To the pointe
By Gabrielle Nomura | Photos by Chad Coleman; Carla Körbes photos courtesy of PNB
In a studio in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Francia Russell Center, a smiling Jensine Winther presses the camera button on her iPad, capturing an image of her 10-year-old daughter, Rose Hayden, at the barre.
The picture she takes doesn’t even resemble the ones from six years ago, when Hayden was only a tiny girl, whirling around in baggy tights and a leotard for the first time.
As Winther stands back to look at the screen, it’s a much more grown-up dancer she sees: Hayden, standing a few inches taller, but feeling miles-high from the excitement in her eyes, in a pair of pink, satin pointe shoes.
Her first pair.
“This has been the day that they’ve been looking forward to since last year, when they heard they were going in to level four,” says Winther, who lives in Woodinville, but has taken her daughter to the Bellevue ballet school since Hayden was around Kindergarten age.
It was obvious that something special was going to happen the moment Hayden and her friends from ballet class filed into the studio reserved for their fitting, moms in tow. Now, representatives from Freed of London, PNB’s pointe shoe supplier, as well as PNB school teachers, are on hand to help with the fitting.
Dressed in street clothes, with tights underneath, Each of the 31 level-four dancers try on pair after pair until she finds the perfect fit.
Despite it being her first time, Hayden manages to get her entire small frame on top of her hard, new shoes – the pretty product of dried glue, pink satin, burlap and hand-craftsmanship.
“It didn’t even hurt; it was exciting,” she says.
Abbie Siegel, PNB School principal, says the young dancers get so excited, some go as far as sleeping with their shoes. Being allowed to dance en pointe is a dream come true for an aspiring ballerina, and a symbol of accomplishment.
“They love learning how to put them on, how to tie them,” she says.
A beaming Hayden and her friend, Lauren Zimmermann of Sammamish, fit Siegel’s description to a tee.
Zimmermann pliés in first position, while Nicholas Ade, the Eastside school principal, asks if her toes have enough room.
Later in her training, Zimmermann will be able to gracefully relevé, or rise, onto her toes. For now, Ade has her “climb” up with the assistance of the barre.
For Zimmermann, her first pair of pointe shoes means she’s one step closer to being more like her idols – including PNB principal dancer, Carla Körbes.
“She’s what made me want to go on pointe,” Zimmermann says.
Sometimes, girls in Zimmermann and Hayden’s class even write letters to the company dancers they admire. Receiving autographed pointe shoes from Carla is a special gift. The students collect the company dancers’ shoes.
This is an important part of becoming a ballet dancer. In emulating the professionals, the students carry on what they observe, Siegel says.
“It becomes a sort of tradition.”
Körbes knows firsthand how important role models are. Although young students look up to her, she has idols of her own.
“It motivates them and gives them something to look toward,” she says. “As a little girl in Brazil, I didn’t have many role models or access to meeting professional dancers until I was about 16.”
Pointe shoes are a big part of that process, that passing on of tradition.
It’s difficult to explain why the shoes are so special. Sure, they’re shiny, but it’s hard to imagine young athletes quite as mesmerized by their favorite player’s Nikes, for example.
It may be odd, but among dancers, pointe shoes are like sacred objects.
Körbes even has a special place in her house for the pointe shoes of her own role model, the late Alexandra Danilova. She was a famous prima ballerina with the Imperial Ballet and a Balanchine collaborator,
“It’s almost like you have a part of her,” Körbes says. “Even though the shoes are sweaty and ugly, someone created magic with them.”
All about pointe shoes:
- 250,000 pairs of Freed pointe shoes are handmade every year.
- Every pointe shoe maker produces 30-40 pairs a day.
- The shoes are baked in an oven at 160°F for more than10 hours.
- Each maker stamps his or her shoes with a personal symbol, such as an anchor, triangle, key or crown.
- Pointe shoe are not made out of wood, but from satin burlap, layers of tissue paper, paper, hessian and a paste made from flour, water and a few secret ingredients. Freed Pointe Shoe are biodegradable.