able to soak in lots of interesting and useful information from her, and just from also wearing custom shoes myself it’s a huge help! I think some of the most important things to consider when fitting pointe shoes are; make sure first that you are choosing a shoe that is right for YOU, many dancers try shoes because they work for or look really nice on other dancers and they get fixated on that aspect rather than going for a shoe that will work for your foot/training level. Another thing I would suggest is while it’s important to focus on how the shoe fits overall, try to walk around a bit in them if you can, many dancer just focus on how they feel when you are up en pointe at the barre and what they look like there but make sure to check and see how they feel in general, are you going to be able to move in them, not just stand up en pointe in a stagnant position.
- Ballet footwear has evolved over the years, with innovative designs and technologies. Could you enlighten us about some of the recent advancements in ballet shoe technology? How do these innovations impact the dancers’ performance?
Lots of new developments are on the rise for ballet shoes these days, yes! Perhaps the most popular advancement in the past few years has been the introduction of stretch canvas. Almost every vendor out there has a version if not several of a stretch canvas shoe now. There are pros and cons to this as I have heard through other dancers, I personally don’t use a stretch option myself, some love it, some don’t. The dancers who are all for it love that they move with their feet and most importantly are super comfortable. The dancers with less positive feedback usually say that they don’t really like how the shoe can shift around on them, especially in pirouettes. Overall, I guess I may be old school, but I have stuck to my Bloch Canvas Pump’s now for over a decade, and I love them…no stretch and all. Another advancement in the pointe shoe industry has been the introduction of plastic shanks, Gaynor Minden’s, and reusable/replaceable shanks by So Danca. Both technologies have really helped dancers with shoe life, which is important because pointe shoes are growing increasingly expensive!
- The Orlando Ballet is known for its collaborations with world-renowned choreographers and productions. Can you tell us about a particularly exciting collaboration where the shoes played a crucial role in bringing the choreography to life? How did you handle the unique challenges that arose?
I think, as mentioned in the question above regarding A Cinderella Story, that was a good example of this. Also, recently in Jorden Morris’ production of Moulin Rouge®The Ballet we have a Tango scene, where all the dancers dance a tango together, its lots of precise and sensual movement, and I had to order some special character shoes, they were kind of a hybrid of a conventional character shoe and a ballroom shoe with a flexible sole so the ladies were comfortable with turns and such. Overall, it was such an epic and powerful scene, but transitioning from pointe shoes to tango shoes was a challenge. You must be much more grounded in this type of movement, and it takes a lot of focus and practice to perfect this type of movement, but once we all adjusted to the shoes it was fantastic!
- What strategies do you employ to assess the unique needs and preferences of each dancer when it comes to selecting and fitting their pointe shoes? How do you ensure their comfort and performance are maximized?
I first like to get an idea of what the dancer’s needs are, usually for any new dancers joining the company who I have not worked with I like to have a few conversations one on one to get an idea of where they are at with their current shoes, and what they like and what they maybe would like to tweak. Communication is key in this role, and I think the dancers have become extremely comfortable coming to me to ask about any of their needs/concerns, which is super important. Then once I have an idea of what they are looking for I like to have them try different options if they are looking for a new shoe, if not, I will give options of what we can do to customize their current shoe to make it optimal for them moving forward. Overall, the most important thing really is communication.
There you have it! There are many distinct factors that Anamarie must consider when working with the dancers and their shoes. Something as small and simple as a shoe with a couple layers of fabric, paper, and cardboard, makes the largest difference to our ballet company and our dancers’ performances. Thank you for reading our blog “To the Pointe,” and be on the lookout for more!
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