The wonderful world of ballet inventions
Take a closer look at Google and you will discover a perhaps little known functionality that allows you to look at patents for inventions that have been filed and published, although not necessarily granted. A quick search for ballet unveils the weird and wonderful contraptions inventors have designed to make the life of the ballet dancer easier. Here are a few of my favourites:
1. Toe and foot supporter and ballet shoe form-retainer - Filed 1929
This design is for a rigid plate that fits under the base and round the sides of the box of the ballet shoe to provide more support for the foot and prevent the shoe from losing its shape. This patent was filed in 1929 and so probably is an indication of the quality of pointe shoe available at that time, seemingly unsupportive and liable to lose its shape. Perhaps it was a good idea at the time (although I have to wonder what the plate was made out of, a metal plate would certainly be difficult to dance on without slipping!) but thankfully these days pointe shoes are increasingly hard wearing and the dancer can customise the shoe to fit her needs exactly.
2. Ballet stretch device - Filed 1961
Budding ballet dancers are always in pursuit of perfect turnout and this device claims to be able to help the dancer develop leg rotation to achieve perfect turnout. It would seem that you place your legs in the frog position with the board across your knees and turn the wheel forcing the board tighter against the knees pressing them down and so developing turnout. Ouch!
The solution for this is quite simple, grab your ankles and push your knees down with your elbows!
3. Leg Stretching Machine - Filed 1982
Another stretch device, this nifty machine appears to have been designed to enable a dancer to "stretch and develop leg muscles" in order to achieve the box splits (also known as side splits or straddle splits). The machine is designed to exert force on the dancer's legs, forcing them wider and therefore developing the required flexibility to achieve the splits.
This seems a little like a device of torture to me! The splits is achievable with lots of hard work and daily stretching but of course it is never advisable to stretch with cold muscles or push your body past its limits so this 'get splits quick' device is not recommended!
4. Sound deadening ballet shoe - Filed 1990
If you've ever had a pair of pointe shoes you'll know that when they're brand new they tend to be as hard as a rock and very loud, requiring a lot of manipulation and sometimes a few goes with a hammer to soften them up to make them comfortable and quieter. This shoe is designed to take away some of that effort with a shock absorbant foam layer around the box (the hard part around the toes) of the shoe.
Loud shoes can be a bit of a problem, after all it wouldn't do to have a flock of graceful swans sound like a stampede happening on stage, however ballerinas like to be able to 'feel the floor' when dancing in their pointe shoes and so a layer of foam making the shoe thicker probably isn't ideal. That said, innovations in pointe shoe designs continue to be made with some shoes now incorporating polymer shanks and shock absorbers in the platform to make them quieter and last longer so the theory isn't so crazy.
5. Simulated ballerina and dance studio apparatus - Filed 1994
This proposal is for a scaled down model of a dance studio, complete with mirror and barre, and a manipulable ballerina doll which handily folds up into a easy to carry box. The purpose can be purely decorative such as with a dollshouse, or functional allowing dance teachers to demonstrate positions using the doll and students to remind themselves to practise certain positions.
Nice idea, but recording the steps on a smart phone seems much more convinient these days!
6. High-heeled bifunctional pointe shoe - Filed 2009
This is exactly what it says on the tin, a high-heeled shoe that also doubles up as a pointe shoe. Interesting...
It would negate the need for dancers to change between character shoes and pointe shoes during a performance but I'm not quite sure how easy it would be to dance in! Although it might make getting onto pointe a little easier if you're already halfway there thanks to the heel!
All images courtesy of Google Patents.