The Ballet-Fashion Connection: It will never die.
You thought the hubbub over ballet-fashion-body image-shoes was over, now that Black Swan has been out of theaters for a while.
Well, apparently I'm going to rub your nose in it again…
You may recall the silly looking tippy-toe heels that Beyonce and others were caught in in recent years.
They were merely copping the fetish-style long since illustrated by Nichelle Nichols (yes, of the original Star Trek series):
Photo via the beloved Coilhouse.
Here's the latest iteration, brought to my attention by Rent the Runway– Christian Louboutin's Swarovski crystal encrusted objet d'art. (I call it an objet, because nobody is going to wear this other than as costume. And by "wear" I mean, stand or sit while having them on. It's for looking at, not for anything functional.)
I've been reading this fascinating, extremely dense but readable (if you're a fashion/history/anthropology nerd like moi) tome about ballet, Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans (Random House, 2010).
And I just read an interesting section on the origins of dancing on pointe:
Grotteschi Italian performers, with their openly acrobatic and sensational style, dominated ballet performances [in the early 1800s]. It was not just the men– women too were unrestrained in their bravura. In one spectacular trick, attributed to the dancer Amalia Brugnoli, dancers blithely hiked themselves onto the tips of their toes and perched there for all to see: toe dancing. Among Italian dancers on the German and Austro-Italian circuit this new trick stuck and became a widely performed feat. Thus the origins of what we today call pointe work lay not in a poetic vision of the ethereal, as is often thought, but in a crude stunt that was then later refined by [Marie] Taglioni and others into something more elegant and elevated. [...]
Image via Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture
Marie [Taglioni] was adamant that the practice of hoisting the body up onto the tips of the toes a la Brugnoli was crass and to be avoided. But she did not disregard the appeal of this new move; instead, she practiced for hours so that she could rise to her toes elegantly, without raising her arms, grimacing, or in any way revealing the effort involved. We know, however, that Taglioni did not dance on full pointe, like today's ballerinas. Her shoes, which we still have, are not so different from the fashionable street shoes worn by women at the time. Made of soft satin, they had leather soles and a rounded or square toe, with delicate ribbons attached at the arch that laced up around the ankle: they were not hard or boxed like today's point shoe but soft and round except for a layer of supportive darning sewn underneath the metatarsal and toe.
Marie Taglioni's personal effects (allegedly – no museum info provided), via Flickr
The undersoles of these old shoes are revealingly scuffed and worn at the metatarsal: Taglioni stood on a very high half-pointe and danced on what today's dancers would consider an in-between or transitional part of the foot: more than half-pointe, but less than full pointe. This is an extremely awkward place to stand, and nineteenth-century dancers often bound their toes tightly into small shoes (tiny feet were prized, and Marie's shoes were at least two sizes smaller than those of today's average dancer), which squeezed and stiffened the metatarsal, making it easier to stand on– but also easier to dislocate bones. These light and fragile but tightly stitched shoes had to support considerable weight and took seam-splitting punishment: Taglioni typically went through two or three pairs in a single performance. (Homans, 2010, pp. 138-142.)
Image via Neatorama. I was going to post a photo of some Chinese ladies' feet deformed by foot binding, but I just couldn't…
Funny that there is apparently a lot of snobbism and sense of entitlement surrounding toe shoes, from modern dancers– considering that the dance style derived from raunchy, vaudeville-type dancers in the middle ages (the grotteschi mentioned above).