Upon taking over this eco-friendly forum, I found myself examining my personal impact on the environment, or rather my “ecological footprint” as they call it. Of course my footprint is not as small as I would like it to be, but I was particularly compelled to explore something that I’ve been doing for the better part of the past sixteen years: wearing ballet shoes. I started taking weekly dance classes when I was three years old and progressed to training about 18-20 hours per week by the time I was in high school, all the while wearing my way through shoe after shoe.
For those who may be unfamiliar with them, pointe shoes are what female ballet dancers wear when they dance on the very tips of their toes. Now folks, these shoes may appear dazzling and delicate BUT DON’T BE FOOLED for they are actually the monstrous, flesh-eating, blister-inducing, blood-sucking beasts of the footwear kingdom. Holding a brand new pair of point shoes often feels equivalent to holding a couple of small 2x4s. They’re just these rigid, satin-covered blocks made out of cardstock, paste, burlap, plastic, and leather. I got my first pointe shoes when I was 12 years old and went through about six or seven pairs of them before my achilles tendons got the best of me. Personally, I keep all of my old shoes (for nostalgic and artistic purposes), but I’m certain that not every dancer does.
Bear in mind that these shoes only last about 8-10 hours because if they get too soft the dancers won’t have enough structural support to hold them up on their toes. So now, let us play the numbers game! Okay so if one pair lasts about 8 hours, and professional ballerinas and students dance about 8 hours per day, then that’s one pair per day and five pairs per week. Professionals dance roughly 40 weeks each year so we’re looking at one dancer going through about 200 PAIRS OF POINTE SHOES IN ONE YEAR (not including the shoes they use during their shows!)
“But Michelle,” you may be asking, “just what are these dancers doing with these dead shoes when they’re done with them?” Well, my friend, that’s an excellent question! I hate to say it, but many dancers just throw out their shoes when they’re done with them. Due to their materials, the shoes are extremely hard to recycle, and they can’t exactly be passed down as second-hand because wearing someone else’s used shoes can pose a threat to one’s ankles. But worry not, dear Earthlings, for there have actually been some pretty cool movements to fix the problem of landfill pointe shoes. For example, lots of professional companies give away autographed shoes to young ballerinas, and some studios donate their students’ old shoes to centres that pull them apart to use them for crafts.
While all this is not enough to completely fix the problem, it certainly is a start. With ballet having been around since the 1500s, and pointe shoes since the 1800s, the practice of this art form is showing no sign of slowing down any time soon. I can only imagine that with time will come a way to properly dispose of all these shoes. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to collectively put on our thinking caps and continue to find creative uses for all the worn-out shoes. If you’ve got any ideas, do tell! I’d love to do something with my old pointe shoes that doesn’t involve sending them off to a landfill. Alas, who would have thought such a dainty shoe could leave such a big footprint?