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April 03, 2018
Authors, Robyn L. Hartley & Sarah Wood
Ballet is steeped in tradition. As it should be. Traditions carry the art form from one generation to the next and ensure the longevity of classical technique. However, it can also be argued that maintaining tradition for the sake of tradition might not always be the wisest path to take. Artists need to have an open mind to new technology, safer alternatives, and industry trends or they may find themselves left behind in other dancers’ dust.
Remember when the classical tutu first arrived on the Parisian ballet scene in 1832 and ignited an indecent exposure controversy? That was the same year, pointe shoes debuted onstage. Wow, times have changed! Now shorter and much more revealing tutus are the sweetheart of costumes and loved by dancers and audiences alike. In contrast, not much has changed when it comes to pointe shoes. Most styles are still being constructed the same way.
Enter Gaynor Minden: The pointe shoe that has been offering “new” rules to the tradition of ballet because the old rules didn’t seem to be serving everyone as well as everyone assumed. The creator of the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe, Eliza Minden, was perplexed why pointe shoes are so antiquated. Other athletes accept modernized equipment that offers all the difference in the comfort, safety, and enjoyment of their particular sport but ballerinas — the most elite athletes of all — are still dancing in shoes that haven’t seen much improvement over 185 years.
Think of the advancement of golf clubs, tennis rackets, snow skis, and basketball shoes… can you imagine these athletes using equipment that originated in the 1800’s? No way. Maybe it is time to embrace some change in the sport of ballet after all.
Where Is The Love? Like anything new in the ballet industry, Gaynor Minden was not greeted with open arms. Teachers and dancers were skeptical of the newly patented, technically-advanced, plastic shank. A Gaynor Minden pointe shoe doesn’t break down thus not letting the dancer experience the life-cycle of an old-fashioned, traditional, cardboard and burlap shank.
In case you are new to the construction of pointe shoes, here’s a little background:
Traditional pointe shoes have a beginning, middle, and an end. Shanks, which can be considered the “sole” of a pointe shoe, start out stiff and inflexible. After hours of dancing and sweating in the shoes, the cardboard, burlap, sometimes leather, and glue starts to loosen and becomes pliable which most dancers call “the sweet spot”. Eventually, with more dancing and more sweating, the shanks become too pliable, break, and die. Time to purchase a new pair before injury sets in and the cycle repeats itself.
Sometimes the death of a pointe shoe happens after one long day of rehearsal. Professionals may go through 3-6 pairs of pointe shoes in one performance! Other dancers who are only dancing a couple of hours a week may keep their shoes alive for 3-5 months. The industry claims that a typical pointe shoe lasts for less than 20 hours of pointe work. That is not much considering most young ballerinas dance en pointe at least two hours every week.
So when Gaynor Minden’s revolutionary pointe shoes hit the market and offered a fantastic solution for replacing pointe shoes so quickly - actually proving the shoe lasts 3x’s as long as the traditional shoe - surprisingly they hit resistance.
Simply put, dancing on a plastic shank was foreign to the industry and unfortunately most people, especially ballet teachers, simply don’t like change. And since I am a ballet teacher myself, I say that with love and appreciation.
Now that Gaynor Minden has been in business for over 20 years, there are 1000’s of positive testimonials floating around from new dancers to professionals. Also, as those young dancers of the past have grown up to become teachers themselves, traditions slowly evolve.
One evolving tradition is the expectation that a dancer’s feet must suffer en pointe as a rite of passage. Not true anymore. Pointe work will never feel “good” to the feet, but teachers and dancers have a better understanding of the physical demands required for pointe work and what it takes to help protect dancer’s toes, metatarsals, arches, ankles, and Achilles tendons. Because of their unique construction, Gaynor Mindens help protect dancer’s feet and teachers definitely appreciate that. (Dance moms too).
The old myth that dancers must tolerate severe pain has dissipated but some myths about the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe still remain. Here are two of the most common that you may hear from your studio, teacher, or fellow dancer:
Myth #1- Cheater, Cheater! You’ll still hear the old misconception that Gaynor Mindens are a “cheater shoe” because the shank is plastic and doesn’t break-down. The origin of this rumor was rooted in lack of understanding because ballet teachers assumed that a plastic shank would stay stiff and inflexible like a brand new traditional shank and never establish that “sweet spot”.
If dancers dance on too hard shanks, one result is “popping” up to pointe while bypassing demi-pointe altogether. Also, with the shank staying stiff the dancer does not need to support herself in the shoe while en pointe because the shoe will literally do all the work for her.
Finally, a too hard shank will hold a dancer’s foot back and not allow them to push over the box. Of course, these three things combined - no rolling up, no working to remain on pointe, and no proper alignment - does, indeed, produce weak dancers and opens Pandora’s box to a myriad of potential injuries.
MYTH BUSTED: Any pointe shoe can be a “cheater shoe” if it is ill-fitted; hindering a dancer’s ability with a combination of problems, too hard shanks being one of them. Following this logic - if the dancer was placed in the correct shoe and shank for their foot, problems like “popping” onto pointe would not arise. Working through the metatarsals in demi-pointe, supporting themselves while en pointe, and being over their box would all happen with a correctly fitted pointe shoe.
Same goes for Gaynor Mindens. A good fit is a good fit. A bad fit is a bad fit.
As more and more dancers try Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, they’re pleasantly surprised that the exact opposite of the “cheater” myth is true. Yes, the Gaynor Minden has a plastic shank - one that does not break down - but the shank is not only pliable but it's customizable.
Dancers who like a broken-in, almost dead, pointe shoe can get that same effect with a Gaynor Minden Feather or Supple Shank which feels extremely pliable. No matter how many hours of dance, the shank will stay in that "sweet spot".
Dancers with particularly strong feet and arches are the ones who usually break their pointe shoes the fastest. This dancer needs extra arch support and may need a stronger shank (but not always) like an Extra-Flex or Hard Shank.
No matter which of the 5 different shank strengths a dancer chooses - stiff and inflexible does not describe any of them. If someone thinks Gaynor Minden’s plastic shanks are rigid, they have obviously never tried them on.
Myth #2- Beginners Beware! Some have claimed Gaynor Mindens are a good choice for the more experienced dancer due to their longer lifespan, but beginners en pointe should steer clear of them. This misinformation is backed up by suggesting a new dancer should experience the lifespan of a traditional shoe and that the shoe is too comfortable and does not properly prepare younger dancers for the rigorous work of pointe training.
MYTH BUSTED: Gaynor Mindens are not constructed the same as traditional pointe shoes. They are constructed more like an athletic shoe with padding, shock-absorbers, and a flexible but strong shank. With the correct fit, everything mentioned earlier will fall in line: working through demi-pointe, supporting themselves en pointe, being over the box, etc. Everything these young dancers will get from a traditional shoe except immediately - no breaking in period.
Gaynor Mindens are an excellent choice for beginners because the shoe encourages proper alignment of the foot and ankle for the entire life of the shoe. When new pointe dancers dance in a traditional shoe, their foot alignment changes as the shoe changes. We already covered why it’s a disadvantage to dance on too hard of a shank, but dancing on a broken shank can be downright dangerous.
Since Gaynors support the correct alignment of the foot, they also minimize winging and sickling of the ankle - two things which can cause severe injury. In addition, they have shock absorbing materials that alleviate pressure on a dancer’s joints. All of this means beginners have the opportunity to have a safer introduction into the world of pointe.
Marina Leonova, the Director of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia said in 2017: “Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are high quality, professional ballet footwear, ideally suited for beginners as well as experienced dancers. In these shoes, it is possible to achieve a truly perfect fit, thus minimizing injuries and general discomfort. The shoes are stable, perfectly balanced, and create a beautiful line of the foot.”
One part of this myth is true though - the shoe will feel more comfortable than a traditional pointe shoe because of the soft inside fabric and the various layers of Poron foam that surround the toes, metatarsals, the bottom of the foot and the heel. No shoe can take away all the discomfort of pointe work, but there is no real gain in choosing pain when less pain is available.
Protecting the feet of all dancers is so very important. This is one thing all of us ballet teachers can agree on. One injury could put her on the sidelines or out of the game for a long time. That is devastating to a dancer.
Encore, Encore! Change is hard. Particularly when it pushes stubbornly against what we have known and loved. The bottom line is that pointe shoes are individual to the dancer. Every dancer must find the shoe that best finishes their line and serves their technique.
The magic sauce in any pointe shoe is the fitting. Professional pointe shoe fittings are a must. For Gaynor Mindens it is important to see a fitter who understands how this particular shoe is made, functions, and fits.
Breaking rules, breaking bad, breaking tradition - whatever you call it - these pointe shoes have earned their rightful place in the ballet world. They’re here to stay and we’re all the better for it.
Watch the ladies of Gaynor Minden debunk 8 common myths, some we covered in the blog post, but it always helps to hear it from the experts. St Louis Dancewear is proud to be a Gaynor Minden retailer.
We offer professional pointe shoe fittings and would love to help you with your next pointe shoe shopping experience!
To schedule a fitting call (314) 733-5678 or visit our website, www.stlouisdancewear.com.
*Author Disclaimer: Sarah Wood is the owner of St. Louis Dancewear