Speaking as someone who had a brief stint dancing on ballet pointe shoes: they are not comfortable. Not in the slightest. The rigid shoes, comprised of a hard “box” in the toe and a stiff sole, do make ballerinas look amazingly ethereal when they dance, but anyone who has ever used them will tell tales of horror and woe at the discomfort they cause.
Upon seeing her own dancer friend’s injured and bruised feet, Hadar Neeman, a graduate from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, decided to try her hand at redesigning pointe shoes for a higher degree of comfort. The result of her endeavour is a pair of personalized 3D printed ballet pointe shoes—named P-rouette—which offer more durability than traditional pointe shoes and customized comfort.
The Jerusalem-based designer said of the project: “I learned about pointe shoes and the more I got into the field, the more I realized that there was a lot of potential for improving the existing shoe and improving the quality of life of the dancers.”
Typically, pointe shoes are made using manual techniques and integrate a rigid box, which encases the dancer’s toes, enabling them to stand on them. In traditional pointe shoes, this component is made up of layers of paper and fabric which are hardened by being glued together. More recently, pointe shoe makers have also turned to using plastic or rubber for the box component, though the design and overall structure of the shoe has remained mostly unchanged.
The P-rouette shoe, for its part, integrates numerous new technologies to improve the level of comfort for the dancer. The shoe, as Neeman explains, is made using a multistep process that begins with the 3D scanning of the dancer’s foot. With a scan of the foot, a digital model of the pointe shoe can be created. (The designer adds that dancers can scan their own feet using a mobile app.)
The pointe shoe itself integrates a sole made of a lightweight lattice structure which contours the dancer’s foot. The upper part of the pointe shoe was cut on a specialized shoemaker’s last. The fabric layer covering the shoe, interestingly, is built into the shoe by being integrated into the printing process. In other words, the fabric becomes trapped between the printed layers of the shoe, eliminating the need for glue or other assembly.
In terms of materials, the sole and the toe block of the shoe is 3D printed from a elastomeric polymer while the shoe body is made from an elastic, satin-like material. The aim in customizing the shoes is to provide more comfort to the dancers as they stand on their toes and to reduce the need for additional padding that traditional pointe shoes require.
In addition to the comfort factor, Neeman says her 3D printed P-rouette shoes are more durable than traditional pointe shoes. While the traditional shoes are only meant to be danced on for 10-20 hours, the 3D printed pointe shoes can reportedly last up to three times longer.
Though there is no word on whether the 3D printed ballet shoes will be made commercially available, we are interested to see if they take off in the dancing world.