Pointe are beautiful shoes that are a unique part of the art. They allow the dancer to spin, fly, balance, turn, and perform on the tips of her toes, gracefully. But why do they have ribbons?
Tradition is a big part. For centuries, pointe shoes have had ribbons. A big reason is beautification. Secondly, it helps with distribution of the “pull” and prevents the shoe from falling off.
What Are Pointe Shoes?
Pointe shoes are commonly known as toe shoes, or ballet slippers. Thus, it is characterized by its satin-like texture, flat, stiff fronts, and ribbons, with special construction, recognized as a soft footwear, accordingly. In the late 1900s, Italian shoemakers redesigned pointe shoes with stiff boxes paving the way for Italian ballerinas to do more bravura steps en pointe. Specifically, the tips of the shoes are made of densely packed layers of fabric, newspaper, flour paste, and cardboard or paper, which are hardened by glue to retain their composure. Sometimes, they hurt.
The remaining are made of leather, cotton, and satin that compliments its dainty-looking appearance. Every pair of pointe shoes are customized, and handmade to fit each individual’s unique measurements including toe length and shape, arch flexibility, and mechanical strength, respectively. However, each shoe is unique, and no pair is either perfect or identical with each other. Furthermore, all manufacturers and models of pointe shoes, are uniform, in terms of structural features that enable dancers to dance on the tips of their toes, or en pointe.
Pointe shoes ribbons, also coined ballet shoes, are used to secure pointe shoes to the foot, providing seamless tights. Mostly, it is tied in a criss-cross pattern over the instep. The ribbons are thicker in width than those used on ballet flats, with approximately seven-eights to one inch wide, and about twenty-two inches long, to be properly tied around the ballerina’s foot. It is commonly made of nylon or polyester satin with a luster and matte-finish. However, several variations have been introduced ranging from elastic attached mid-ribbon, and other forms of
stretch ribbons to provide comfort, convenience, and even aesthetics. In terms of hues, it is readily available in different shades of pink, matching the usual colors of pointe shoes. Nonetheless, others have painted their ribbons to match the dancer’s shoes, accordingly. Over the years, the evolution of pointe work paved the way for elastics as a component in pointe shoes for durability and security purposes
Why Do Pointe Shoes have Ribbons?
The reasons why pointe shoes have ribbons are multiple. First, it has a part of the traditional look of pointe shoes, for the longest time around. As early as the 1800s, when ballet’s creation dominated the courts of Europe, dancers wore pointe shoes with ribbons in line with the era’s aesthetic, also to convey emotion and character while expressing their movement, through dancing. Secondly, ribbons tied in pointe shoes, crossing and wrapping them around the ankle ensures the distribution of the “pull” of the shoe to make it unlikely possible to slip off during pointe work, and in the duration of the ballet performance. Security is a top-notch priority, as well as letting dancers move swiftly and gracefully on the tips of their toes. Lastly, it can be added as a form of beautification, or aesthetic purposes only. Since ribbons can be added, or not added, dancers anticipate its presence as part of the ballet culture.
Sewing as a Tradition
Many pointe shoes already have ribbons but some ballerinas like to sew the ribbon on their shoes. The choice to sew ribbons, whether more angled, less angled, staggered, or with your personal choice of the number of stitches per side is a qualification of a good dancer, and the participation in one of ballet’s tedious but dearly cherished rituals. The basic procedure of sewing ribbons in pointe shoes include: folding the heel of the shoe to meet the sockliner, same with shoe elastics, marking the sole of the shoe with a pencil, overlapping the ribbon on the shoe by at least one inch, and lastly using strong thread to sew the ribbon securely.
History of Pointe Shoes
On the contrary, Amalia Brugnoli, a renowned Italian dancer also pioneered the famous pointe work to ballet audiences, which also meant dancing up to the tips of her toes in Armand Vestris’ La Fée et le Chevalier. In the early 1820s, the Italian dancer wore lightly stitched square-toed satin slippers, instead of the usual heels, and raised her arms, forming a circle in the middle, with a visible amount of effort to get up on her toes.
Because of this, other dancers during that time were inspired, including Marie Taglioni, which further gave birth to the usage of ballet ribbons. According to Taglioni, dancing en pointe is more than how it is defined—a mere stunt. The shoes need to be more secured, tight-fitting, darned, and leather-soled, adding tied ribbons around the foot to convey character and emotion. Because of this, other Romantic-era ballerinas excelled more on footwork and flexibility, pushing pointe work at its finest, even up to recent times. Even now, ballerinas are national figures. It makes national news when Russian ones are leaving their country to protest the Ukraine war.
Pointe Shoes are beautiful works of art. Some people wonder why they have ribbons. Beautification, history and stability are the reasons.