When people learn that I’m a ballet dancer one question seems to be asked more than any other; does standing on your toes hurt? Assuming that they’re talking about pointe shoes I just nod my head, smile and say yes. However, the experience of wearing pointe shoes is much more in-depth than a smile and a nod allows for.

Pointe shoes are painful. Imagine exerting ten to twelve times your body weight onto the tips of your toes. Now imagine doing that hundreds of times while executing difficult choreography and smiling. That’s what it takes to dance en pointe in a ballet. Pointe shoes take years of consistent training to control. Ballet dancers are always training their muscles to become stronger and more flexible for pointe work.

We don’t have an off-season. The pain tolerance of dancers is something that I’ve never seen matched by any other athlete. I once sprained my ankle and then danced for two more weeks-which included seven two-hour-long performances in which I spent the entire time in a pair of pointe shoes.

My injury was not the exception-it’s actually quite common. A lot of dancers have similar stories of ignoring injuries. When you spend a lot of time in a pair of pointe, you learn to ignore pain.

Pointe shoes are relatively simple inventions that haven’t changed much in the past two hundred years. The basic components to a pointe shoe are the vamp, shank and box.

The vamp surrounds the toes and the metatarsals. The shank covers the sole of the foot and is what supports the dancer. The box is what covers the tips of the toes and is an oval shape that is roughly one inch in diameter.

Pointe shoes are made of satin, glue, paper, cotton and leather. Most people think that pointe shoes have wood, but this is untrue. Unsurprisingly, the lifespan of pointe shoes are short. My first pair lasted about nine months. Today, my pointe shoes last about an average of six weeks. Professional dancers’ shoes last about one performance.

Dancers also sew the ribbons and elastics onto their shoe to complement their foot in the best way possible. Ballet dancers have found every hack possible for pointe shoes. From banging them against the wall to soften the noise to slamming them in the crack of the door to break the shank, dancers can customize their shoes to work for them.

But why even bother? If pointe shoes are so painful then why do we continue to use them? It’s hard to put in writing, but the simplest answer I can think of is that the pain is just apart of the beauty. When I put on a pair of pointe shoes the quality of my dancing changes.

I become apart of a sisterhood that only those who have worn pointe shoes can call themselves members. For it is this sisterhood that possesses the key to this wonderful art.

Morgan Holder is an intern at Jackson County Sentinel. She can be reached at morgan.holder@jcsentinel.com.

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