Careers Restored:
Dancers' Own Stories of Rehabilitation Thanks to Gaynor Minden

Alina Cojocaru, Principal Dancer, English National Ballet

Bridgett Zehr, Principal Dancer, English National Ballet

Jennifer Cavanaugh, Principal Dancer, American Repertory Ballet

Gemma Pitchley-Gale, Artist, The Royal Ballet

Alina Cojocaru

Principal Dancer, English National Ballet

As a student I trained mostly in Kiev in the Ukraine, where I was fortunate enough to have a maker in the theatre that made pointe shoes specifically for my feet. However, he eventually passed away and I couldnít get the same shoes anymore. When I came to London, I tried every brand of pointe shoes that I could get my hands on ó Bloch, Capezio, Freed, Grishko, Sansha, etc. ó and also Gaynor Minden pointe shoes. As soon as I put them on, I noticed that my feet were so flat on the ground and the shoes were incredibly comfortable; I felt like I could wear them all day long! However, I wasnít ready to make the switch to Gaynor Mindens and continued to wear traditional brands of shoes for the first few years after I was engaged at the Royal Ballet.

I didnít begin seriously considering Gaynor Minden shoes until 2002 when a number of events motivated me to explore them further.

While dancing one day, I suffered a twisted ankle and was forced to take about 6 weeks off for the injury to heal. Many traditional pointe shoes are very wobbly when you stand flatfooted in them, due to the way the shank is made; I thought to myself, this cannot be good for an ankle injury. I remembered how flat the Gaynor Minden pointe shoes were when I tried them on a few years prior; for me this seemed so important as my ankle was healing, to have a shoe that was the least wobbly as possible.

In addition, one of my colleagues, Zenaida Yanowsky, with whom I was sharing a room at the Royal Opera House at the time, was beginning to wear Gaynor Minden pointe shoes. I saw her working with some of her sample shoes and observed the positive results that she had. This really made me eager to explore them for myself.

Finally, I had recently discovered the exact nature of an old injury that had developed during my first year as a professional dancer in Kiev. I was 17 and preparing Kitri in Don Quixote for the first time, when I started feeling pain in the mid-section of my foot. Unfortunately in Kiev they didnít really have the equipment to correctly diagnose and correct the problem, so I continued to dance through the pain. Sometimes I couldnít even walk after dancing; however I dealt with the pain for several years. Finally in 2002, after being in London at the Royal Ballet for a few seasons, I had an MRI/bone scan. They found an old stress fracture; it showed that the bone had actually splintered and then healed back crookedly. They told me that there was not much they could do to help the injury, as it was too old to intervene in any way. Essentially the injury was chronic and the only solution was to deal with the pain. I knew then that I really had to focus more on taking the best care of my feet that I could.

For me it was a definite period of adjustment to switch to Gaynor Minden shoes, as I was never really off pointe for a long time. The Gaynor Mindens were very comfortable for me ó especially when you spend as much time as I do en pointe every day ó but I found that initially I was able to use them more easily as a solo dancer than when dancing with a partner. However, this changed with time as I got more and more used to the shoes and I found that I didnít need to switch shoes for doing different roles.

More importantly, the longer I wore Gaynor Mindens, the pains from my old injuries and foot problems began to lessen and even disappear altogether. I was also doing a lot of foot exercises (picking up napkins with toes, using therabands to pointe and flex the foot, etc.) as well as ankle exercises (keeping my foot still while doing ankle circles, etc.) and I found that all of the exercises, along with the Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, alleviated me from much of the pain I had been dealing with for so long.

With time and trials, I have found the particular size combination that allows me enough space for the different paddings and supports that I wear for my longer second toe and my bunions. Most pointe shoes would be too tight in this area but Gaynor Mindens give me enough space without being too loose. As a professional, itís wonderful to find not only the correct size but also an asthetically pleasing look in one shoe.

One of the best benefits ó and most surprising ó is that the Gaynor Minden shoes have actually made my feet and ankles stronger. It happened so naturally with wearing the shoes that I didnít even notice it until much later. Because the Gaynor Mindens allow you such a quick and straight up and down in relevť, you really have to work your foot to find the middle areas in between ó the low, middle and high demi-pointe areas. I didnít 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.

I am very grateful to Gaynor Minden pointe shoes for allowing me to dance with less pain and for giving me added strength in my feet and ankles ó which is no small thing for a professional dancer. No less important are the foot and ankle exercises that I do every day to keep my feet strong and healthy. Now, I cannot imagine going back to a traditional pointe shoe.

Read more about Alina Cojocaru by clicking here