By Laura Ramirez
They allow ballerinas to stand on the tip of the toes and create the illusion of weightlessness, of floating, of hovering around the stage. Pointe shoes, created in the early nineteenth century revolutionized ballet, but while the dance evolved and moved into the 20th century, the shoes did not, until recently.
Eliza Minden is a former ballerina who like many dancers suffered pain and discomfort from wearing traditional pointe shoes. She is the creator of the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe, which she describes as “a completely modernized shoe for a remarkable kind of athlete”.
Before Eliza Minden’s patented pointe shoe made from high-tech materials made its way into the market in 1998, the design and materials of pointe shoes remained unchanged for over a century. They were made of several layers of fabrics, cardboard, paper and leather that were glued and nailed together. These materials Minden explains, were “not adequate to truly meet dancer’s needs” and made these shoes very painful to wear.
In the process of creating a new ballet shoe, Minden’s main goal was to find the best materials to make a comfortable and durable one. In order to achieve the above, she consulted shoemakers, material experts, dance medicine experts, ballet teachers and dancers, of course. After 8 years of research Minden developed a pointe shoe made with a resilient material called thermoplastic polymeric and a shock absorbing foam called urethane. Even though the outside look of the shoe remained pretty much the same, these new materials on the inside made the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe very different from other pointe shoes.
The first material mentioned is used in areas of the shoe such as the sole and the toe box. The latter is the part of the shoe that allows dancers to stand on the tippy toes. The polymeric material is very flexible; it can actually be flexed up to a thousand times and never weakened or deformed. Because of this, Gaynor Minden’s “last an average of 3 to 5 times longer” than other pointe shoes. The material also has memory qualities that allow the shoe to mold to the dancer’s feet, making it way more comfortable than previous ballet slippers.
Urethane foam is another material used by Minden that was never used before in pointe shoes. The impact-absorbing material is the same kind of cushioning found in the finest athletic tennis shoes. The foam is placed through out the shoe and extra layers are placed under the heel and the toes, as these are areas of greater impact for dancers.
With a high-tech pointe shoe like this, which reduces pain and injuries, one would think dancers would never go back to using old pointe shoes, but that is not the case. Even though Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are very popular among students and professional ballet dancers today, not every dancer is convinced.
“There are some older dancers that have peculiar ideas about suffering” Minden says. “They believe that it is necessary to suffer in order to be a good artist or that they had to suffer so the younger generation should not get off more easily”. Minden’s pointe shoes have actually been referred to as “the cheater shoe” because they make the dancer’s work much easier. But Minden doesn’t agree with such opinions and believes that “having sore feet doesn’t make you a better dancer”.
Gaynor Minden’s main showroom is located in Chelsea, New York City. Dancers from all over the world come to this location to try on the peachy satin pointe shoes with Nike-style high-tech on the inside.