Margot Fonteyn’s Pointe Shoes

These pointe shoes were obtained either in the few months before or after May 1977. I was attending a  professional ballet class taught by Anna Northcote at what was Dance Centre in Covent Garden. I believe her class took place between 11:30 am -1pm each week day. [May 7, 1977 was the time of a performance, ‘Dance 77’, at The Playhouse, Oxford, of which I was the artistic director and among the choreographers and dancers who included also Maedee Dupres,Ruth Silk, Ilsa Burke and choreography by Royston Maldoom.]

A box of used pointe shoes was brought into Anna’s class, and we were told to help ourselves to whatever shoes fit. A slightly Cinderella scenario followed. I chose two pair which seemed to feel marvelous.When I returned to Oxford and looked again at the shoes, they had ‘Fonteyn’ written on the soles. I later confirmed with Freed’s that they were hers, because the woman could recognize the workmanship of the man who always made her shoes.  Freed’s made me a similar pair [with a very low, slight block in the toe-good for bunions- but the man who had made her pair had recently retired.] I gave the second pair to a surgeon who saved my life and loved dance.

I last spoke to Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev after a performance in Boston which must have been circa 1969. It was in the middle of a blizzard- freezing, bitter wind, solid layers of ice underfoot.  My date and I were the only people standing at the stage door when the each emerged into the icy night with its glare of neon street lights. Nureyev, bundled up in an overcoat with a scarf pulled up to his nose, said it had been a difficult performance because he had fever and was probably going to die. We reassured him that everyone felt that way in Boston winters. Then Fonteyn emerged. When she saw us, she broke into the most beautiful smile and thanked us graciously for our compliments. She was carrying a large bouquet of red roses and was less well bundled up. She reached into her bouquet and drew out a  rose for me.

Both Nureyev and Fonteyn were tiny in stature,

delicate and fragile. Standing there, it seemed the wind might blow them away. They both looked as if they might break, they were so slight. This vulnerability made Fonteyn more beautiful and disturbing than perhaps some of today’s more technical dancers. I compare her to films of Pavlova in new footage which has turned up on Youtube.


4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Diana,

    oh thank you what a great story!!!

  2. My deepest gratitude to you for posting this story!

    I found it by the accident and miracle of the internet. I am reading Patti Smith’s new book M Train and in it she has a photo of her dresser with a pair of Margot Fonteyn’s pointe shoes. Entranced, with the idea that some of Fonteyn’s actual pointe shoes are out there, lovingly placed on random dressers or perhaps tucked away in special sacred boxes, I searched the web for “purchasing Margot Fonteyn’s pointe shoes” and found your post.

    Upon starting to read, I first gasped at your sudden reference to that 1969 Boston performance and then burst into inexplicable tears as you described the countenance of Nureyev and Fonteyn, exiting from the stage door of that Boston performance. I had a good long cry.

    If your dates are correct (and they do match my memory) in Feb 1969, I was 5 1/2 years old, and it was winter. I was 7 months into my first creative dance class–the 2 year pre-requisite for ballet classes taught by my first dance teacher, Shirley Benjamin, a former Joffrey member, in Worcester, MA. I had been waiting 2 whole years to start my dance training! My mother had taken me to a film version of The Sleeping Beauty c.1966 and i knew that the motion I saw on the screen was somehow of me too, and life suddenly had a huge new meaning.

    For over 45 years now, like a private precious stone I periodically take out of it’s satin-lined box, I review and am renewed by a very specific and pointed memory of Margot Fonteyn in that very Swan Lake performance in Boston, as she bourréed across and off-stage–an eerily in-human fluidity carried her across the floor, those unbroken upward and downward arcs of her boneless arms having become the swan’s wings, propelling her stage right in a serene, effortless, timeless flight…her left arm still flying, lingering bodiless at the edge of the curtain before disappearing—upper arm, forearm, wrist then fingertips—into the wing.

    It is an image that has organized my whole life—whether in ballet or out of ballet, immersed in the why and what of dance or rebelling against all dance–but ultimately a pinnacle moment of opening to grace and possibility that has informed my own personal development as a human being. It has been one of those memories that I have not been able to confirm, but always held it in my heart as a true experience, whether or not I had proof—but today, reading your words, the tears flowed in gratitude, that somehow, someone else could testify to its reality and could name the exquisiteness of her person. Something about that just undid me today. I still can’t explain it. But I deeply, deeply appreciate your witnessing and sharing.

    • Thank you for sharing your memories with me. You write very movingly of your inspiration from dance based upon a special encounter. Last year I had another such moment, as I watched Osipova dance Giselle at Covent Garden. This tiny figure floated across the stage. The audience spontaneously stood at the end, and I sat reflecting in the theatre for a few minutes after the audience had departed, lost in the afterglow.

      I hope that you have continued your connection with dance. The beauty of dance is so transient, and yet these episodes of artistic fulfilment lift us. When dance encounters a Fonteyn, a Nureyev or an Osipova, it leaves you a gift for life.  The experience lingers, and it connects the past to the future. At least we have film, although the skill in filming dance is variable. Please follow your heart.

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