Prepare for a Revolution
Just when we thought pointe shoe construction couldn’t get any more personal, enter the age of 3D printing. Imagine using a machine to scan a dancer’s feet, then utilizing those images to create custom pointe shoes, actually printed out in usable form with a 3D printer. Revolutionary, right?
In the 1800’s, the pointe shoe was hardly a pointe shoe at all, but merely a satin slipper. By the twentieth century, pointe shoes were being designed to be strong, yet flexible, and more ergonomic. Synthetic materials by makers such as Gaynor Mindon were also introduced as an option to modernize the construction materials. Today, not only are pointe shoes are being made to make those pirouettes feel a little less painful, they are also making more challenging technique possible.
With so so many manufacturing variations and brands, it is best for the dancer wearing them to seek a professional fitting service or reputable dancer boutique. Freed of London is one example of a company which has always been on the forefront for special order custom pointe shoes. Freed offers the option to have the customer trace their foot, send in the trace, then have the trace made into custom created shoes. During the creation of the shoe, the cobbler will stamp the shoe he makes with his own “maker symbol”, a personal touch for both the cobbler and the dancer.
While we anticipate the arrival of the perfectly personalized 3D-printed pointe shoe, we can’t help but appreciate how far the construction of ballet shoes has come over the last few centuries to provide dancers a more comfortable and steady foot on stage.
Fitness shoes are already seeing 3D results in action. Adidas unveiled the first 3D-printed trainer at the 2016 Rio Olympics. They were made available for purchase for the first time on December 15, 2016 in London, New York and Tokyo.
For the ballet world, we mustn’t get too excited yet, because the materials used in 3D printers today are still not strong enough to withstand the fatigue of ballet dancing. However, successful printing has produced a prototype custom toe pad insert, made to the exact measurement of a dancer’s foot. A flexible material called Filaflex has been used to create an insert, with the strength to support a dancer while also providing a soft cushion for the toes. Next to follow will be custom 3D printed molds that makers can use to form fully customized one of a kind pointe shoes. Technology is leading us to manufacturing in a totally new way.
Featured image is a simulation of a pointe shoe being 3D printed. Modifications were made by C&O to a photograph by iMAL on Flickr.
Jenna Witzleben, Cornell Creative Machines Lab
Amber Ambrose Aurele, Haute Couture Shoe Designer
Adidas 3D Printed Trainers