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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

For my project, I will be investigating the pointe shoe (also know colloquially as the toe shoe). Pointe shoes make it possible for dancers to stand on the tips of their toes, essentially becoming an extension of the body and expanding a dancer's range of motion. I will be looking at specifically how pointe shoes facilitate this specialized movement and how this may be different from dancing without pointe shoes. I will hopefully be able to find some information on proprioception, the sense of one's body in space, and how that relates to dance.

As an extension of the body, pointe shoes don't just affect the wearer. Since the shoes change the ways a dancer can move, they also change what an observer in the audience sees. They create an illusion of ethereality and weightlessness, and they make it possible to achieve a perfectly straight, unbroken line through the leg and out the end of the foot. This lengthening effect is extremely desirable in the dance world.

After our reading and discussion this week about technological choices, I am also planning to learn about pointe shoe history and design. Pointe shoes are still individually handcrafted and the box of the shoe (the part surrounding the toes) is made of fabric and glue, with a cardboard or leather shank for arch support. Several brands have tried to utilize more modern technologies, such as making shanks out of plastic or fiberglass, but these shoes have generally been shunned by the dance community. While there are clearly ways to improve upon the design and making of the shoes, tradition has won out, at least for the time being. I plan to investigate these possible improvements, as well as why they haven't been implemented.

Finally, another area I may explore is the pointe shoe as a rite of passage for young dancers. Anatomically, it isn't safe to start dancing en pointe until cartilage in the ankles has started to solidify into bone, around the age of 12. One must also have the proper training, which includes a certain amount of strength in the ankle as well as an understanding of the correct alignment for a ballet body. Being allowed to dance en pointe is a big milestone for young dancers, and I am interested in its significance as part of the progression towards becoming a professional dancer.

Besides my research, I will be drawing on my own knowledge of the experience of dancing en pointe. I danced en pointe for 6 years, so I will try to have some firsthand accounts of the joys (and pains!) of pointe. I am also going to deconstruct some pointe shoes to get a better feeling for the ways they are made.

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