A culprit in dancing injuries is wearing improper shoes. Spiky high heels make it easy to lose your balance while spinning".
Irish stepdance is a style of dance with its roots in traditional Irish dance. It can be performed solo or by troupes. Two types of shoes are worn; hard shoes, which make sounds similar to tap shoes, and soft shoes, which are similar to ballet slippers. Dancers stiffen their upper bodies while performing quick, intricate footwork. Costumes are considered important for stage presence in competitive Irish stepdance. There are several levels of competition available for both individuals and groups. Riverdance, an Irish stepdancing interval act in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, greatly contributed to its popularity.
The dancing traditions of Ireland are likely to have grown in tandem with Irish traditional music. Its first roots may have been in Pre-Christian Ireland, but Irish dance was also partially influenced by dance forms on the Continent, especially the quadrille dances. Traveling dancing masters taught all over Ireland as late as the early 1900s.
Professor Margaret Scanlan, author of Culture and customs of Ireland, points out that the earliest feis or stepdancing competition dates no earlier than 1897, and states: "Although the feis rhetoric suggests that the rules [for international stepdancing competitions] derive from an ancient past, set dances are a product of modern times". There are many other forms of stepdancing in Ireland (such as the Connemara style stepdancing), but the style most familiar is the Munster, or southern, form, which has been formalized by (English: The Gaelic Dancing Commission), which first met in 1930. The Commission (abbreviated as CLRG), was formed from a directorate of the Gaelic League that was formed during the Gaelic Revival and agreed the modern rules.
In the 19th century, the Irish diaspora had spread Irish dance all over the world, especially to North America and Australia. However, schools and feiseanna were not established until the early 1900s: in America these tended to be created within Irish-American urban communities, notably in Chicago. The first classes in stepdancing were held there by the Philadelphia-born John McNamara.
The nature of the Irish dance tradition has changed and adapted over the centuries to accommodate and reflect changing populations and the fusion of new cultures. The history of Irish dancing is as a result a fascinating one. The popular Irish dance stage shows of the past ten years have reinvigorated this cultural art, and today Irish dancing is healthy, vibrant, and enjoyed by people across the globe.
One explanation for the unique habit of keeping the hands and upper body stiff relates to the stage. In order to get a hard surface to dance on, people would often unhinge doors and lay them on the ground. Since this was clearly a very small "stage," there was no room for arm movement. The solo dances are characterized by quick, intricate movements of the feet.
Sometime in that decade or the one following, a dance teacher had his students compete with arms held firmly down to their sides, hands in fists, to call more attention to the intricacy of the steps. The adjudicator approved by placing the students well. Other teachers and dancers quickly followed the new trend. Movement of the arms is sometimes incorporated into modern Irish stepdance, although this is generally seen as a hybrid and non-traditional addition and is only done in shows and performances, not competitions.
Irish stepdance has precise rules about what one may and may not do, but within these rules leeway is provided for innovation and variety. Thus, stepdance can evolve while still remaining confined within the original rules.
Irish stepdances can be placed into two categories. Solo stepdances, which are danced by a single dancer, and group stepdances, which are coordinated with 2 or more dancers.
Reel, slip jig, hornpipe, and jig are all types of Irish stepdances and are also types of Irish traditional music. These fall into two broad categories based on the shoes worn: hard shoe and soft shoe dances. Reels, which are in 2/4 or 4/4 time, and slip jigs, which are in 9/8 time and considered to be the lightest and most graceful of the dances, are soft shoe dances. Hornpipes, which can be in 2/4 or 4/4 time, are danced in hard shoes. Three jigs are danced in competition; the light jig, the single jig,which is also called the Hop jig, which is also called double jig. Light and single jigs are in 6/8 time, and are soft shoes dances, while the treble jig is hard shoe, danced in a slow 6/8.
The actual steps in Irish stepdance are usually unique to each school or dance teacher. Steps are developed by Irish dance teachers for students of their school. Each dance is built out of the same basic elements, or steps, but the dance itself is unique, and new dances are being choreographed continuously. For this reason, videotaping of competitions is forbidden under the rules of An Coimisiun.
Each step is a sequence of foot movements, leg movements and leaps, which lasts for 8 bars of music, starting on the right foot. This is then repeated on the left foot to complete the step. Hard shoe dancing includes clicking (striking the heels of the shoes against each other), trebles (the toe of the shoe striking the floor), stamps (the entire foot striking the floor), and an increasing number of complicated combinations of taps from the toes and heels.
There are two types of hard shoe dance, the solo dances, which are the hornpipe and treble jig, and the traditional set dances, also called set dances, which are also solo dances, despite having the same name as the social dances. Traditional set dances use the same choreography regardless of the school whereas contemporary sets are choreographed by the teachers. The music and steps for each traditional set was set down by past dance masters and passed down under An Coimisiún auspices as part of the rich history of stepdancing, hence the "traditional."
There are about 30 traditional sets used in modern stepdance, but the traditional sets performed in most levels of competition are St. Patrick's Day, the Blackbird, Job of Journeywork, Garden of Daisies, King of the Fairies, and Jockey to the Fair. The remaining traditional set dances are primarily danced at championship levels. These tunes vary in tempo to allow for more difficult steps for higher level dancers. An unusual feature of the set dance tune is that many are "crooked", with some of the parts, or sections, of the tunes departing from the common 8 bar formula. The crooked tune may have a part consisting of 7½ bars, fourteen bars, etc. For example, the "St. Patrick's Day" traditional set music consists of an eight-bar "step," followed by a fourteen-bar "set."
The group dances are called céilí dances or, in the less formal but common case, figure dances. Competitive céilís are more precise versions of the festive group dances traditionally experienced in pubs and church basements.
There is a list of 30 céilí dances that have been standardized and published in An Coimisiun's Ar Rinncidhe Foirne as examples of traditional Irish folk dances. Standardized dances for 4, 6 or 8 dancers are also often found in competition. Most traditional céilí dances in competition are significantly shortened in the interests of time. Many stepdancers never learn the entire dance, as they will never dance the later parts of the dance in competition.
Other céilí dances are not standardized. In local competition, figure dances may comprise of 2 or 3 dancers. These are not traditional book dances and are choreographed as a blend of both traditional céilí dancing and solo dancing. Standardized book dances for 16 dancers are also rarely offered. Figure Choreography competitions held at major oireachtasi (championships) involve more than 8 dancers and are a chance for dance schools to show off novel and intricate group choreography.
Some dance schools recognized by an Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha place as much emphasis on céilí dancing as on solo dancing, meticulously rehearsing the dances as written in the book and striving for perfect interpretation. In competition, figure dancers are expected to dance their routine in perfect unison, forming seamless yet intricate figures based on their positions relative to each other.
In public performances, dancers wear costumes appropriate to the show. The costumes are frequently modern interpretations of traditional Irish styles of dress. In competitions, there are various rules and traditions which govern the choice of a dancer's costume.
Judges at competitions critique the dancers primarily on their performance, but they also take into account presentation. In every level of competition the dancers must wear either hard shoes or soft shoes. Boys and girls wear very distinctive costumes. Girls must wear white poodle socks or tights. Competition dresses have changed in many ways since Irish Dance first appeared. Several generations ago the appropriate dress was simply your "Sunday Best". In the 1980s ornately embroidered velvet became popular. Other materials include gaberdine and wool. Today many different fabrics are used, including lace, sequins, silk, embroidered organzas and more. Some dresses, mainly solo dresses, have flat backed crystals added for stage appeal. Swarovski is being used more frequently. Velvet is also becoming popular again, but in multiple colors with very different, modern embroidery. The commission dresses have stiff skirts which can be stiffened with Vilene and are intricately embroidered.
Costumes can be simple for the beginning female dancer; they often wear a simple dance skirt and plain blouse or their dancing school’s costume. The certain colors and emblem that are used on the dresses represents the dance school to differentiate it from other dance schools. These are similar to a solo dress, but are simple with only a few colors, while are still more pounds, depending on the fabric, and may require some getting used to. School costumes are not decorated with crystals.
At advanced levels where dancers can qualify for Major competitions, solo costumes help each dancer show their sense of style, and enable them to stand out among a crowd. The dancers can have a new solo dress specially tailored for them with their choice of colours, fabrics, and designs. Popular designers include Gavin Doherty, Siopa Rince, and Elevations. Some dancers will even design the dress themselves. The dancer can also buy second hand from another dancer. Since the dresses are handmade with pricey materials, unique designs, and are measured to each dancer’s body type, the dresses can cost between $600 and $4,000. When each dancer grows out of the dress she can sell it at competitions, at their dance school, via internet websites specifically for Irish dress sales or through other websites, like Ebay.
Along with having the handcrafted dresses, championship commission dancers have wigs and crowns or decorative headbands. In commission schools female dancers have the choice to wear either a wig or curl their hair, but usually in championship levels, girls choose to wear a wig, as wigs are more convenient and popular. Dancers get synthetic ringlet wigs that match their hair color or go with an extremely different shade (a blonde dancer wearing a black wig or vice versa). The wigs can range from $20.00 to $150. Usually the crowns match the colors and materials of the dresses, but some dancers choose to wear tiaras, or tiaras with a fabric crown. The championship competitions are usually danced on stages with a lot of lighting. To prevent looking washed out, dancers often wear stage makeup and tan their legs. A rule was put in place in January 2005 for Under 10 dancers forbidding them to wear fake tan, and in October 2005 it was decided that Under 12 dancers who were in the Beginner and Primary levels would not be allowed to wear fake tan or make up.
The boys used to wear jackets and kilts, but now more commonly perform in black trousers with a colourful shirt and tie and, more frequently, a vest with embroidery and crystals.
The festival style differs, styling more towards a simple unified design, representing the school. Irish dance festivals (also called "shows") have dancers wear their hair either in a wig or down, but it depends on the routine.
Some of the footwork of softshoe dances is echoed in the footwork of Scottish country dancing, though the two styles are distinct. American tap dance was also influenced by Irish Stepdancing.
Three types of shoes are worn in competitive step dancing: hard shoes and two kinds of soft shoe.
The hard shoe, which is also called heavy shoe and jig shoe, is, unlike the tap shoe, made of fiberglass tips, instead of metal. The first hard shoes had wooden taps with metal nails. It was common practice in the 17th and 18th century to hammer nails into the soles of a shoe in order to increase the life of the shoe. Dancers used the sounds created by the nails to create the rhythms that characterize hard shoe dancing.
The shoes tips were changed into resin or fiberglass to reduce the weight and increase the sounds of the footwork. Hard shoes are made of black leather with flexible soles. Sometimes the front taps are filed flat to enable the dancer to stand on his or her toes, somewhat like pointe shoes.
Each shoe has eight striking surfaces: the toe, bottom, and sides of the front tap and the back, bottom, and sides of the back tap (the heel). The same hard shoes are worn by all dancers, regardless of gender or age.
A legend about hard shoe dances is that the Irish used to dance at crossroads or on the earthen floors of their houses, and they removed and soaped their doors to create a resonant surface for hard shoe dancing. The more common actuality was that dancers "battered" on a stone laid in the floor with a space underneath; in the case of set dancing, the head couple of the set would claim the stone.
Soft shoes, often called "ghillies" (or "gillies"), fit more like ballet slippers and are made of black leather, with a leather sole and a very flexible body. They lace from toe to ankle and do not make sounds against the dance surface. They are worn by female dancers for the light jig, the reel, the single jig, the slip jig, and group dances with two or more people. They are also worn for competitive céilí dancing, though social céilí dance doesn't have rules about the shoes that can be worn.
The second kind of soft shoe is worn by male dancers; these are called "reel shoes" and are similar to Oxford or jazz shoes in black leather, with fiberglass heels that the dancers can click them together. Some male dancers do not wear fiberglass heels. The men's steps may be choreographed in a different style to girls' in order to take advantage of the heels and to avoid feminine movements in steps.
Competitive step dancing has grown steadily since the mid 1900s, and more rapidly since the appearance of Riverdance. An organized stepdance competition is referred to as a feis (, plural feisanna). The word feis means "festival" in Irish, and strictly speaking is also composed of competitions in music and crafts. Féile ("faila") is a more correct term for the dance competition, but the terms may be used interchangeably. Many annual competitions are truly becoming full-fledged feiseanna, by adding competitions in music, art, baking, etc.
Participants in a feis must be students of an accredited step dance teacher. Dance competitions are divided by age and level of expertise. The names for feis competition levels vary around the world:
Teachers must be certified with one of several separate organizations including, but not limited to An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha ("The Irish Dancing Commission or CLRG"), Comhdháil Múinteoirí Na Rincí Gaelacha ("The Congress of Irish Dancing Teachers"), NAIDF ("North American Irish Dance Federation") or World Irish Dance Association (WIDA), in order for their students to be eligible for competitions. Dancers may only enter competitions run by the organization the teacher is registered with the exception of WIDA feisanna, which are open to everybody. Other less well known organisations also exist.
Each organization has a certification process which consists of a written and practical exam in the applicant's ability to teach Irish dance. In An Coimisiún these certificates are the T.M.R.F. (gives permission to teach céilí dances), T.C.R.G. (gives permission to teach solo dances) and A.D.C.R.G. (gives permission to judge at feisanna).
Despite a competition structure and culture that almost exclusively supports children, many feisanna offer competitions for adult Irish dancers. A beginner dancer can be any age, including adults. A beginner adult Irish stepdancer is someone who did not dance as a child and is over the age of 18. Past beginner level, there is no restriction. Adult competitions, when offered, are held separately from children's competitions, and adults may advance only to Prizewinner level in North America. If they wish to attempt higher levels, then they must switch over to competitions for young adults and may no longer compete as "Adults." This is referred to an "And Over" level, such as Ages 18 and Over.
In North America, the Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America has recently changed its rules to restrict adult Irish dancers to the simpler, traditional speed hardshoe dances. Adult dancers capable of dancing the more complex, non-traditional speed hardshoe dances must have the support of their teacher before they can compete in the "And Over" age categories where they may perform the more complex dances.
Rules for feisanna are set by the Organization, not a particular feis. In An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (the largest of the "official" organizations), dancers are judged by adjudicators certified by An Coimisiún. This certification is known as the A.D.C.R.G., meaning Ard Diploma Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (in English - Highest Diploma in Gaelic Dancing.) It is awarded to those who have passed the exams set by the An Coimisiún and have also been certified as T.C.R.G. Local organizations may add additional rules to the basic rule set. The Irish Dance Teacher's Association of North America (IDTANA) is the largest body of dance teachers associated with An Coimsiun le Rince Gaelacha. There are seven CLRG regions in North America.
An annual regional Championship competition is known as an oireachtas . Regional Oireachtas are normally held in November and December. Up to 10 dancers from each age group may qualify for the World Championships. The exact number is worked out with a formula and is based on the number of dancers competing. National championship competitions are held annually in Ireland, North America, the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. The annual World Championship competitions began in 1970 and have been held in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and, for the first time in 2009, the United States. In 2015 Canada will host Worlds for the first time. Past and future host cities of the World Championships include:
Riverdance was the interval act in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest which contributed to the popularity of Irish stepdance, and is still considered a significant watershed in Irish culture. Its roots are in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called "Timedance" composed, recorded and performed for the contest, which was hosted in Ireland. This first performance featured Irish Dancing Champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Celtic choral group Anuna with a score written by Bill Whelan. Riverdance's success includes an eight-week sell out season at Radio City Music Hall, New York, with the sales of merchanise resulting in Radio City Music Hall merchandise sale’s record smashed during the first performance, sell-out tours at King’s Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and The Green Glens Arena, Millstreet, Co. Cork, Ireland, plus a huge three and a half month return to The Apollo in Hammersmith with astounding advance ticket sales of over five million pounds.
After Flatley left Riverdance, he created other Irish dance shows including Lord of the Dance, Celtic Tiger Live and Feet of Flames, the latter being an expansion of Lord of the Dance.
In 2011 a documentary was released titled Jig. It follows Irish dancers as they prepare for the World Championships in March 2010. TLC acquired the rights to the documentary in preparation for a new television show about the competitive Irish stepdance world in America, for which the working title is Irish Dancing Tweens. The series, which will be produced by Sirens Media, features several dance schools. Each episode will focus on individual dancers during rehearsals, preparation, travel, and during competitions. Eight episodes of the series have been ordered.
A heel is the projection at the back of a shoe which rests below the heel bone. The shoe heel is used to improve the balance of the shoe, increase the height of the wearer, alter posture or other decorative purposes. Sometimes raised, the high heel is common to a form of shoe often worn by women, but sometimes by men too. See also stiletto heel.
High heels are not a modern invention. Rather, they enjoy a rich and varied history, for both men as well as women. Controversy exists over when high heels were first invented, but the consensus is that heels were worn by both men and women throughout the world for many centuries and for a variety of reasons.
Although high heeled shoes are depicted in ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples, the earliest recorded instance of men or women wearing an elevated shoe comes from Hellenic times.
It has been commonly stated that the first instance of the wear of high heels involved the 1533 marriage between Catherine de' Medici with the Duke of Orleans. She wore heels made in Florence for her wedding, and as a result, Italian high heels became the norm for ladies of the Duke's court in France. Unfortunately, this reference may be apocryphal, as the development of heels did not begin to come about until the late 1580s, based on iconographic evidence and extant pieces.
Mary Tudor, another short monarch, wore heels as high as possible][. From this period until the early 19th century, high heels were frequently in vogue for both sexes.
Around 1660, a shoemaker named Nicholas Lestage designed high heeled shoes for Louis XIV. Some were more than four inches (ten cm), and most were decorated in various battle scenes. The resulting high "Louis heels" subsequently became fashionable for ladies. Today the term is used to refer to heels with a concave curve and outward taper at the bottom similar to those worn by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress. (They are also sometimes called "Pompadour heels".)
The late 18th-Century trend toward lower heels had much to do with the French Revolution. During the revolution, high heels became associated with opulence. Since people wished to avoid the appearance of wealth, heels were largely eliminated from the common market for both men and women. In the wake of the French Revolution heels become lower than at any time in the 18th century.
Although high-heeled shoes or boots have more often been worn by women, in various times and places they have been standard features of men's footwear too, either for practical reasons or as fashionable items.
Mongolian horsemen were among the first to use heels as means to keep their feet from sliding out of their stirrups. It is also well known that Egyptian butchers wore high heels so they would not step directly in offal. Pharaohs and nobles in Ancient Egypt would wear high heels to show power and for ceremonial purposes.
Actors playing tragic roles in ancient Greek drama wore the buskin, a boot with a platform sole, designed to give them greater height over other actors.
The Romans, both men and women, wore cothurns, or sandals with platform heels; these were intended to lift the wearers above mud and garbage in the streets. Geta, which are based on a similar concept, are still used in Japan today.
American cowboy boots, first developed in the 19th century and still popular today in some parts of the United States, have high underslung heels to keep a rider's foot from sliding through the stirrup.
High-heeled platform shoes were a widely popular form of men's footwear during the 1970s.
A shoe is an item of footwear intended to protect and comfort the human foot while doing various activities. Shoes are also used as an item of decoration. The design of shoes has varied enormously through time and from culture to culture, with appearance originally being tied to function. Additionally fashion has often dictated many design elements, such as whether shoes have very high heels or flat ones. Contemporary footwear varies widely in style, complexity and cost. Basic sandals may consist of only a thin sole and simple strap. High fashion shoes may be made of very expensive materials in complex construction and sell for thousands of dollars a pair. Other shoes are for very specific purposes, such as boots specially designed for mountaineering or skiing.
Shoes have traditionally been made from leather, wood or canvas, but are increasingly made from rubber, plastics, and other petrochemical-derived materials.
The foot contains more bones than any other single part of the body. Though it has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in relation to vastly varied terrain and climate conditions, the foot is still vulnerable to environmental hazards such as sharp rocks and hot ground, against which shoes can protect.
The earliest known shoes are sandals dating from approximately 7,000 or 8,000 B.C., found in the Fort Rock Cave in the US state of Oregon. in 1938. The world's oldest leather shoe, made from a single piece of cowhide laced with a leather cord along seams at the front and back, was found in a cave in Armenia in 2008 and is believed to date to 3,500 B.C. Ötzi the Iceman's shoes, dating to 3,300 BC, featured brown bearskin bases, deerskin side panels, and a bark-string net, which pulled tight around the foot. However, it is estimated that shoes may have been used long before this, but it is difficult to find evidence of the earliest footwear due to the highly perishable nature of early shoes. By studying the bones of the smaller toes (as opposed to the big toe), it was observed that their thickness decreased approximately 40,000 to 26,000 years ago. This led archaeologists to deduce that wearing shoes resulted in less bone growth, resulting in shorter, thinner toes. These earliest designs were very simple in design, often mere "foot bags" of leather to protect the feet from rocks, debris, and cold. They were more commonly found in colder climates.
Many early natives in North America wore a similar type of footwear known as the moccasin. These are tight-fitting, soft-soled shoes typically made out of leather or bison hides. Many moccasins were also decorated with various beads and other adornments. Moccasins were not designed to get wet, and in wet weather and warm summer months, most Native Americans went barefoot.
As civilizations began to develop, thong sandals (the precursors of the modern flip-flop) were worn. This practice dates back to pictures of them in ancient Egyptian murals from 4,000 B.C. One pair found in Europe was made of papyrus leaves and dated to be approximately 1,500 years old. They were also worn in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus Christ. Thong sandals were worn by many civilizations and made from a wide variety of materials. Ancient Egyptian sandals were made from papyrus and palm leaves. The Masai of Africa made them out of rawhide. In India, they were made from wood. In China and Japan, rice straw was used. The leaves of the sisal plant were used to make twine for sandals in South America, while the natives of Mexico used the Yucca plant.
While thong sandals were commonly worn, many people in ancient times, such as the Egyptians, Hindu and Greeks, saw little need for footwear, and most of the time, preferred being barefoot. The Egyptians and Hindus made some use of ornamental footwear, such as a soleless sandal known as a "Cleopatra", which did not provide any practical protection for the foot. The ancient Greeks largely viewed footwear as self-indulgent, unaesthetic and unnecessary. Shoes were primarily worn in the theater, as a means of increasing stature, and many preferred to go barefoot. Athletes in the Ancient Olympic Games participated barefoot – and naked. Even the gods and heroes were primarily depicted barefoot, and the hoplite warriors fought battles in bare feet and Alexander the Great conquered his vast empire with barefoot armies. The runners of Ancient Greece are also believed to have run barefoot. Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of Marathon, he ran straight from the battlefield to Athens to inform the Athenians of the news.
The Romans, who eventually conquered the Greeks, and adopted many aspects of their culture, did not adopt the Greek perception of footwear and clothing. Roman clothing was seen as a sign of power, and footwear was seen as a necessity of living in a civilized world, although the slaves and paupers usually went barefoot. There are many references to shoes being worn in the Bible. During weddings of this period, a father would give his son-in-law a pair of shoes, to symbolize the transfer of authority. Slaves were also commonly barefoot, and shoes were considered badges of freedom since biblical times:
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet (Luke 15:22).
A common casual shoe in the Pyrenees during the Middle Ages are espadrilles. These are sandals with braided jute soles and a fabric upper portion, and often includes fabric laces that tie around the ankle. The term is French and comes from the esparto grass. The shoes originate in the Catalonian region of Spain as early as the 13th century, and were commonly worn by peasants in the farming communities in the area.
By the 15th Century, pattens became popular by both men and women in Europe. These are commonly seen as the predecessor of the modern high-heeled shoe, while the poor and lower classes in Europe, as well as slaves in the New World, were barefoot. In the 15th century, the Crakow was fashionable in Europe. This style of shoe is named because it is thought to have originated in Kraków, the capitol of Poland. The style is characterized by the point of the shoe, known as the "polaine", which often was supported by a whalebone tied to the knee to prevent the point getting in the way while walking. Also during the 15th century, chopines were created in Turkey, and were usually 7-8 inches (17.7-20.3 cm) high. These shoes became popular in Venice and throughout Europe, as a status symbol revealing wealth and social standing. During the 16th century, royalty started wearing high-heeled shoes to make them look taller or larger than life, such as Catherine de Medici or Mary I of England. By 1580, even men wore them, and a person with authority or wealth was often referred to as, "well-heeled".
Many medieval shoes were made using the turnshoe method of construction, in which the upper was turned flesh side out, and was lasted onto the sole and joined to the edge by a seam. The shoe was then turned inside-out so that the grain was outside. Some shoes were developed with toggled flaps or drawstrings to tighten the leather around the foot for a better fit. The turnshoe method was replaced by the welted method around 1500.
Eventually the modern shoe, with a sewn-on sole, was devised. Since the 17th century, most leather shoes have used a sewn-on sole. This remains the standard for finer-quality dress shoes today. Until around 1800, shoes were made without differentiation for the left or right foot. Such shoes are now referred to as "straights". Only gradually did the modern foot-specific shoe become standard.
Since the mid-20th Century, advances in rubber, plastics, synthetic cloth, and industrial adhesives have allowed manufacturers to create shoes that stray considerably from traditional crafting techniques. Leather, which had been the primary material in earlier styles, has remained standard in expensive dress shoes, but athletic shoes often have little or no real leather. Soles, which were once laboriously hand-stitched on, are now more often machine stitched or simply glued on. Many of these newer materials, such as rubber and plastics, have made shoes less biodegradable. It is estimated that most mass-produced shoes require 1000 years to degrade in a landfill. In the late 2000s, some shoemakers picked up on the issue and began to produce shoes made entirely from degradable materials, such as the Nike Considered.
In 2007, the global shoe industry had an overall market of $107.4 billion, in terms of revenue, and is expected to grow to $122.9 billion by the end of 2012. Shoe manufacturers in the People's Republic of China account for 63% of production, 40.5% of global exports and 55% of industry revenue. However, many manufacturers in Europe dominate the higher-priced, higher value-added end of the market.
As an integral part of human culture and civilization, shoes have found their way into our culture, folklore, and art. A popular 18th century nursery rhyme is There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. This story tells about an old woman living in a shoe with a lot of children. In 1948, Mahlon Haines, a shoe salesman in Hallam, Pennsylvania, built an actual house shaped like a work boot as a form of advertisement. The Haines Shoe House was rented to newlyweds and the elderly until his death in 1962. Since then, it has served as an ice cream parlor, a bed and breakfast, and a museum. It still stands today and is a popular roadside attraction.
Shoes also play an important role in the fairy tales Cinderella and The Red Shoes. In the children's book and movie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a pair of red ruby slippers play a key role in the plot. The 1985 comedy The Man with One Red Shoe features an eccentric man wearing one normal business shoe and one red shoe that becomes central to the plot.
Athletic sneaker collection has also existed as a part of urban subculture in the United States for several decades. Recent decades have seen this trend spread to European nations such as the Czech Republic. A Sneakerhead is a person who owns multiple pairs of shoes as a form of collection and fashion. A contributor to the growth of sneaker collecting is the continued worldwide popularity of the Air Jordan line of sneakers designed by Nike for Basketball star Michael Jordan.
In the Holy Bible's Old Testament, the shoe is used to symbolize something that is worthless or of little value. In the New Testament, the act of removing one's shoes symbolizes servitude. The Semites regarded the act of removing their shoes as a mark of reverence when approaching a sacred person or place. In the Book of Exodus, Moses was instructed to remove his shoes before approaching the burning bush:
Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest [is] holy ground (Exodus 3:5).
The removal of the shoe also symbolizes the act of giving up a legal right. In Hebrew custom, the widow removed the shoe of her late husband's brother to symbolize that he had abandoned his duty. In arab custom, the removal of one's shoe also symbolized the dissolution of marriage.
In Arab culture, showing the sole of your shoe is considered an insult, and to throw your shoe and hit someone with it, is considered an even greater insult. This is because the shoe is considered dirty because it touches the ground and is associated with the lowest part of the body — the foot. As such, shoes are forbidden in mosques, and it is also considered rude to cross your legs and display your soles to someone when talking to them. This insult was demonstrated in Iraq, first when Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in 2003, Iraqis gathered around it and struck the statue with their shoes. Secondly, in 2008, United States President George W. Bush had a shoe thrown at him by a journalism as a statement against the war that was brought to Iraq and the lives that it has cost.
Empty shoes may also symbolize death. In Greek culture, empty shoes are the equivalent of the American funeral wreath. For example, empty shoes placed outside of a Greek home would tell others that the family's son has died in battle. At an observation memorializing the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, 3,000 pairs of empty shoes were used to recognize those killed.
The basic anatomy of a shoe is recognizable, regardless of the specific style of footwear.
All shoes have a "sole", which is the bottom of a shoe, in contact with the ground. Soles can be made from a variety of materials, although most modern shoes have soles made from natural rubber, polyurethane, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compounds. Soles can be simple — a single material in a single layer — or they can be complex, with multiple structures or layers and materials. When various layers are used, soles may consist of an "insole", "midsole", and an "outsole".
The insole is the interior bottom of a shoe, which sits directly beneath the foot under the footbed (also known as sock liner). The purpose of insole is to attach to the lasting margin of the upper, which is wrapped around the last during the closing of the shoe during the lasting operation. Insoles are usually made of cellulosic paper board or synthetic non woven insole board. Many shoes have removable and replaceable footbeds. Extra cushioning is often added for comfort (to control the shape, moisture, or smell of the shoe) or health reasons (to help deal with defects in the natural shape of the foot or positioning of the foot during standing or walking).
The outsole is the layer in direct contact with the ground. Dress shoes often have leather or resin rubber outsoles; casual or work-oriented shoes have outsoles made of natural rubber or a synthetic material like polyurethane. The outsole may comprise a single piece, or may be an assembly of separate pieces, often of different materials. On some shoes, the heel of the sole has a rubber plate for durability and traction, while the front is leather for style. Specialized shoes will often have modifications on this design: athletic or so called cleated shoes like soccer, rugby, baseball and golf shoes have spikes embedded in the outsole to improve traction.
The midsole is the layer in between the outsole and the insole, typically there for shock absorption. Some types of shoes, like running shoes, have additional material for shock absorption, usually beneath the heel of the foot, where one puts the most pressure down. Some shoes may not have a midsole at all.
The "heel" is the bottom rear part of a shoe. Its function is to support the heel of the foot. They are often made of the same material as the sole of the shoe. This part can be high for fashion or to make the person look taller, or flat for a more practical and comfortable use.
The "upper" helps hold the shoe onto the foot. In the simplest cases, such as sandals or flip-flops, this may be nothing more than a few straps for holding the sole in place. Closed footwear, such as boots, trainers and most men's shoes, will have a more complex upper. This part is often decorated or is made in a certain style to look attractive. The upper is connected to the sole by a strip of leather, rubber, or plastic that is stitched between it and the sole, known as a welt.
Most uppers have a mechanism, such as laces, straps with buckles, zippers, elastic, velcro straps, buttons, or snaps, for tightening the upper on the foot. Uppers with laces usually have a "tongue" that helps seal the laced opening and protect the foot from abrasion by the laces. Uppers with laces also have eyelets or hooks to make it easier to tighten and loosen the laces and to prevent the lace from tearing through the upper material. An "aglet" is the protective wrapping on the end of the lace.
The medial is the part of the shoe closest to a person's center of symmetry, and the lateral is on the opposite side, away from their center of symmetry. This can be in reference to either the outsole or the vamp. Most shoes have shoelaces on the upper, connecting the medial and lateral parts after one puts their shoes on and aiding in keeping their shoes on their feet. In 1968, Puma SE introduced the first pair of sneakers with Velcro straps in lieu of shoelaces, and these became popular by the 1980s, especially among children and the elderly.
There are a wide variety of different types of shoes. Most types of shoes are designed for specific activities. For example, boots are typically designed for work or heavy outdoor use. Athletic shoes are designed for particular sports such as running, walking, or other sports. Some shoes are designed to be worn at more formal occasions, and others are designed for casual wear. There are also a wide variety of shoes designed for different types of dancing. Orthopedic shoes are special types of footwear designed for individuals with particular foot problems or special needs. Other animals, such as dogs and horses, may also wear special shoes to protect their feet as well.
Depending on the activity for which they are designed, some types of footwear may fit into multiple categories. For example, Cowboy boots are considered boots, but may also be worn in more formal occasions and used as dress shoes. Hiking boots incorporate many of the protective features of boots, but also provide the extra flexibility and comfort of many athletic shoes. Flip-flops are considered casual footwear, but have also been worn in formal occasions, such as visits to the White House.
Athletic shoes are specifically designed to be worn for participating in various sports. Since friction between the foot and the ground is an important force in most sports, modern athletic shoes are designed to maximize this force, and materials, such as rubber, are used. Although, for some activities such as dancing or bowling, sliding is desirable, so shoes designed for these activities often have lower coefficients of friction. The earliest athletic shoes date back to the mid 19th century were track spikes — leather shoes with metal cleats on the soles to provide increased friction during running. They were developed by J.W. Foster & Sons, which later become known as Reebok. By the end of the 19th century, Spalding also manufactured these shoes as well. Adidas started selling shoes with track spikes in them for running and soccer in 1925. Spikes were eventually added to shoes for baseball and American football in the 20th century. Golfers also use shoes with small metal spikes on their soles to prevent slipping during their swing.
The earliest rubber-soled athletic shoes date back to 1876 in the United Kingdom, when the New Liverpool Rubber Company made plimsolls, or sandshoes, designed for the sport of croquet. Similar rubber-soled shoes were made in 1892 in the United States by Humphrey O'Sullivan, based on Charles Goodyear's technology. The United States Rubber Company was founded the same year and produced rubber-soled and heeled shoes under a variety of brand names, which were later consolidated in 1916 under the name, Keds. These shoes became known as, "sneakers", because the rubber sole allowed the wearer to sneak up on another person. In 1964, the founding of Nike by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon introduced many new improvements common in modern running shoes, such as rubber waffle soles, breathable nylon uppers, and cushioning in the mid-sole and heel. During the 1970s, the expertise of podiatrists also became important in athletic shoe design, to implement new design features based on how feet reacted to specific actions, such as running, jumping, or side-to-side movement. Athletic shoes for women were also designed for their specific physiological differences.
Shoes specific to the sport of basketball were developed by Chuck Taylor, and are popularly known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. These shoes, first sold in 1917, are double-layer canvas shoes with rubber soles and toe caps, and a high heel (known as a "high top") for added support. In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in recognition of this development, and in the 1970s, other shoe manufacturers, such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and others began imitating this style of athletic shoe. In April 1985, Nike introduced its own brand of basketball shoe which would become popular in its own right, the Air Jordan, named after the then-rookie Chicago Bulls basketball player, Michael Jordan. The Air Jordan line of shoes sold $100 million in their first year.
As barefoot running became popular by the late 20th and early 21st century, many modern shoe manufacturers have recently designed footwear that mimic this experience, maintaining optimum flexibility and natural walking while also providing some degree of protection. The purpose of these "minimalist shoes" is to allow one's feet and legs to feel more subtly the impacts and forces involved in running, allowing finer adjustments in running style. Some of these shoes include the Vibram FiveFingers, Nike Free, and Saucony's Kinvara and Hattori. Mexican huaraches are also very simple running shoes, similar to the shoes worn by the Tarahumara people of northern Mexico, who are known for their distance running abilities. Wrestling shoes are also very light and flexible shoes that are designed to mimic bare feet while providing additional traction and protection.
Many athletic shoes are designed with specific features for specific activities. One of these includes roller skates, which have metal or plastic wheels on the bottom specific for the sport of roller skating. Similarly, ice skates have a metal blade attached to the bottom for locomotion across ice. Skate shoes have also been designed to provide a comfortable, flexible and durable shoe for the sport of skateboarding. Climbing shoes are rubber-soled, tight-fitting shoes designed to fit in the small cracks and crevices for rock climbing. Cycling shoes are similarly designed with rubber soles and a tight fit, but also are equipped with a metal or plastic cleat to interface with clipless pedals, as well as a stiff sole to maximize power transfer and support the foot.
A boot is a special type of shoe which covers the foot and the ankle and extends up the leg, sometimes as far as the knee or even the hip. Most boots have a heel that is clearly distinguishable from the rest of the sole, even if the two are made of one piece. They are typically made of leather or rubber, although they may be made from a variety of different materials. Boots are worn both for their functionality — protecting the foot and leg from water, snow, mud or hazards or providing additional ankle support for strenuous activities — as well as for reasons of style and fashion.
Cowboy boots are a specific style of riding boot which combines function with fashion. They became popular among cowboys in the western United States during the 19th century. Traditional cowboy boots have a Cuban heel, rounded to pointed toe, high shaft, and, traditionally, no lacing. They are normally made from cowhide leather but may be made from more exotic skins such as ostrich, anaconda, or elephant skins.
Hiking boots are designed to provide extra ankle and arch support, as well as extra padding for comfort during hiking. They are constructed to provide comfort for miles of walking over rough terrains, and protect the hiker's feet against water, mud, rocks, and other wilderness obstacles. These boots support the ankle to avoid twisting but do not restrict the ankle's movement too much. They are fairly stiff to support the foot. A properly fitted boot and/or friction-reducing patches applied to troublesome areas ensures protection against blisters and other discomforts associated with long hikes on rugged terrain.
During wet or snowy weather, snow boots are worn to keep the foot warm and dry. They are typically made of rubber or other water-resistant material, have multiple layers of insulation, and a high heel to keep snow out. Boots may also be attached to snowshoes to increase the distribution of weight over a larger surface area for walking in snow. Ski boots are a specialized snow boot which are used in alpine or cross-country skiing and designed to provide a way to attach the skier to his/her skis using ski bindings. The ski/boot/binding combination is used to effectively transmit control inputs from the skier's legs to the snow. Ice skates are another specialized boot with a metal blade attached to the bottom which is used to propel the wearer across a sheet of ice. Inline skates are similar to ice skates but with a set of three to four wheels in lieu of the blade, which are designed to mimic ice skating on solid surfaces such as wood or concrete.
Boots are designed to withstand heavy wear to protect the wearer and provide good traction. They are generally made from sturdy leather uppers and non-leather outsoles. They may be used for uniforms of the police or military, as well as for protection in industrial settings such as mining and construction. Protective features may include steel-tipped toes and soles or ankle guards.
Dress shoes are characterized by smooth and supple leather uppers, leather soles, and narrow sleek figure. Casual shoes are characterized by sturdy leather uppers, non-leather outsoles, and wide profile.
Some designs of dress shoes can be worn by either gender. The majority of dress shoes have an upper covering, commonly made of leather, enclosing most of the lower foot, but not covering the ankles. This upper part of the shoe is often made without apertures or openings, but may also be made with openings or even itself consist of a series of straps, e.g. an open toe featured in women's shoes. Shoes with uppers made high to cover the ankles are also available; a shoe with the upper rising above the ankle is usually considered a boot but certain styles may be referred to as high-topped shoes or high-tops. Usually, a high-topped shoe is secured by laces or zippers, although some styles have elastic inserts to ease slipping the shoe on.
Men's shoes can be categorized by how they are closed:
Men's shoes can also be decorated in various ways:
Formal high-end men's shoes are manufactured by several companies around the world, most notably in England, France, Italy, and America. Notable British brands include: Church's English Shoes (est. 1873), John Lobb Bootmaker (est. 1849), Edward Green Shoes (est. 1890), and Crockett & Jones (est. 1879). Both John Lobb and Edward Green offer bespoke products. In between the world wars, men's footwear received significant innovation and design, led by cobblers and cordwainers in London's West End. The most notable][ French product is made by J.M. Weston. Armani of Italy was a major influence on men's shoe design in the 1960s–1980s until they returned to the larger proportions of its forebears, the welt-constructed Anglo-American dress shoe originally created in Edwardian England. Another well-known Italian company is Salvatore Ferragamo Italia S.p.A.. The remaining elite][ American companies are Allen Edmonds and Alden Shoe Company. Alden, located in New England, specializes in genuine shell cordovan leather from the only remaining horse tannery in America (Chicago) and is completely manufactured in America, whereas Allen Edmonds, of Wisconsin, is a larger company that outsources some of its production.
There is a large variety of shoes available for women, in addition to most of the men's styles being more accepted as unisex. Some broad categories are:
A wide variety of footwear is used by dancers. The choice of dance shoe type depends on the style of dance that is to be performed and, in many cases, the characteristics of the surface that will be danced on.
Jazz shoes. This style is frequently worn by acro dancers
A foot thong, viewed from the bottom
Ladies' ballroom shoes
Men's ballroom shoes
Orthopedic shoes are specially-designed footwear to relieve discomfort associated with many foot and ankle disorders, such as blisters, bunions, calluses and corns, hammer toes, plantar fasciitis, or heel spurs. They may also be worn by individuals with diabetes or people with unequal leg length. These shoes typically have a low heel, tend to be wide with a particularly wide toe box, and have a firm heel to provide extra support. Some may also have a removable insole, or orthotic, to provide extra arch support.
While most shoes have historically been worn by humans, there are simple shoes that are designed to be worn by other domesticated animals, such as dogs and horses. A horseshoe is a man-made product, normally made of metal or other modern synthetic materials, designed to protect a horse's hoof from wear and tear. Horseshoes are attached on the palmar surface of the hooves, usually nailed through the insensitive hoof wall that is anatomically akin to the human toenail, though much larger and thicker. They may also be glued.
It is unknown who invented the original horseshoe. Horsemen in Asia constructed horse booties from leather and plant material. During the first century, the Romans made leather and metal shoes called hipposandals. By approximately the 6th or 7th centuries, horsemen in Europe nailed metal shoes to horses' hooves. By 1000 AD, cast bronze horseshoes with nail holes had become common in Europe. Iron horseshoes became common by the 13th or 14th century.
Horseshoes are available in a wide variety of materials and styles, developed for different types of horse and for the work they do. The most common materials are steel and aluminum, but specialized shoes may include use of rubber, plastic, magnesium, titanium, or copper. Steel tends to be preferred in sports where a strong, long-wearing shoe is needed, such as polo, eventing, show jumping, and western riding events. Aluminum shoes are lighter, making them common in horse racing, where a lighter shoe is desired; and often facilitate certain types of desired movement, and so are favored in the discipline of dressage. Some horseshoes have "caulkins", "caulks", or "calks": protrusions at the toe and/or heels of the shoe, to provide additional traction.
Dogs are another domesticated animal for which shoes have been constructed. Some native American tribes, such as the Cree or Salteaux, used dog shoes to protect their feet during activities such as dog sledding, since the ice could wear the pads on a dog's foot thin, sometimes resulting in bleeding. Modern dog boots may also be used for other outdoor activities, such as hunting and hiking, to prevent slippage in wet or snowy weather as well as to keep snow from accumulating between the dog's toes. There are many different shapes and sizes available, and they may be made of a variety of materials, but commonly they are made of leather, neoprene, Cordura, or may even be home-made out of cotton and duct tape.
A person who makes or repairs shoes in a shop is called a cobbler.
Shoe size is an alphanumerical indication of the fitting size of a shoe for a person. Often it just consists of a number indicating the length because many shoemakers only provide a standard width for economic reasons. There are several different shoe-size systems that are used worldwide. These systems differ in what they measure, what unit of measurement they use, and where the size 0 (or 1) is positioned. Only a few systems also take the width of the feet into account. Some regions use different shoe-size systems for different types of shoes (e.g., men's, women's, children's, sport, or safety shoes).
Units for shoe sizes vary widely around the world. European sizes are measured in Paris Points, which are worth two-thirds of a centimeter. The UK and American units are approximately one-quarter of an inch, starting at 8¼ inches. Men's and women's shoe sizes often have different scales. Shoes size is often measured using a Brannock Device, which can determine both the width and length of the foot.
A stiletto heel is a long, thin, high heel found on some boots and shoes, usually for women. It is named after the stiletto dagger, the phrase being first recorded in the early 1930s. Stiletto heels may vary in length from 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) to 25 cm (10 inches) or more if a platform sole is used, and are sometimes defined as having a diameter at the ground of less than 1 cm (slightly less than half an inch). Stiletto-style heels 5 cm or shorter are called kitten heels. Not all high slim heels merit the description stiletto. The extremely slender original Italian-style stiletto heels of the late 1950s and very early 1960s were no more than 5mm in diameter for much of their length, although the heel sometimes flared out a little at the top-piece (tip). After their demise in the mid-late 1960s, such slender heels were difficult to find until recently due to changes in the way heels were mass-produced. A real stiletto heel has a stem of solid steel or alloy. The more usual method of mass-producing high shoe heels, i.e. moulded plastic with an internal metal tube for reinforcement, does not achieve the true stiletto shape.
Relatively thin high heels were certainly around in the late 19th century, as numerous fetish drawings attest. Firm photographic evidence exists in the form of photographs of Parisian singer Mistinguett from the 1940s. These shoes were designed by Andre Perugia, who began designing shoes in 1906. It seems unlikely that he invented the stiletto, but he is probably the first firmly documented designer of the high, slim heel. The word stiletto is derived from stiletto, which is a long thin blade, similar in profile to the heel of the shoe. Its usage in footwear first appeared in print in the New Statesman magazine in 1959: "She came ...forward, her walk made lopsided by the absence of one heel of the stilettos".
High heel shoes were worn by men and women courtiers. The stiletto heel came with the advent of technology using a supporting metal shaft or stem embedded into the heel, instead of wood or other, weaker materials that required a wide heel. This revival of the opulent heel style can be attributed to the designer Roger Vivier and such designs became very popular in the 1950s.
As time went on, stiletto heels would become known more for their erotic nature than for their ability to make height. Stiletto heels are a common fetish item. As a fashion item, their popularity was changing over time. After an initial wave of popularity in the 1950s, they reached their most refined shape in the early 1960s, when the toes of the shoes which bore them became as slender and elongated as the stiletto heels themselves. As a result of the overall sharpness of outline, it was customary for women to refer to the whole shoe as a "stiletto", not just the heel, via synecdoche (pars pro toto). Although they officially faded from the scene after the Beatle era began, their popularity continued at street level, and women stubbornly refused to give them up even after they could no longer readily find them in the mainstream shops. A version of the stiletto heel was reintroduced as soon as 1974 by Manolo Blahnik, who dubbed his "new" heel the Needle. Similar heels were stocked at the big Biba store in London, by Russell & Bromley and by smaller boutiques. Old, unsold stocks of pointed-toe stilettos, and contemporary efforts to replicate them (lacking the true stiletto heel because of changes in the way heels were by then being mass-produced) were sold in street fashion markets and became popular with punks, and with other fashion "tribes" of the late 1970s until supplies of the inspirational original styles dwindled in the early 1980s. Subsequently, round-toe shoes with slightly thicker (sometimes cone-shaped) semi-stiletto heels, often very high in an attempt to convey slenderness were frequently worn at the office with wide-shouldered power suits. The style survived through much of the 1980s but almost completely disappeared during the 1990s, when professional and college-age women took to wearing shoes with thick, block heels. The slender stiletto heel staged a major comeback after 2000, when young women adopted the style for dressing up office wear or adding a feminine touch to casual wear, like jeans.
Stiletto heels are particularly associated with the image of the femme fatale. They are often considered to be a seductive item of clothing, and often feature in popular culture.
Stilettos, like all similar high-heeled shoes, give the optical illusion of a longer, slimmer leg, a smaller foot, and overall greater height. They alter the wearer's posture and gait, flexing the calf muscles and making the bust and buttocks more prominent.
All high heels counter the natural functionality of the foot, which can create skeletal and muscular problems if users wear them excessively. Stiletto heels are no exception. Despite their impracticality, their popularity remains undiminished — as UK shoe designer Terry DeHavilland has said, "people say they're bad for the feet but they're good for the mind. What's more important?"
Stiletto heels concentrate a large amount of force into a small area. The great pressure under such a heel which is greater than that under the feet of an elephant can cause damage to carpets and floors. The stiletto heel, unless equipped with a "heel stopper", may sink into soft ground, making it impractical for outdoor wear on grass.
Pointe technique is the part of classical ballet technique that concerns pointe work, in which a ballet dancer supports all body weight on the tips of fully extended feet. A dancer is said to be en pointe when the dancer's body is supported in this manner, and a fully extended foot is said to be en pointe when touching the floor, even when not bearing weight. Pointe work is performed while wearing pointe shoes, which employ structural reinforcing to distribute the dancer's weight load throughout the foot, thus reducing the load on the toes enough to enable the dancer to support all body weight on fully vertical feet.
Pointe technique resulted from a desire for female dancers to appear weightless and sylph-like. Although both men and women are capable of pointe work, it is more commonly performed by women.
Pointe technique encompasses both the mechanical and artistic aspects of pointe work. In particular, it is concerned with body alignment, placement of the feet, and the manner in which a dancer transitions to and from en pointe. A dancer is said to have "good" or "proper" technique when in conformance with the best practices of pointe technique, which in turn are generally referred to as proper technique.
En pointe dancers employ pointe technique to determine foot placement and body alignment. When exhibiting proper technique, a dancer's en pointe foot is placed so that the instep is fully stretched, with toes perpendicular to the floor, with the pointe shoe's platform (the flattened tip of the toe box) square to the floor so that a substantial part of its surface is contacting the floor.
Proper technique is also evident from a dancer's body alignment, by visualizing a straight line that extends from the center of the hip through the toes. When a properly aligned dancer is viewed from the side, the line passes through the knee, ankle joint, and big toe joints. When viewed from the front, the line passes through the knee, ankle joint, and the joints of the second toe or middle toe or the area between those toe joints. In cases of unusually high instep or metatarsal joint flexibility, it is sometimes necessary to flex the toes to achieve proper alignment.
A dancer may transition to en pointe by any of three possible methods: relevé, sauté or piqué. In the relevé method, the dancer rises smoothly by rotating the foot downward until it reaches a fully extended, vertical orientation, while the toe box remains in contact with the floor, thus "rolling up" on the foot. This may be done either gradually or rapidly, on one foot or both feet, beginning with feet flat on the floor or in demi-pointe (heels raised). In the sauté method, the dancer springs up and lands en pointe. In the process, the feet break contact with the floor and the dancer is briefly airborne. To transition to en pointe via piqué, a dancer will step out directly onto a fully extended, vertical foot. The other foot is then raised from the floor, thereby leaving the dancer en pointe.
Modern ballet technique incorporates all three transition methods. Relevé and piqué transitions are typically used for adages, where strength, poise, and controlled movements are highlighted. The more abrupt sauté method, which was introduced by Enrico Cecchetti, is typically used in allegros, where the relatively slow and smooth relevé and piqué transitions would be both impractical and visually inconsistent with the lively pace of movement. The sauté method is more common in Russian ballet.
Although age is not a prerequisite, many ballet students do not begin to dance en pointe earlier than approximately eleven years of age because bones in the feet are often too soft prior to that age and, in such cases, serious and permanent foot injuries could result from starting pointe work too early. Exceptions may be made if the dance teacher or a physician has determined that a dancer's feet have sufficiently ossified, and it is not uncommon for dancers begin pointe work as early as age nine. Also, the age at which dancers are psychologically ready to learn pointwork varies from one individual to another.
Otherwise, ballet students are generally ready to begin pointe work after achieving competency in fundamental ballet technique. For example, before learning pointe work, a dancer must be able to maintain turnout while performing center combinations, hold a proper ballet position with straight back and good turnout, pull up properly in the legs, and balance securely in relevé.
Preparation for pointe work is a gradual process that starts with strengthening exercises at the barre. These exercises may vary in accordance with a teacher's preferences and, if applicable, the syllabus associated with the teaching method. The first exercises at the barre are usually relevés and échappés. When the student is comfortable executing these steps on both feet, and tendons and muscles have become sufficiently strong, steps ending on one foot are introduced. Examples of these are pas de bourrée en pointes and retiré en pointes.
During each class session, a student will move on to centre exercises after completing the barre work. These exercises emphasize various aspects of ballet technique, such as turnout, pointing of the toes, and the use of ballet technique while en pointe.
Dancing en pointe stresses the feet in various ways and thus can potentially cause injuries. Injuries can result from improper technique, poorly fitting pointe shoes, and lack of effective cushioning and accessories. Some types of injuries are prevented by adhering to proper technique such as correct upper-body positioning, maintaining straight knees when required, keeping body weight centered over the box of the shoes, and avoiding sickling.
Injuries due to toe misalignment are often avoided by adjusting toe alignments with gel toe spacers. Toenail bruising can be caused by heavy pressure on the front of the nail; this is typically prevented by keeping toenails clipped short, by wrapping tape around the toes, by using padding, or combinations of these. Bruising can also occur on the tips of the toes, especially when no padding is used.
Pointe work can cause friction between toes and the interior of the pointe shoe's box. This friction, under the high pressure of much of the dancer's body weight, can result in chafing and blistering. This is often mitigated with lamb's wool, or toe pads, or by wrapping tape around toes, though excessive padding may be counterproductive as it can impair the dancer's ability to "feel the floor". Other exterior injuries include cuts between the toes as a result of toenails cutting into adjacent toes. Also, calluses may form on the bottoms and sides of the feet, which can crack open. Ingrown nails can result from ill-fitting shoes.
Other common injuries:
Heel lifts also known as shoe inserts are commonly used as therapy for leg-length differences leading to knee, hip, and back pain, to reduce stress on the Achilles' tendon during healing, and for various rehabilitation uses.
The intent of one is not to absorb shock or spread pressure on the foot, but to raise one foot in order to shift balance and gait. As such,these products should be firm and not compressible, in order to add a constant amount of height without causing the heel to rub vertically in the shoe.
A commonly used formula for calculating the amount lift necessary for short leg syndrome was presented by David Heilig:
L < [SBU] / [D + C]
where Duration (D) is
0-10 years = 1 pt
10-30 years = 2 pts
30+ years = 3 pts
and Compensation (C) is
absent (none) = 0 pts
sidebending and rotation (of the spine) = 1 pt
wedging, facet size changes, endplates with horizontal growths, spurring = 2 pts
Sacral Base Unleveling (SBU), Lift Required (L).
The maximum lift measure within the shoe (i.e., between the heel and the insole) is 1/4 inch, while the maximum lift from the heel to the floor is 1/2 inch.