Claudia Schergna, Develop3D

Cutting-edge designs from the avant-garde dancewear company Act’ble are being mentioned in conversations about ethics and environmentalism within the ballet industry.  

Founded in 2020 by German former dancer Sophia Lindner, Act’ble has been chasing a pointe shoe revolution after Lindner experienced common issues that dancers undergo, including stress fractures, tendonitis and bruised or ingrown toenails that are common in the ballet industry. 

While traditional pointe shoes are sold as one piece, Act’ble produces a unique version of the classic pointe shoe with a modular setup that reduces their environmental impact and uses innovative 3D printing technology. 

“We’re creating the future of dance,” Lindner said.

However, for Abby Gober and Alyssa Song, teenage ballet dancers at the Philadelphia Dance Academy, the Act’ble shoes’ avant-garde appearance is a non-starter.

 “They feel unsafe, like they have no support, but I think it’s because of the look,” Gober said about her aversion to the shoes. “I don’t think they will ever become mainstream because they are too non-traditional. They look like a warm-up or like they are for pre-pointe.” 

The shoes have also sparked controversy among dancers for their idiosyncratic appearance and their one-hued color — an issue for dancers with darker skin tones. Since pointe shoes have to match the dancer’s skin tone in order to maintain the line, Act’pointes are rendered functionally unusable for dancers with darker skin tones. Some ballet companies only allow certain shoes, specifically ones that are also sold in only one colorway which could pose a problem for the audience of Act’ble and the ethics of the brand given that they intend to expand. 

“We are currently working on various different colours for the act’pointes to be available in – we are a small business, so it takes time to bring these things into production.” Pohl explains the company’s reasoning behind their lack of shade range. Their reasoning adheres with common production delays that many small businesses encounter. 

“I’m sure the technology is good, but the look just can’t redeem them, ”said Lori Lahnemann, the founder and director of the Philadelphia Dance Academy.  

Based on the intended length of use from popular pointe shoe brands, such as Bloch and Russian Pointe, dancers cycle through pairs of pointe shoes relatively quickly: for professionals, that can mean one day, whereas for students and pre-professionals, shoe lifespans generally range between two and six weeks. 

Companies estimate that the life of one pair is equivalent to 10-20 hours of dancing, which can be attributed to the materials used to manufacture the shoes, with each set costing between $80 and $100. Layers of fabric, paper and cardboard are fused together using hardened glue and encased in a mixture of satin and leather to create each pointe shoe, which is then molded to certain specifications in terms of foot length and width. 

For $246, Act’ble’s only model, Act’pointes, includes an outer skin, laces, a roll of tape and a 3D-printed sole made of thermoplastic polyurethane, a type of recyclable and biodegradable plastic. When compared to current mainstream pointe shoes, Act’ble claims that their model is more eco-friendly because their thermoplastic polyurethane exterior can be broken down easier than the conglomerate of fabric, leather and glue of more common pointe shoes. 

These materials are a critical selling point for the brand: they advertise a lifespan that is five times longer than traditional shoes — and a price tag over double that of traditional pointe shoes. 

“They’re each sold separately so you never have to buy the complete Act’pointes set again, which works out a lot more cost effective,” said Pohl in reference to their pricing. 

Lindner, however, is not the first to experiment with plastics in her shoe’s material makeup. 

For years, the dancewear brand Gaynor Minden was the only brand that used plastic, or elastomerics. Their pointe shoes look the same as the traditional model with the satin, ribbons and shape, conforming with industry standards. Unlike traditional pointe shoes — the leather soles, or shanks, which mold to the dancer’s natural foot arch and balance of flexibility and support — Gaynor’s shoes use plastic shanks. 

Certain dance companies such as Ballet Arizona do not allow their dancers to wear Gaynors by reasoning that the plastic shanks create an unfair advantage and require less strength to use.

Fiona Savarese, a dancer in the Philadelphia Dance Academy’s pre-professional program, doubted whether Gaynor’s plastic shanks could offer the same benefits. 

“I did not like Gaynors at all because I felt like the shank wasn’t molding to my foot, and it felt less personalized than the Freeds I wear right now,” Savarese said. 

“We have specially designed the Act’pointes with many features to actually support and help the dancer whilst dancing – this is priority for us at Act’ble and is what drives our mission,” said the brand, noting how integral the feel of the shoes are in their purpose as a company. 

“My feet wouldn’t bend, the shank wouldn’t move and they wouldn’t die,” said Annarose Speidel, another dancer in the Philadelphia Dance Academy’s pre-professional program, referencing her experience with her pointe shoes’ ability to support her feet.

Dancers’ problem with the shoes generally stems from the vast majority of ballet dancers not having the level of foot flexibility to be able to constantly push the rigid plastic soles during performances. According to former professional dancer Fallon Gannon, that flexibility is why leather shanks have been the industry standard for so long. 

Act’ble pointe shoes may impact the stigma around these types of plastic shanks, they report positive feedback on the comfortability of the shoes. 

Most ballet teachers tend to repeatedly remind one of the most valued properties of a dancer to their students. The ballet community cherishes one’s ability to create a line with the positioning of their body, using elongated arm and leg extensions and pointed feet. 

The Philadelphia Dance Academy is located at 219 Cuthbert St. in Philadelphia.