So is vamp short for … vampire?

Uh, that would be a no. Kiddos, if you want be a ballet dancer, recreationally or professionally, you gotta speak the lingo. So today, let’s talk about the language of pointe shoes. And to talk about that, we have to understand how they’re made.

To create a traditional paste shoe, the fabric, leather and other components need to be shaped on a form, or last. Layers of canvas, burlap or muslin with paste and sometimes flour are often hand-formed for the box, baked for hours, and dried for sometimes weeks. Often, shoes are formed from the inside and then turned right-side-out for the final touches like binding. Most pointe shoes have no left or right until they are broken in by the dancer. (Just to clarify for the real newbs out there: There is no wood tip or block in a pointe shoe!)

Each part of a pointe shoe, from the tip or platform on which the dancer balances when on pointe, to the thin and carefully sewn drawstring cover, or binding, has a name. So just for you, I’ve compiled this glossary of basic pointe shoe terms that you should know:

Binding: the fabric channel through which the drawstring runs

Box or Block: the stiff toe cup that encases the toes

Box liner: the soft fabric that lines the inside of the box

Crown: the vertical height between the vamp and the sole

Girth: the measurement around the widest part of the foot, at the metatarsals at the ball of the foot

High Profile: a pointe shoe box, often cylindrical, with a relatively large space between the outer sole and the top of the box, better for higher insteps.

Last: A last is designed to create a shape by replicating the form of a dancer’s foot. Every style, size and width requires its own last.

Low Profile: a pointe shoe box with a generally flat shape and a relatively small space between the outer sole and the top of the box, better for lower insteps

Metatarsals: the five bones between the ankle and the toes. Pointe shoe fitting is especially concerned with the area near the ball of the foot.

Outer Sole: the bottom part of the shoe, usually made of synthetic or leather, which is in contact with the floor when the dancer stands in the normal flat position

Platform: the part of the pointe shoe on which the dancer stands when en pointe

Pronation: the rolling inward of the foot so that when standing flat, more weight is on the ball of the foot than on the outside

Quarter: the part of the shoe covering the sides and heel of the foot

Shank: the stiff insole that provides support; Created from the leatherboard or redboard, this is the backbone of a pointe shoe. It is located under the socklining and provides support to the arch. A dancer’s strength and technical ability determine shank preference.

Side Wings: Side wings are an extension of the box and provide lateral support.

Side Quarters: the sections of satin from the side seams to the back of the stay

Sockliner: the soft fabric that lies directly underneath the foot and runs the length of the shoe

Sole: Made of either buffed or scored leather to provide traction, the sole is internally stitched to the upper.

Stay: fabric that covers the seam in the back of the shoe at the dancer’s heel

Throat: open area located between side seams at the center front of the shoe is the throat. It gives shape to the upper which accentuates a dancer’s arch.

Vamp: the section of the shoe “upper” measured from the platform back to and including the binding. A longer vamp can help draw the foot closer to the shank for more support on pointe, so that the foot doesn’t overextend.

Vamp Elastic: wide, firm elastic sewn at the throat of the shoe to extend the vamp and cover the top of the foot

Winged Box: a box with extra-long, stiff sides

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