Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Backstage at ballet school

The grimy platforms of a student’s shoes

The bonding of pointes: I imagine men have something similar, perhaps military training that combines hard work, pain and the satisfaction of overcoming difficulty to do something well. For women, from the age of 10 or 12 when a girl gets her first pair of pointes until she hangs up her last pair of toe-shoes she is part of several hundred years of tradition of suffering for her career in the art of classical ballet. Her training starts much earlier of course with the strengthening of her feet, ankles legs and really her entire young body to provide the proper support and line when her bones harden enough to support her weight en pointe. A year or so before a girl is officially allowed to wear toe-shoes she is fitted with demi-pointes. Demi-pointes have blocked toe boxes but are shankless. The purpose of demi-pointe shoes is to accustom the student to the restrictive feel of the blocked toe box and to sewing and tying the ribbons on her shoes w/o giving her the support to stand en pointe that would have the potential to damage young bones. Of course in ballet boarding schools the girls are wearing a friend’s dead pointes around the dorm long before they are officially allowed en pointe in school approved and correctly fitted toe-shoes.

Over the years of a girls schooling and career in ballet hours and hours are spent sitting in groups on studio floors, stages and in dressing rooms sewing ribbons and elastics and darning platforms and gossiping about faculty, administrators, guest teachers and male partners as well as celebrity dancers who are guest artists. If it isn’t school or company politics its sex, who are making or breaking up with whom. A circle of dancers working on their pointes is an amazing source of gossip and rumor some of which may even be correct, but it spices up the boredom of waiting to dance and the time until we can be alone with men.

Platform traction: There are a number of ways to increase the grip of pointe shoe platforms on the surface to be performed on. One is to trim the satin off the platforms to allow the weave of the under-fabric to grip the floor. Another way to increase the grip on most floors is to moisten the platform. When doing that water from any source can be used; a fountain, the dancer’s personal hydrator (her water bottle) or saliva or even sweat. One of the ways to retain a boyfriend’s interest in a student’s pointes during her training is to give him a hand-job and then smear the semen on the platforms of her shoes. That can be a great bonding experience if she uses a dance partner’s ejaculate, but they do have to be practicing in private. A guy having his ejaculate used that way is a sign the girl thinks he’s wicked hot! And, there is the traditional method of stepping into a rosin box filled with powdered rosin, but that can be messy if wearing pointes around the house or while out partying.

Other methods of increasing traction if dancing on polished surfaces are: coating the platforms and soles with rubber cement or using poured rubber sole and toe caps which are sometimes called cabaret plates. On wooden studio floors and stages the surface is sprinkled with water before class, rehearsal or performance. To hold the backs of pointes on the heel, in addition to elastics, wetting the backs and tights with water or applying a bit of Elmer’s glue between a tights covered heel and the back will help keep the heel from slipping out.

The right and left of pointe shoes: Once they start breaking in new pointes most dancers mark a pair of pointes with an L and R to designate the left and right shoes since most pointe shoes do not come footed from the maker, so initially can be worn on either foot assuming the dancer’s feet are the same size, which is not always the case. The only asymmetrical pointe shoe (left & right) that I’ve worn is the Repetto Willis # 505 that has a full carbon fiber shank. It’s a personal preference as to whether to mark the shoes on the outer or inner sole and usually if the marking is on the outer sole it’s done unobtrusively with a blue or black ballpoint pen. Then there are young students who get carried away with a red felt-tip marker. Sigh! If a girl in my class is marking her shoes that way (it shows a gap in her training) I soon set her straight, but I rarely teach girls that young unless I’m teaching a special class at St Lucy’s and she is a transfer student in the class. Marking pointe shoes is covered in the classes on preparation and maintenance (taught when a girl gets her first pair of pointes) including sewing ribbons, platform preparation - which includes darning and crocheting - breaking in the shanks and boxes w/o destroying the shoes and with the new technology shoes (Bloch and Gaynor’s and Gamba among others) adjusting the arch of the shanks with a hair dryer and refrigerator.

Pointe shoes as weapons: I also teach basic self defense in pointe shoes as a last resort. The first thing is to try think ahead so you don’t get caught in a dangerous situation. If a girl finds herself in trouble she should try and get away w/o becoming physically involved. However, if the girl is wearing pointes shoes her running speed will be limited and when running in pointes it is easy to slip and fall so she will almost certainly be caught. So what I recommend is for girls taking pointe to practice kicking hitting with the platforms of their pointes. A well placed kick can disable an attacker, but accuracy is crucial because after the first kick the element of surprise is lost. So it’s important that a girl practice kicking to put he platform exactly where she wants it. Ballet training increases accurate placement of the feet so if she isn’t too shaken the chances of hitting what she aims for is pretty good. As a last resort it’s certainly worth a try.

Graduation pregnancies: It’s that time of year. In some high schools there are girls with low self-esteem, who think it’s cool to get pregnant by someone, usually, but not always, a steady BF. They think when preggers they can sweat the guy, scandalize their parents and get attention for themselves all with a single medical condition. The girl’s intention is almost always to terminate within 8 weeks so they can take Mifeprex, but young minds change and a very few carry to term and give the baby up for adoption. That way they can start college after a gap year and get on with their lives.

I’m pleased to say that while sexually active none of the students at St Lucy’s are interested in becoming preggers before completing their education, establishing a career and finding a life partner, not necessarily a husband, although, husbands come with a lot of important legal protections for wives who relinquish their careers to raise a family. Giving up a career in ballet (not just taking a year off to give birth) for 15 years to raise children effectively ends any chance of having a meaningful career as a dancer.

The male pill: In feminist publications there is a lot of angst about the lack of a male pill. I don’t understand what all the wailing and gnashing of teeth is about! Even if a male contraceptive pill was available today I wouldn’t trust men to take it. It might be ok in marriage or in a monogamous relationship, but any woman who is into multiple partners for recreational sex would be fooling herself if she trusted guys to take it correctly or at all. “Yeah sweetie, I’m on the pill. I’m shootn’ blanks hon!” Oh yeah! Right! You know that overall the pills that women take are only 92% effective, right? That’s because so many of us don’t take them correctly. And we are the ones who get pregnant! Go figure! For a guy who can just walk away from a birth control accident while his partner looses her bikini bod as his ‘gift’ grows in her belly there isn’t much motivation to use a hormonal contraceptive correctly, unless he’s really into her as much emotionally as he is physically and that’s a very stressful way for a girl to find out.


  1. A few questions/points for you, Jill:

    1) About demi pointes (though I'll also ask my gal pal Yvette about it too): If the shoe has no support to go into pointe, is the purpose only to get the girl's feet used to them? What if a girl does try to go en pointe in a pair of those?

    2) I also see dance sneakers sold in dancewear catalogs, and they say that you can go en pointe in them, too. Anyone you know wear them? I would think they'd be more in a jazz/hip hop/modern setting rather than ballet.

    3) Male chemical/hormonal sterilization: I know you're sceptical about that, but I would think that instead of a daily pill that many women take to prevent ovulation, guys could use a weekly or monthly shot or pill or patch that would temporarily leave a guy sterile. Of course, there would be a reliability factor of the guy actually taking those doses.

  2. Hi Eric,

    >is the purpose [of demi-pointes] only to get the girl's feet used to them?

    Basically yes the blocked toe box can be difficult for some girls to get used to. Demi-pointes are used primarily for the RAD syllabus and were used in the boarding school I attended. I found them valuable as a transitional shoe as they taught the students to sew ribbons, elastics and to darn their platforms before they ever (officially) went en pointe.

    >What if a girl does try to go en pointe in a pair of those?

    There are no supportive shanks in demi-pointes so a young student can rise to ¾ pointe but couldn’t stand en pointe in them. An advanced student could stand en point in them briefly as some girls can stand en pointe barefoot briefly. But again, since there is no support a beginning student couldn’t stay on her toes in demi-pointes. Worse, she might hurt herself trying. That’s why we all used to beg or buy dead pointes from older students so we could wear them around the dorms.

    >Anyone you know wear them [dance sneakers]? I would think they'd be more in a jazz/hip hop/modern setting rather than ballet.

    Dance sneaks are more for contemporary ballet and hip-hop. I like to think that my dancers perform more erotically in pointe shoes… better lines and with the ribbons tied securely around the ankles there is a whiff of bondage…

    >I would think that instead of a daily pill that many women take to prevent ovulation, guys could use a weekly or monthly shot or pill or patch that would temporarily leave a guy sterile.

    Well, what the feminists want is a mix of hormones that will leave a man sterile, but with his libido in tact and not too many annoying side effects. And that sort of thing doesn’t exist yet. It’s suspected that the large Pharma companies aren’t spending much on research in the area of male hormonal contraceptives because they don’t think there will be a market for it and I tend to agree with them.

    There are already anti-androgen drugs, such as cyproterone or the birth-control drug Depo-Provera that are used for ‘chemical castration’ of male sex offenders. These drugs can reduce sex drive, compulsive sexual fantasies, and capacity for sexual arousal, but I don’t think they make a man sterile and they are used to shut his urges down so aren’t satisfactory to give a man from whom a woman wants a virile male performance.

    My point is that I don’t think a woman who is sexually active with several men can count on them to use a male hormonal contraceptive correctly regardless of how simple it is to take.

  3. What's this say about me as I mark my pointes with a red marker, and put either a L or R inside one shoe, for no known reason I never mark both shoes. It does make it easer when sewing on ribbons which I normaly do in groups of three.

    I do have some dance sneakers that I use for Modern and Jazz and yes they do give support like a pointe but there is no box just the whole foot is enclosed with extra support so you can go on pointe. They do give your foot a nice shape and nice lines but there is no sex appeal at all. I never wear mine with pink tights, only with black leggings as they look so daggy if your in a black leotard and pink tights.

  4. Hi Leigha! "What's this say about me as I mark my pointes with a red marker"

    I was talking about red marker on the outer sole. I like blue or black ballpoint in small letters on the outer sole under the arch since that can't be seen at any distance.


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Powys , Wales, United Kingdom
I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort