Work Shoes. Far beyond tassel-laden loafers or the obligatory heel, work shoes have a far more intimate responsibility in the life of a professional dancer. From that much anticipated “first fitting” to the depths of a dancer’s career, the search for the perfect Pointe Shoe is an endless journey filled with frustration, joy, improvements, speculation, love, hate…the list endures…

You can only imagine the tireless efforts we have to make to ensure a personal balance with our shoes. I’ll welcome you to the world of “Shoe Specs” with customized terms like elastic draw strings, nails removed, low vamps, cut down sides, heel pins, 3/4 shanks, wide boxes…it sounds as if we’re at a work bench doesn’t it? Well honestly, we’re not far from it. Along with needle, thread and scissors, it might shock you to discover that many a dancer’s bag hosts hammers, scrapers, and (exacto) knives along side thera bands and balls of all sorts…the “tools” that help us customize our shoes beyond the orders we create.

Enter Pointe Shoe Makers. For many of us, the journey of a pointe shoe begins at the far away Freed of London factory, which dwells humbly amongst London’s oldest industrial neighborhood known as Hackney. Pray tell me when you imagine the manufacturing of such sugary silk coated slippers, this is not exactly what comes to mind – and this is precisely why I was so intrigued, if not humbly humored to Meet the Makers. In a figurative sense, mind you, as Boston Ballet’s London Tour last summer didn’t allow me the time to explore much outside the Coliseum…

Nevertheless, the story behind this “elite band of highly-skilled craftsmen” is one that will never allow me to see my work shoes the same way… I’ve found the most lovely post over on Spitalfield’s Life which walks you through the process of their production, but for now, I’ve borrowed a few pictures taken by the talented Patricia Niven - There’s a snippet of Sarah Winman’s lovely interview below, but for more pictures and conversation with select craftsmen of the Freed Factory, hop on over to The Pointe Shoe Makers of Hackney!

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“I asked the Maker Taksim (Anchor) what he would like people to know about his work.

He said, “I wish people could try this job. This is the hardest job I’ve ever done. My hands go numb, and I can’t feel them. Over time you get used to the pain.”

I said, “That’s what ballet dancers say about their feet.”

He said,”Really? So, their feet are our hands.” – Excerpt from Sarah Winman’s Interview for Spitafields Life

Here’s a special shout out to the wingmen. The Shoe Makers, Stage Managers, Tech Crews, Costume Designers/Creators, Lighting Designers, Choreographers & Conductors…whose tireless efforts and passionate dedication to their art is what helps the Dancers create ours.

WorkShop Wonder~p.e.

*all photos from this post were taken by Patricia Niven for Spitafields Life*