Why Dancers Use Wool
The reality of expecting the toes to take your full body weight brings with it the need to understand the importance of the pointe shoe design for structure and comfort.
The origins of the first pointe shoe was a modified satin slipper and dates back to the early 1800’s . Offering little or no support, the dancer had only the strength of their feet and ankles to hold themselves up.
Early in the 20th century the development of the modern pointe shoe was attributed to Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. To reduce the extra pressure on her great toe, she inserted toughend leather soles into her shoes for greater support and flattened and hardened the toe area to form a box.
The concept of extra layers of fabric and leather for padding the toes, was evolving.
The feet of every dancer are unique and it becomes more important than ever for pointe shoes to fit to well. However, even the best of pointe shoes cannot always prevent discomfort and rubbing for the dancer.
There are a variety of options available to help keep the dancer’s toes comfortable. Most of the options are based on a gel pad or toe spacer and in some instances, tape is still being used wrapped around the toes to reduce chafing and hopefully prevent blisters. Natural wool has been used for this purpose for many years and continues to gain in popularity for a variety of reason.
Why dancers use wool to prevent blisters, pressure points, chafing and perspiration.
Wool is the most natural and flexible option for the dancer who needs that extra cushioning and support but doesn’t like the feeling of too much happening inside their pointe shoes.
Wool doesn’t take up a lot of room inside the shoe and it’s up to the individual to decide how much wool to use and where. This freedom and flexibility means the wool moulds around any part of the foot creating a completely tailored fit – without compromise to the fit of the shoe. A less forgiving accessory may not give the right coverage.
By using ‘just the right amount of wool for the individual foot’, the dancer has maximum contact with the floor which in turn increases stability and control.
As a natural fibre the wool breathes around the skin wicking away perspiration moisture.
How to use Wool-it
Gently tease off enough of the Wool-it to cover the area of potential problem. Continue to tease this piece which aerates the Wool-it softening and ‘fluffing’ it.
Place it loosely over the problem area and tuck or weave in between toes. Avoid winding the fibre in a way that could tighten around the individual toes.
As the Wool-it compresses into the shape of empty spaces, it becomes more densely packed and custom fitted to the dancer’s foot.
Wool-it is best used inside ballet tights where it is held in place by ‘felting’ into the fibres of the stocking.
More Wool-it can be added as necessary but sometimes the extra bulk can exacerbate the problem. To avoid this, use it more as a means of evening out the pressure across a greater area. For example, if the pressure is on one toe in particular, pad the empty space above several toes with Wool-it and taper it across to spread the pressure and reduce the discomfort.
When removing your shoe, the Wool-it will ‘peel’ out retaining the shape of the area it has surrounded. Washing it while retaining this shape will increase the ‘felting effect’ and enable several more uses of it ‘pre-moulded’ to give a firm padding.
The extra benefits of using wool
The way the natural fibres of wool grow, it’s a very difficult product to replicate in a factory. Each fibre has a zig and a zag, creating a soft, bouncy, natural elasticity.
The softness of the wool is determined by the breed of the sheep. If the wool is ‘too soft’ it will flatten out quickly and not give the same lasting protection of a stronger crimp.
Natural breathing around skin helps to reduce odour as it wicks away the moisture.
Wool is renewable and sustainable and kind to the environment.
Photos by Valerie MacLeod (Excluding title photo)