Today marks World Dance Day! To celebrate all things dance we've looked through our archives and are sharing this article from Issue 91 Luxe, En Pointe: The ballerina's tutu, an icon of femininity.
If one was to think of an iconic costume of femininity, grace and purity then a ballerina’s would surely be the first choice. Ballet is an art of movement, every leg stretch and arm curve is to create a motion of grace and elegance. Therefore it is important that the traditional costume heeds this movement and enhances what the ballerina symbolises: femininity. The commonly used materials of silks, tulles, cottons and satins are selected in shades of pink, cream and white. The image of a ballerina plays strongly to her gender, including the interplay of virtue and sexuality.
The construction of the ballerina’s dancing attire, like much of women’s historical fashion, combines pain and discomfort to produce the appearance of a seamless facade. The pointe shoe is a case in point, conjuring up the contradictory elements of the ballerina. The purpose of dancing en pointe is to make the ballerina appear weightless as she moves across the stage. The shiny satin exterior of the shoe conceals the different elements of its construction, to ensure the surface appearance remains graceful and elegant. In reality, there is a ‘box’ fitted into the toe-end of the shoe, made out of a combination of cardboard, plastic and sometimes wood. This is the block that the dancer’s toes squeeze against every time she rises into this stance.
Another hidden part of the shoe is the shank which stiffens the sole of the shoe and provides support for the arch of the foot. This support is provided by plastic, leather and cardstock. The hardened, unglamorous, functional aspects of the design of the shoes are enclosed and hidden behind the shiny satin surface that conceals its engineering.
The shoes are held in place by silk ribbons crisscrossing the ankles and up towards the lower leg. The ritual of putting on the shoes is involved and effortful. The dancer begins her daily routine by putting on micropore or zinc oxide tape over sore and blistered areas of the feet. Then she stuffs either wool or gel based toe pads around the individual toes to reduce rubbing. Then tights are worn, before putting on the pointe shoes and tying the ribbons, whose ends have to be tied and tucked out of sight. Behind this delicate looking shoe is a robust construction supporting a demanding and athletic performance...
En Pointe: The Ballerina's Tutu, an icon of femininity was originally published in Issue 91 Luxe. Find out how to read the rest of the articles in this issue here.