Dance Shoes: A Brief History
As dancers our biggest assets are our feet. From tap shoes, to pointe shoes, jazz shoes and more, each style boasts its own unique value. Although they are just “shoes” each pair is truly different from one another. Leather, satin, suede, canvas, taps and shanks, just to name a few, are all materials that are used in the creation of dance shoes. Each pair serves a purpose to their specific genre and truly accentuates the dancer. Let's dive into a quick history of dance shoes, and see how the evolution of them has taken us to where we are today!
Pumps for All (1700s)
In the early 1700s dancers wore a thin soled shoe with a modest heel, given the name pumps for the Europeans or escarpins in French. These shoes were not exclusive to the dance world though, as they began to gain popularity as a specialty “sporting” shoe. Many people enjoyed the look and feel of pumps, and they soon became a fashion statement, and pumps were seen as an option for everyday wear.
Below is a description of the infamous “Pumps” by Taubert, Gottfried.
“A light dance shoe with a pointed toe, single sole, and low heel and tongue is both elegant and comfortable for dancing, especially since it can be easily flexed and controlled like a sock, which best allows one to dance with grace, while a large, thick, and broad shoe, on the other hand, is heavy on the foot like a lead weight. With a neat shoe, one can dance on the toes of the foot and execute all movements with style and almost without effort, while with a clumsy shoe, one must use the greatest of force and cannot even get up onto the toes because of the length and the thick soles. The latter sort then suits peasants and grenadiers much better indeed than galant dancers. If one wishes to make use of a pair of such muck-plungers for drudgery and daily wear, then one can at least keep a pair of neat dance shoes aside, which will stand one in good stead on the [dance] floor and at assemblies.”
The Ballet Slipper is Born (1730s)
Making way for the ballet slipper we know today, is Paris Opera Dancer Marie Camargo. Camargo removed the heel from her pump dance shoe, and within that moment the ballet slipper was born. Linda Murray, curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts stated “Camargo is the transitional point between a heeled shoe and pointe shoe. She is the ballet slipper”. This “new” ballet slipper made it possible for dancers to expand their repertoire, and allowed them to perform greater jumps and faster allegros, things that weren't quite as possible in the earlier pumps.
What's the Pointe? (1820-1830s)
As the early 1820s came around, so did the first glimpse of pointe work. Italian dancer Amalia Brugnoli featured pointe work to audiences in 1823, in Armand Vestris’ La Fée et le Chevalier. The slipper was of satin, and the toe was lightly stitched. Brugnoli showed visible amounts of effort through her upper body to get “en pointe” , but nevertheless she inspired dancers of the day to start practicing the same techniques. Marie Taglioni was one of the dancers who was inspired by Brugnolis work. Taglioni paved the way when she premiered La Sylphide, the first full length ballet to be done en pointe. Eliza Gaynor Minden stated “Marie Taglioni gets the credit and the blame for introducing pointework”. Ballet shoes had gone from the thin soled, and modest heel pump, to a tight-fitting, darned, leather-soled satin slipper tied with ribbons.
Tea time for Tap (1920s)
Tap dancing gained popularity before the invention of the tap shoe itself, it truly was a melting pot of many unique things. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica “... the ingredients that went into the mix were buck dancing (a dance similar to but older than the clog dance), soft-shoe dancing (a relaxed, graceful dance done in soft-soled shoes and made popular in vaudeville), and buck-and-wing dancing (a fast and flashy dance usually done in wooden-soled shoes and combining Irish clogging styles, high kicks, and complex African rhythms and steps such as the shuffle and slide; it is the forerunner of rhythm tap). Tap dance as it is known today did not emerge until roughly the 1920s, when “taps” nailed or screwed onto shoe soles at the toes and heels, became popular. During this time entire chorus lines in shows such as Shuffle Along (1921) first appeared on stage with “tap shoes,” and the dance they did became known as tap dancing.”
Spicing Things Up (1900s-2000s)
According to an article titled The History of Dance Shoes “Ballroom shoes are categorized into Classic ballroom and Latin-American ballroom shoe styles. Between these styles, Classic ballroom dance shoes tend to have lower heels for even weight distribution. Latin dance demands a combination of fiery footwork and tightly choreographed routines to evoke sensuality and passion, it requires a special type of dancing shoes. In its earliest history, Latin dancers wore heeled shoes made with suede soles. The suede soles allow the dancers to glide and slide on the dance floor without falling. Unlike conventional shoes, Latin dance shoes are more flexible to allow freedom of movement on the dance floor. The shoes are often padded to protect the feet from straining and injuries. The soles are meant to grip the dance floor while the heels are designed for gliding, spinning, and tapping.
The male dancers would often wear lace-up dance shoes made from leather with an inch of heel or so. Women, on the other hand, would wear open-toed pumps or heeled sandals with straps. The height of the heels vary but generally, Latin ballroom shoes have higher heels compared to European ballroom dance shoes.
For the ladies, the dance shoes have heels that are up to 3 inches in height while men’s Latin dance shoes have 2-inches heels. The shoes’ arch is higher than classical ballroom dance shoes to ease toe leads and hip movements. This design is meant to put the weight of the wearer on the toes rather than spreading the weight evenly across the foot.”
Demanding Stronger Shoes (1920s-1980s)
As the physical demands of dancers grew, so did the need for stronger and more supportive shoes. The designs we know today with the flat platform box, vamps and stronger shanks, were soon developed to give the dancers more control and stability within their footwork and movement.
Reaching a Turning Pointe (1990s)
Pointe shoe designer Gaynor Minden wanted to find a way to incorporate shock absorption into pointe shoes, just as athletic shoes had. He soon launched a shoe that provided more shock absorbing qualities which led other designers to experiment with more modern materials. An article by POINTE states the following:
“Emerging research in dance medicine has also made pointe work safer. Dr. Sue Mayes, director of The Australian Ballet’s pioneering Artistic Health program, collects data on all musculoskeletal complaints in the company, and she advises that proper fit for shoes is paramount to injury risk reduction. “The foot needs room to expand and contract to allow the shoe to act as a spring,” she says, “We encourage dancers to be reassessed every year, even as adults.” Mayes also stresses that proper preparation, gradual reintroduction of pointe work after a break from dancing, and full leg strengthening can allow a dancer to perform on pointe without fear. “The last thing we want is for a dancer to feel cautious onstage.”
This began the revolution of dancers' overall health and well being, starting from the ground up.
As dancers were moving through the new millennium, they began to focus more and more on the overall health and well being of their bodies. The constant high demand that was put onto them, from jumps, turns, and more; the shock that would be sent up through their legs, would lead to frequent injuries. This began the movement that would soon bring to fruition Apolla Shocks.
Isn't it Shocking? (2010s)
Think about it, for decades upon decades, dancers have been putting huge amounts of stress on their bodies and have been wearing shoes that offered minimal to no added support. As dancers began to push boundaries further on what they were doing, a higher demand grew for support. This is where Apolla Compression Socks Began! In 2014 two best friends sat on the beach and decided to take a chance on something that would end up changing not only their lives, but thousands of peoples around the world. In 2015 the first Apolla compression sock prototypes were created, hitting some trial and error, the two best friends were determined to get things right. In 2016 the socks went live and soon became the footwear of choice for professional dancers. In 2020 after various scientific research, Apolla’s compression socks received the American Podiatric Medical Associations Seal of Approval . As 2020 came around Apolla made their appearance on Shark Tank! Apollas compression socks featured ground breaking targeted and gradual compression, with added support on the ball and heel of the sock. These dance socks feature
Patented targeted zones provide arch and ankle support:
- The 20-30 mmHg compression zones lift in key points of the feet to lift and stabilize but do NOT prevent range of motion like an orthotic...so you can still build foot strength
- The high quality compression assists circulation & recovery by reducing inflammation which energizes your muscles.
- This is very similar to the support you will get from taping…except it allows for better movement and comfort.
- The stability they provide is raved about from customers with joint hyper mobility and are looking for comfort and stability.
Knit-in Energy Absorption:
- A 2019 independent study at Ohio University showed Apolla dance socks reduced force.
- Our padding on the ball of the foot AND the heel provides comfort for your metatarsals but is not too thick in shoes.
- Durable Recyclable
- Apolla socks are anatomically correct.
- Click here to see how to wear them properly
As you can see the world of dance, and the shoes that we have worn are constantly evolving. There is no telling where we will be 10, 20, 50 years from now! Whatever dancers decide to wear, we hope that they pair their dance shoes with Apolla Compression Socks to do what they love LONGER and STRONGER.
References found in this article:
Taubert, Gottfried. 1717. Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister. Leipzig: bey Friedrich Lanckischens Erben.