Sydney's Empire Theatre was recently taken over by the New York City Ballet Company, whose members of necessity spend quite a lot of time on their toes.
Sydney's Empire Theatre was recently taken over by the New York City Ballet Company, whose members of necessity spend quite a lot of time on their toes. The shoes a ballet dancer wears are probably the dancer's most important item of dress, and it was to discover something more about ballet dancers' shoes that our cameras went backstage in the Empire Theatre. Backstage it's possible to get a fair idea of the work ballet shoes have to do as the people who are in them go through their limbering-up exercises.
Strain is placed on ballet shoes every time the dancer makes the slightest movement, and consequently, the life of a ballet shoe is very short. Naturally the length of that life varies a great deal according to the amount and type of dancing the wearer performs. But nobody in the New York City Ballet Company wears out fewer than three pairs of shoes each week they're playing.
A ballet shoe doesn't wear out in the sense that other shoes were out -- it doesn't have time to. Whereas other shoes lose their soles and split down the heels before they are discarded, ballet shoes have only to lose their stiffness before their laces are undone for the last time and they go the way of all ballet shoes. And just where old ballet shoes go is rather interesting -- at least as far as the New York City Ballet is concerned, because not a shoe the Company used can be thrown away while they're playing in Australia. Each shoe has to be stored away in crates and carried around with the Company; and consequently quite a lot of shoes have accumulated.
The Shoe Mistress, Miss Taylor, has the job of taking charge of the old shoes and issuing the dancers with new ones. Each of these new shoes is worth seven dollars a pair and Miss Taylor issues more than a hundred new pairs each week... seven hundred dollars -- more than three hundred pounds -- just for the Company's shoes. And as each shoe is handed out the old pair is put in the crates and Miss Taylor makes a record of the whole transaction. The stream of people coming in for new shoes is pretty constant.
The point involved in all the old shoes being kept and their passing from active life so rigorously recorded is that the Australian Customs' requirements are such that an item like shoes must not be disposed of while the Company is in Australia. When the Company is checked out of Australia by the Customs people, a quite possible question would be: "What happened to all the shoes you brought in?" And the Company will have the answer immediately available -- in the form of crates containing many hundreds of worn out ballet shoes.