Janice Barringer is the author of The Pointe Book; soon to be released in its 4Th Edition.
Wear Moi sat down with Ms. Barringer to discuss her 30 year journey with The Pointe Book.
WM: How was your research for the 4th Edition of the Pointe Shoe Book different than the preparation for the 1st Edition?
JB: When I began doing research for the book in 1988, it was a different world in most every aspect. Instead of being able to text, email or message to get in touch with people, I actually visited in-person, or at least made a phone call. Of course, I don’t regret it because I knew I had to get on a plane to many exciting places to interview the appropriate people. This project took me to London twice, Paris, Stockholm, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, and to a Vaganova conference in Michigan.
WM: Was it beneficial living in NYC to gather data for “The Pointe Book?”
JB: Fortunately, since I lived in New York, interesting teachers, choreographers, and superb schools were merely blocks away from my apartment. Also, international companies came to The City on tour, and ballet stars liked to take class in New York on their time-off since New York was the center of the dance world. Many of them showed up in David Howard’s class where I could be found most every day. They were always amenable to doing an interview, freely discussing their pointe shoes and their dance experiences. It was where I nabbed Alessandra Ferri for an interview just as she had finished filming the 1987 movie, Dancers, with Mikhail Baryshnikov. I cornered Martine van Hamel at our chiropractor’s office.
WM: What is the most memorable experience of your research?
JB: My favorite story to tell about this experience is when I knew it was time to wind up all this travel and interviewing. I had to actually start pulling the book together. One day I was leaving Lincoln Center as the thought occurred to me, “Is there anyone else I really must talk to?” I was standing on the Northwest corner of 65th Street and Broadway. Then it came to me. Alexandria Danilova!!! She was 86 at the time and teaching at the School of American Ballet. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if she would allow me to interview her for the First Edition of The Pointe Book? At that very moment I looked up, and there she was----just a few feet in front of me waiting for the M104 bus. It was like a miracle! I ran over to her and quickly asked if she would allow me to interview her concerning pointe shoes and pointe training, as I nervously kept looking to see if her bus was in sight. She casually replied, “meet me at SAB next Tuesday. You can watch me teach, and afterwards, we can talk.” What a thrill to have this experience with someone I had idolized since my childhood.
WM: How was research different for your latest Edition?
JB: As I work on the 4th edition of the book, thirty years have passed. Because of technology, progress moves much more quickly than it did in the past. With each edition of the book whole sections have had to be removed and new ones inserted.
WM: Please elaborate on that.
JB: People have retired and passed away, principal dancers in 2020 were not even born when the book was first published in 1990. The dancers I spoke to in the 80s, 90s and even in the early 2000s are now teachers, ballet masters and artistic directors. Some are physical therapists, and others have gone into completely different fields. Teaching ballet and pointe work has become more challenging because of the new choreographic demands placed upon the dancers. And the pointe shoes-----they have undergone dramatic changes; changes even since the Third Edition.
WM: Please comment on the evolution of pointe shoes for today’s consumer.
JB: Pointe shoe designers and manufacturers are saying that contemporary choreography has influenced how they construct the shoes. While the basic methods are somewhat the same with companies that favor the paste shoe, there are still adjustments the Makers are incorporating. Mainly, they say they must make the shoe stronger to accommodate off-balance and other non-classical movements. There are new materials that even traditional companies are using. They are also finding new ways to customize the shoes such as making the inside fit the right and left feet while the outside looks the same as always.
Then, there are the new, revolutionary styles of shoes. Most of them say they have been created with the purpose of lasting longer. I have included a chapter of discussions with four different pointe shoe designers that reveals reasons why and how new shoes are constantly being developed.
WM: Did you seek the advice of teachers for the 4th Edition?
JB: Well-known teachers have told me their secrets to training young students on pointe. In the section with the classes, I have included the enlightening corrections and comments the instructors make as the classes progress.
WM: What are your findings regarding pointe shoe accessories and other related products?
JB: Not only shoes are changing, but shoe accessories do not resemble what was being worn just a few years ago. The go-to lambs wool of the past is rarely seen anymore. There are products that pointe shoe companies sell as well as colorful toe tape that can be found on the internet. In the section called Conversations On Pointe, professional dancers give us tips on new products that are helpful to them. There are even newer toe pads and cushions than the recently ground-breaking gel. Gone are the days when it was considered tacky to wear any kind of cushioning. Cross-training has become the norm. Flooring companies are giving us a broader range of choices in both sprung and vinyl non-slip floors. Changes in all these fields are moving at light speed.
WM: What are your thoughts on pointe shoes offered in the marketplace today?
JB: Today we have a different problem from the one I had as a child or even as recently as ten years ago. Instead of no choice at all, now there are so many. How is a young dancer to know which is right for her?
WM: Where do you see pointe shoe development in the next 5 to10 years?
JB: Is it possible to predict what the future will hold? The pointe shoe will definitely continue to change to suit the dancer’s evolving needs.