2008 Pointe Shoe Guide

What’s In A Pointe Shoe?
Pointe shoes are made in a complex process requiring multiple steps and great expertise. Although each manufacturer uses some unique methods and designs, most pointe shoes share a basic structure and set of components. The uppers, or the body of the shoe, are sewn from several pieces of satin, often with a cotton lining. In a traditional pointe shoe, the toe box is created on the uppers from multiple layers of paste and burlap. “The layers depend on where we want the most support or flexibility,” explains Marlena Juniman, vice president at Prima Soft. Some manufacturers also use paper or plastic layers.

A typical sole has three components: the outer sole, the insole and the shank. Traditional shanks are made of cardboard (such as red board or green board), fiberboard or leather. Greater or lesser strength is achieved by: choice of material, layering, skiving (making thinner toward the heel) or cutting out or shaping areas where more flexibility is needed. The shank is sandwiched between the outer sole and the insole, using glue and nails.

Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, in contrast, have toe boxes and shanks molded in one piece from thermoplastic elastomeric, a category of resilient synthetics. “In order to offer five different strengths, we use five different elastomerics,” says founder and president Eliza Minden. Each material keeps its strength, not breaking down like traditional shanks. For areas requiring greater flexibility, the elastomeric piece is made thinner.

For a traditional pointe shoe, the box is molded on a last, a shoemaker’s form. The particular last used determines the shape and size of the shoe, so every manufacturer needs many lasts. Although the box and shank are molded beforehand, Gaynor Minden shoes are also constructed on a last, where the satin uppers and foam linings are attached to the elastomeric.

Most traditional shoes have pleating behind the toe platform at the tip of the box. The pleats are created when the single forward satin section is folded in around the box and tucked under the outer sole. Some traditional shoes use foam beneath the pleats, and some manufacturers are creating pleatless models.

Once the shoe has its basic shape, it’s time for refinement. Precise shaping is required to create a smooth, symmetrical box, even pleats and a balanced platform, which allows the shoe to stand up on its own. “Each shoe is balanced by the cobbler to get a perfect platform, so that the dancer doesn’t have to compensate,” says Irene Wilson, president of Grishko USA. Finally, traditional pointe shoes must be heated and aired to cure (harden) the paste boxes.

12-16 Rufus Business Centre
22 Ravensbury Terrace
Earlsfield, London SW18 4RL United Kingdom
Phone: 44-20-8287-0932
Fax: 44-20-8287-1114
E-mail: Thelma@auroradancewear.co.uk

Details: Two models in two widths with a rounded box, plus a shankless model for pre-pointe training. Canvas by special order. Special glue is designed to be long-lasting and mold to the foot. Training model has leather tip and medium shank for flexible
roll-through. Heels are cut high for security. Handmade in China.

1170 Trademark Dr, Ste 112
Reno, NV 89511
Phone: 800-94-BLOCH
Fax: 775-824-2551

Details: Twenty-one models, plus different shank strengths on five models (Strong variation), and full- or 3?4-shank options on one model. Also Demi-Pointe, a shankless model for pre-pointe training. Up to five widths, half-sizes, most models made of all-natural materials. Shank strength dependent on model. Many models feature low-noise paste, and many are made with a pad inside the box at the platform. The MKII series has a padded heel counter, a separate piece of fabric at the heel. ThermoMorph Technology (TMT) models use a heat-activated paste to mold shoes to feet.

New: Protégée is an introductory shoe designed to help support a beginner’s foot and ankle. The shank is graded in strength to facilitate roll-through. Wide platform, tapered box with moderate V-vamp and high sides. TMT Serenade and TMT Sonata have the features of the originals but use TMT paste. Both feature traditional shanks, wide platforms and narrow heels. Sonata has a shorter vamp and a pad in the box; Serenade has a longer U-vamp.

One Campus Rd
Totowa, NJ 07512
Phone: 800-982-3397
Fax: 800-522-1222
E-mail: info@balletmakers.com

Details: Nine models in up to five widths and half-sizes, plus Extra Strength (ES) variations for three models. Range of three shank strengths dependent on model; all shanks are skived (graduated). Three additional strengths and one additional width by special order. Special Make-Up (SMU) shoes may be customized according to specifications including 1?4 sizing; nails and glue; vamp, side and heel heights; and color. SMUs have four-week turnaround time. Shankless model for pre-pointe training also available by special order. Made in the U.S. with natural and synthetic materials including environmentally friendly paste.

175 Drury Ln
Covent Garden WC2B 5QF
United Kingdom
Phone: 44-845-060-3190
Fax: 44-700-594-2803
E-mail: sales@capuletworld.com
U.S. distribution by Sansha

Details: Five models, all available in three shank strengths, three shank lengths (1?2, 3?4, full) and three widths. Three traditional
models with “graded vamp”—vamp length proportional to each size. Boxes are graduated in strength to facilitate demi-pointe.

44-01 21st St, Ste 302
Long Island City, NY 11101
Phone: 866-MY-FREED
Fax: 718-729-8086
E-mail: info@freedusa.com

Details: Three models in three widths and half-sizes; shank strength dependent on model. All natural materials, with card or leather composition shanks. Lightweight with light box for ease of break-in. First Step is designed for beginners with a medium leather composition shank, sound-absorbing material and attached ribbons. Veronese models can be special ordered in black, white and red.

New: Veronese III is made on the same last as Veronese II, with reinforced side wings. The outer sole is split, with a larger sole portion at the toes and a smaller portion at the heel. Tapered box; V-vamp; full, skived (graduated) medium or hard shank.

Via Orzinuovi, 76
25125 Brescia
Phone: 39-30-3533-823
Fax: 39-30-3547-323
E-mail: info@coppelia.com

Details: Two models, one with full-, 3?4- and extra-strength shank options, plus a shankless model for pre-pointe training. Two widths. Original model is designed especially for beginners. R-14 is an upgraded design for advanced and professional dancers, with a narrow shape and stronger shank for support and durability.

539 W Walnut Ave
Orange, CA 92868
Phone: 800-886-7914
Fax: 800-952-9862

Details: One model in two widths, with suede toe and attached ribbons, for student dancers.

44-01 21st St, Ste 302
Long Island City, NY 11101
Phone: 866-MY-FREED
Fax: 718-729-8086
E-mail: info@freedusa.com

Details: Five models in four widths and half-sizes, plus the Demi-Pointe Soft Block shankless model for pre-pointe training. Card shank in two strength choices for Studio line. Choice of short or deep vamp for Classics line. Classics vary according to individual maker; each shoe has a maker’s mark and dancers may request a specific maker. Handmade in the U.K. with natural materials.

4704 Pacific Ave SE, Ste A
Lacey, WA 98503
Phone: 888-368-6255
Fax: 360-915-8703
E-mail: info@fuzi.net

Details: Six models in five widths, plus a shankless model for pre-pointe training. Shank strength dependent on model. Satin models have no side seams for a smoother line. Split sole has split outer sole with hard shank. Canvas model has rough, nonslip sole, V-vamp and 3?4 shank. A special glue layer in box is intended for longevity.

New: Canvas Tip is a satin shoe with canvas at the platform to reduce slipperiness. The platform has no visible pleats. Leather sole and hard brown board shank for support with flexibility for demi-pointe; medium vamp height.

274 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016
Phone: 800-858-5855
Fax: 212-686-4096
E-mail: repettousa@novalys.com

Details: Three models in three widths, plus the 1?4-shank Delco pre-pointe. Leather soles with carbon fiber shanks, in choice of two strengths. Lightweight (8.1 ounces), with shanks designed for increased “memory” and resistance. Handmade in France.
140 W 16th St
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 800-637-9240
Fax: 212-929-4907
E-mail: fitters@dancer.com

Details: Two pleatless models (standard and Sleekfit) in up to three widths. Each model is available in five shank and box strengths and a choice of box shapes; standard model with choice of vamp and heel heights. Suede tips or white satin by special order on either model. Elastomeric (synthetic) shank and box are designed for longevity and will not break down and soften like traditional shanks. Box designed to hold its shape and promote correct alignment. Special linings to absorb impact and increase comfort. Patented fitting kit to customize inside of box.

New: Sole color is now tan instead of previous gray.

241 King Manor Dr, Ste D
King of Prussia, PA 19406
Phone: 800-474-7454
Fax: 610-239-6441
E-mail: info@grishko.com

Details: Ten models in up to five widths and up to three shank strength choices, plus super-hard by special order. Also Elite Pre-Pointe, a shankless model for pre-pointe training. The Pro series features noise-reduction materials. ProFlex also features new-construction shanks designed to be flexible and conform to the foot. Elite has a very square box for short, square toes. Shoes are signed, and dancers may request a particular maker for special orders. Special Make-Up shoes may be customized to most specifications, with a six- to eight-week turnaround time. Made in Russia with natural materials.

New: Fouette Proflex features sound-absorbing Pro technology and additional elasticity in the box, plus a Flex shank in choice of two strengths. Medium V-vamp and medium platform size. Designed for beginners through professionals.

One Campus Rd
Totowa, NJ 07512
Phone: 800-435-4518
Fax: 800-522-1222
E-mail: info@harmoniedance.com

Details: One model, Melody, in three widths with a broader, more generous, fitting to allow room for padding. Graduated, moderate-strength 3?4 shank; feathered wings; half-sizes. Designed to be quiet, responsive and strong. Petal pink color coordinates with Harmonie’s petal pink tights.

Klassische Ballettschuhe
Postafiók 521
H-8601 Siófok
Phone: 36-84-887-200
Fax: 36-84-887-201
E-mail: info@martin-ballettschuhe.com
U.S. distribution by Sansha

Details: Four models including the original Eva, a professional shoe handmade in Hungary with natural materials. Designed for easy break-in, with choice of 1?2, 2?3 and 3?4 shanks and a rounded vamp with choice of three vamp lengths.

New: Karla has the features and specifications of Eva, with a roomier box and slightly wider platform. Evita and Carolina are similar in shape to Eva and Karla, respectively, with different shanks to allow for stronger support. Full shanks in flexible, medium and medium-hard; made in China. All models may be special ordered with additional specifications such as vamp heights, V-vamp, shank strengths and different heel heights.


1900 N Narragansett Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
Phone: 800-736-LEOS
Fax: 800-736-5330
E-mail: info@leosdancewear.com

Details: Three models in four widths, including one model with option of full or 3?4 medium-strength shank. Split Sole has patented split outer sole and full-length red-board shank. Pas de Deux Pointe 1 has “rainbow arch” for conformity to the foot. The Inspiration model comes with a free pair of Leo’s gel toe pads.

4920 Northpark Loop
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
Phone: 800-624-6480
Fax: 719-592-1526
E-mail: feedback@liberts.com

Details: Two models in up to three widths, with suede platform patches for student dancers. Wholesale only, to studios and teachers.

565 Roma Ct
Naples, FL 34110
Phone/fax: 800-660-6818
E-mail: info@merletusa.com

Details: Seven models in up to four widths and three shank strengths. Red-board or polycarbonate shanks. Boxes made of natural fibers; some models include plastic resin for strength. Designed to be long-lasting and supple with minimal break-in. Kaliste has stretch canvas heel in both canvas and satin versions. Prelude has soft shank and box for beginners. Made in France.

7315 San Pedro Ave, #3
San Antonio, TX 78216
Phone: 210-349-2573
Fax: 210-349-9610
www.miguelito.com.mx or www.miguelitousa.com
E-mail: migueldancing@sbcglobal.net

Details: Two models in one width, with one shank strength for each model. Compressed paper shank, designed for lightness and roll-through. Professional model has shorter, softer shank than student model, which has a reinforced leather sole and more durable box. Made in Mexico with natural materials.

1170 Trademark Dr, Ste 112
Reno, NV 89521
Phone: 800-457-0304
Fax: 206-298-0172
E-mail: mirella@mirella-dance.com

Details: Three models in three widths and half sizes, designed to be lightweight. Large platform for stability and control on pointe, flat pleats for stability on flat, curved sole and shank designed to support and conform to the arch. The original model, Advance, is intended for pre-professional dancers, with a full, medium-strength shank.

New: Professional is intended for experienced dancers, with a full, medium-strength shank. The insole is glued only to the 2/3 mark, to facilitate modification of the shank. Academie is intended for developing feet, with a firm, full shank and slightly higher vamp and sides for added support.

Viale Stelvio, 41
20159 Milan
Phone: 39-02-6081439
Fax: 39-02-6080646
E-mail: info@porselli.it

Details: Sixteen models, with perspiration-resistant boxes. One model features a light box for beginners; others feature narrow and wide fittings. Bis has instep elastic for arch support and a tip lined with soft material. Gold features elastic on the back for added support. Shanks can be reinforced for extra strength. Available in peach, black, white, red and light blue.


213 Old York Rd
Jenkintown, PA 19046
Phone: 215-886-2255
Fax: 215-886-9226
E-mail: prima@prima-soft.com

Details: Six models in five widths, with fiberboard or red-board shanks and leather or suede soles. Graduated shanks, in strengths dependent on model. All feature “Perfect Placement” toe boxes, designed to position toes straight down for contact with platform and elimination of knuckling. En L’Air is lighter, with more ease in the central metatarsal area, gradual pleating and new box construction for easier transition from demi-pointe to full pointe. Handmade in Russia and Brazil with natural materials.


2345 Main St
Vancouver, BC V5T 3C9
Phone: 604-688-6836
Fax: 604-688-1687
E-mail: info@principalshoes.com

Details: Five models in four widths and half-sizes, with shank strength dependent on model. Card shanks with leather inner piece for shank support, cardboard full shank, foam cushion and suede insole for added support and comfort. Available by special order with variations such as shank strengths and vamp heights, and in black, red and blue. Designed by professional dancers with medical consultation to help protect feet from injury.

274 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016
Phone: 800-858-5855
Fax: 212-686-4096
E-mail: repettousa@novalys.com

Details: Same information as Gamba, plus La Wilis (505), a shoe tailored to fit right and left feet. Handmade
in France.

226 S Wabash Ave, 2nd Fl
Chicago, IL 60604
Phone: 866-R-POINTE
Fax: 312-588-4060
E-mail: info@russianpointe.com

Details: Ten models in five widths, half-sizes, up to three vamps, up to 11 shank choices (of strength and style) and four colors. Card and pressed leather shanks; shanks in “flexible” range have cut-outs at the sides of the ball of the foot to facilitate roll-through. Handmade in Russia with natural materials.

New: Rubin and Sapfir, in the Jewels Collection, are lightweight, with pleatless platforms and pre-arched shanks with specially treated leather designed to mold to the foot. Both come in a choice of V-vamp without drawstring or U-vamp with drawstring; Rubin has a lower crown and wider platform.

888 8th Ave (at 53rd St)
New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212-246-6212
Fax: 212-246-2138
E-mail: sanshanyc@sansha.com

Details: Fourteen models in up to five widths, plus two shankless soft-toe models designed for
pre-pointe training. Four shank strengths and three shank lengths, dependent on model. Fiberboard shank with leather or cellulose sole. Several models available in canvas, or with shank variations (length and strength). One model with leather tips; one lace-up model. Three models with replaceable shanks (for temporary emergency use only). All models with “whisper toe” box padding.

New: Gloria 601 is identical to Ovation 603 and 606, but with a softer, 3?4 shank. Germania 603G is similar to Ovation, with a more tapered box; Germania 609G is similar to Legende, with a more tapered box. Both have 3?4 medium-hard shanks. Debutante D101 is a beginner’s shoe with a moderately tapered box and is based on the Soft-toe USA (DP801) pre-pointe model, but with a lightweight shank for beginning pointework.

Wilhelm Schactner, Wtw.
Edelhofgasse 6
Vienna 18
Phone: 43-1-479-5489
Fax: 43-1-479-6011

Details: One model with both box and heel width choices, four vamp lengths and five shank strengths. Suede tip available. Handmade in Austria. Limited U.S. availability at select retailers.

320 S Military Trail
Deerfield Beach, FL 33445
Phone: 800-269-5033
Fax: 888-355-0525
E-mail: anne@sodanca.com

Details: Nine models in the Cecelia Kerche line. Up to five widths, up to four shank choices and up to five colors plus three additional colors by special order. Three pre-arched models are designed for three foot shapes. Natural paste designed for noise reduction. Clara is a beginner’s model with full, flexible shank designed for ease of roll-through. Handmade
in Brazil.

Unit 6 Churchill Works
Highfield St
Earl Shilton
Leicester LE9 7HS
United Kingdom
Phone/fax: 44-1455-442-767
E-mail: suffolkpointe@aol.com
U.S. distribution by Sansha

Details: Two stock models plus The Company Shoe, a custom model for special order in a wide spectrum of specifications. All
in half sizes. Solo, designed to mold to the foot for comfort and support, is available in nine widths and three shank choices, plus the Light version designed to help pointe beginners achieve correct placement.

New: Graduate is intended for advanced dancers who require more flexibility from their shoes. Available in eight widths and two shank choices, Graduate is replacing the previous model Apprentice for U.S. distribution.

2-23-10 koenji-minami
Suginami-Ku, Tokyo
Phone: 81-3-3315-3100
Fax: 81-3-3314-3769
E-mail: info@sylvia.co.jp

Details: Seven models in up to five widths and half-sizes, plus a shankless model designed for pre-pointe training. One shank strength with two others by special order. Lightweight shoes designed to help dancers get up on pointe. Florina has a nearly square box designed for square toes, with a nylon resin shank for durability. Handmade in Japan.

Jennifer Brewer is a dancer, teacher and freelance writer based in Saco, ME.

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

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For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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