Gaynor Minden: Cheater Shoes or Not?
Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are not only the most revolutionary pointe shoe on the market, but also the most hotly debated. It seems you are either in one camp or another– you love them, or you think they are for cheaters and thus despise them. Nobody loves a cheater, right? Hopefully this article will put to bed one of the most unending debates in the pointe world. Gaynor Minden: Cheater Shoes or Not?
Please remember: PointePerfect.com believes that every pointe shoe on the market is great! No shoe is BAD, a shoe either fits you or it doesn’t. We don’t condone trash talking certain shoes or manufacturers, it is simply a waste of time and fresh clean air. PointePerfect.com wants to know WHY a shoe doesn’t fit you. Also– there is no such thing as a “magic” pointe shoe that fits every foot!
The “GM = cheater” crowd generally believes:
- The shoe does all the work
- The plastic shank makes your feet weaker
- Once you use a GM shoe, you can never go back to a “regular” shoe
- GM shoes are for professionals only, and only performances
In determining whether the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe is a “cheater shoe”, one must consider the composition of a GM vs a traditional paste shoe.
Gaynor Minden: Made from what the company calls Elastomerics (not plastic), a durable but very flexible material that always returns back to the same pre-arched form it arrives in brand new. Always. The shank and box are designed to never break down or change shape other than some slight stretching of the fabric, although the shanks have been known to give a bit with extended wear. Such a durable shank & box mean the life of a Gaynor Minden shoe is generally much longer than a traditional paste shoe.
Traditional Pointe Shoe: Made from varying combinations of paper, fabric, glue, cardboard, burlap, and leather. Most come out of the box perfectly flat and must be “worked” to conform to the dancer’s feet. As the dancer sweats in traditional shoes, the paste heats up and becomes pliable. The shoes break down over time, always becoming weaker and the foot support lessening.
The diagram below demonstrates the breakdown of a Gaynor Minden pointe shoe vs. a Traditional Paste Shoe.
As time goes on the shank and box of every traditional shoe breaks down. For a time as the shoe dies, the dancer is increasing strength in her feet to remain stable and supported in the shoe. Eventually the shoe dies and must be replaced, and the process starts over again. The length of time a pair lasts varies greatly, depending on foot strength, number of classes per week, and if the student allows her shoes to dry in between classes!
Tip: If the dancer has multiple classes a week, it’s suggested she have multiple pairs of shoes in rotation to prolong the life of each pair!
Gaynor Minden shoes were designed to not weaken or break down over time. There are reports online of students with very strong feet breaking a shank here and there, but most shoes are replaced due to growth, wearing away the satin on the tips, and sometimes the stink! The consistency of the shoe seems to throw the naysayers. Surely if the shoes never change, the dancer never increases strength, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
Mechanics of a GM Shoe VS a Traditional Shoe
One major gripe people have about GM pointe shoes is that they don’t allow the dancer to roll through the shoe properly. The pre-arched shank forces the dancer up onto pointe when she tries to roll through. Or they prop the dancer up on pointe, so the shoe is doing the work that usually strengthens a dancer over time. The dancers feet weaken as a result of this and they experience setbacks when they attempt to switch back to a traditional paste shoe. Unfortunately, most of these claims are due to bad fittings and a lack of understanding.
A Gaynor Minden fit with the correct shank strength will allow the dancer to work it like a traditional shoe. The shank won’t be so strong that it forces the dancer up without control. It’s true though, the mechanics of the GM shoes are different than traditional paste shoes when the shank is too strong. At that point, you must apply opposite force in a GM to control the shoe. A dancer wearing GM shoes for the first time will find her arches sore in different spots following her first few rehearsals in GM pointe shoes.
The image below demonstrates how a dancer rolls through a traditional paste shoe. From demi pointe, she pushes or clenches into the floor with her toes to straighten them, while lifting the arch and pulling up through the legs, glutes and core. Try this. With a bare foot, stand one foot on demi pointe. Slowly push your toes towards the ground while lifting your arch and pointing your foot until you reach full pointe. This is the action your foot takes to bring a traditional paste shoe to full pointe when rolling through demi pointe.
And in a shoe:
Note the side profile of the shoe used in this demonstration. The shank and sole of the shoe are almost perfectly flat. This is how the shoe comes new out of the box. It’s the neutral position of the shoe.
-In the 1st photo of the series, you see the foot lifted in a nice high demi-pointe.
-In the 2nd photo, the dancer has pushed her toes flat against the bottom of the toe box (towards the floor) to roll the shoe through demi-pointe and towards full pointe. Note that the shoe passes its neutral point about half way through the climb to full pointe.
-Once the shoe has passed the neutral point, the dancer must use the toes and arch to extend to full pointe, pushing up and past neutral as seen in the 3rd photo.
Gaynor Minden wearers, however, deal with a different force within the shoe, although the exterior looks nearly identical to the traditional paste shoe. This is especially true if the dancer is wearing a shank that is too strong for her!
Gaynor Minden Shoes
The neutral position for the Gaynor Minden pointe shoe is the position the foot takes while on full pointe, as seen in photo 3. No matter how the shoe is bent, it always reverts back to neutral. This is what creates the sensation of being propped up onto pointe.
-The 1st photo of the GM series shows the shoe in demi-pointe. This position is the furthest from the neutral position. When compared to the traditional paste shoe, the force applied to the GM shoe is opposite.
-The 2nd photo shows the dancer as she’s rolling through to full pointe. This is where many GM wearers get into trouble. As the GM shoe tries to pull the shank back to neutral, the foot must be actively resisting the pop up to full pointe. To resist this sensation, the dancer must slowly RELEASE her foot muscles & arch to move the shoe from demi-pointe to full pointe. This movement is opposite from the movement used when PUSHING the shoe to full pointe in a traditional paste shoe.
-In the 3rd photo, the shoe has landed back into “neutral” position, which is also full pointe.
Other Items of Note
There are other factors to consider in this debate. Skimming through YouTube, you’ll see quite a few dancers wearing Gaynor Mindens that are too hard for them, or they haven’t been taught how to resist the GM shank they are stuck with. Wearing a very hard shank in either a Gaynor Minden or traditional paste shoe is both similar and wildly different!
In a traditional paste shoe, wearing a shank that’s too hard will usually prevent a dancer from getting fully over the box, and traditional shoes can also “prop” a dancer on pointe easier if the shank is too hard. It’s much more noticeable in a GM shoe, due to the pre-arched shank.
A dancer constantly allowing the shoe to pop her up will experience a weakening of the feet due to lack of use. When a GM props you on pointe, the shoe essentially forms back to its regular shape as soon as the heel leaves the floor. This dancer can usually be spotted doing 50 single leg releves with ease after switching from a traditional shoe. In turn, this makes the Gaynor Minden skeptics correct in their assumption that an overshanked dancer will not build strength, rather lose strength over time as the shoe is doing most of the heavy lifting.
So to recap, putting students in harder than necessary shanks is a practice some teachers prefer to build strength through resistance. This practice isn’t inherently wrong, but the major difference is this:
Gaynor Minden pointe shoes will remain the same hardness basically forever. There is a slight weakening over time, but all in all a pair of Mindens will remain the same hardness as if it were new.
Paste shoes will remain hard temporarily while the shoes are still new. These shoes will break down rapidly in comparison, and eventually die.
It is possible for Gaynor Minden pointe shoes to “do the work” for a dancer. Does this make her a cheater? We don’t think so. Like we said, no shoe is bad or wrong. If a dancer is over-shanked in any make/model of shoe, she is going to have big problems.
The main difference being, a traditional paste shoe with a shank that’s too hard will break down over time, and probably become dance-able. A GM pointe shoe with a shank that’s too hard will not break down and get better. It’s up to the instructor and the student to practice and learn to control the shoe just like someone wearing traditional paste. If a dancer can’t learn to control her GM shoe and work to build the muscles to slowly release the coiled spring that is an Elastomeric shank, she is only hurting herself.
Technology is evolving every day, pointe shoes included. The Gaynor Minden pointe shoe is like the advanced alien species that has invaded the old pointe world. Technology enriches our lives and let’s face it, pointe shoes remained relatively unchanged for a very long time.
Gaynor Minden pointe shoes are not necessarily any better or worse than traditional pointe shoes, just different. Each do completely different things to your feet, and that’s OK. Both shoes take tremendous strength, power, and stamina to control. No shoe on the market today can take away those requirements for dancing en pointe.