Almost as soon as they became successful, Gaynor Mindens became controversial. Why?
Old vs. New
First, they’re different.
A profound respect for tradition pervades ballet and contributes to its greatness. However, ballet’s traditionalism has also meant that change is always suspect. Almost every innovation in the history of ballet was highly controversial when it first appeared. The original tutu, for example, caused an uproar and a scandal.
Although their pink satin exterior maintains a traditional appearance, Gaynor Mindens do feel different. The parts that support you are made from modern elastomers that don’t behave exactly the same way as traditional paste and cardboard. Some dancers need a couple of weeks or longer to adjust to the different feeling of the support and the roll-through.
Any overly stiff shoe, of any brand, can prop you up and allow you to “sit” in your shoe without working your muscles correctly, or pop you up on to pointe without a controlled roll-through. That’s cheating.
A traditional shoe will soften over time, but a Gaynor Minden won’t. If a dancer expects a Gaynor Minden to behave like a traditional shoe, and is fitted with the expectation that it will soften and stretch like a traditional one, she may be disappointed. It is essential to be properly fitted in an appropriately flexible shoe. Many dancers and teachers are not aware that we offer five stiffness options, and not all stores carry them.
Pre-Arched Shanks and Foot Strength
You may have heard that Gaynor Mindens make feet weak and lazy. Again, any overly stiff shoe can do the work your muscles should be doing. Our shanks are ergonomically curved to conform to the bottom of your foot. Traditional pointe shoes are straight and flat until the shanks break in. We believe that our shanks offer better support and a prettier line, just be sure can achieve a high demi-pointe even when they are new. Many dancers and teachers have found that our pre-arched shanks actually make feet stronger, that working against the curve of the arch in rolling through demi-pointe builds strength. Here’s what they say:
“One of the best benefits — and most surprising — is that the Gaynor Minden shoes have actually made my feet and ankles stronger. It happened so naturally with wearing the shoes that I didn’t even notice it until much later. Because the Gaynor Mindens allow you such a quick and straight up and down in relevé, you really have to work your foot to find the middle areas in between — the low, middle and high demi-pointe areas. I didn’t have to do this in at all in a traditional shoe, and therefore this middle area was quite weak. I found that Gaynor Mindens made this part of my foot stronger, and my ankles benefited from the evenness of the shoe and the lack of movement when standing flat.”
-Alina Cojocaru, Principal Dancer The English National Ballet, The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre
“We come across fantastic technological advances everywhere. I am so happy to watch them finding their way to the art of ballet! They stand out for their flexibility; a dancer can easily make soft roll-ups and downs without ‘springing’ onto pointe. This is an effective way to develop foot strength and technique.”
-Yuri Fateev, Ballet Director, Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet
“I feel like I’m stronger than I was before… I am able to roll through my feet so much better, [because] Gaynor Mindens promote all the small muscles on the ball of your foot.”
-Bridgett Zehr, Principal Dancer English National Ballet, National Ballet of Canada
“Gaynor Mindens strengthen the feet and elongate the leg muscles. They facilitate articulate footwork, good balance, and correct technique. Gaynor Mindens shape to the foot, allowing it to become an extension of the leg in a long, continuous line. I recommend them to everyone I teach.”
-Melissa Hayden (1923-2006), Senior Faculty UNCSA (1983-2006), former Principal Dancer, New York City Ballet
Ballet is Not a Sport
Dancers, understandably, do not want ballet to become a sport in which they are judged by how high they jump or how many pirouettes they turn. In fact they make every effort to conceal their athleticism with serene smiles and quiet, graceful landings. Nonetheless, dancers are among the world’s most elite athletes. Unfortunately, the ballet world has often been slow to address the athletic needs of its remarkable artists. Professional sports had the benefit of specialized medicine, cross-training, and technically advanced equipment long before dancers did.
Today’s dancers — more health-conscious than those of previous generations, and more comfortable with technological innovation —have only recently begun to regard their shoes as athletic equipment that is capable of being improved. (In the 1980s many “experts” told Eliza Minden such modernization would be impossible.) To also acknowledge that a different kind of pointe shoe could have a positive impact on their dancing, and maybe even prolong their careers, is for some dancers a new way of thinking.
Many professional dancers who use Gaynor Mindens describe them in terms of freedom, and find that the artistic benefits are great as the physical ones. Knowing that their shoes will not change during a performance, certain that they can jump exuberantly without a noisy landing, confident that every pair always provides the same consistent alignment and support — and always comfortable — dancers are liberated to pursue their highest goals not only of technique, but of expression and artistry as well.