Starting as a ballet dancer, Marisa discovered flamenco in her 40s. Now retired, she enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things dance.
Frederick Freed started making pointe shoes in the heart of London in 1929. For most British dancers, Freed's hand-crafted shoes are a part of their heritage. Though some of their shoes are now made in a factory, they retain their commitment to tradition, and many of their shoes are still hand-made.
Freed: The Rolls Royce of Pointe Shoes
For many professional dancers, Freed is the Rolls Royce of the pointe shoe—properly fitted, there's nothing quite like them. Freeds are still made in the traditional way, with all-natural components and their own unique paste, giving them an exceptional lightness. But before you get too excited, be warned—their lightness also means they die quickly if not looked after carefully, so they may not be the most practical choice for students.
A British Tradition
When I was studying ballet, Freed and Gamba were virtually the only two choices for dancers in the UK. For most of its life, Freed were the official shoe of the Royal Ballet, too. Because of that tradition, you will still find British ballet schools which insist all their students wear Freed, long-lasting or not! So it is always worth checking your school's policy before buying pointe shoes for the first time.
A big advantage of Freed, besides their lightness and fit, is that Freed have a seemingly inexhaustible ability to customize any aspect of their shoes to fit any foot. Scroll down to the end of this page on their website to get an idea of what's possible. This flexibility is especially useful for professionals and those with hard-to-fit feet.
Freed Classic Pointe Shoes
As the name suggests, the Classic is Freed's original, classic pointe shoe, still hand-lasted by craftsmen. While that is a plus, it can also be a negative!
With other pointe shoes, dancers will talk about the model that suits them best—the Grishko 2007 or the Capezio Contempora, and so on. With Freed Classics, professional dancers are more likely to talk about the maker that suits them best—because each shoemaker brings his own unique style to the shoe, which affects the fit. So a Classic made by one maker won't fit quite the same as a Classic made by another maker.
Few online retailers will allow maker requests, which means that every time you buy a pair of Classics, you'll get a slightly different shoe—so before you order, it's important to take that into consideration.
When I was dancing in the UK, I was always able to buy my shoes at Freed's shop in St Martins Lane so I could specify my preference. These days, you can shop with them online and request your favourite—though, of course, if you are not in the UK, you will have to pay international shipping fees.
Freed Studio Pointe Shoes
Though made in their factory, the Studio range still boasts many of the defining features of the Freed brand. They are quality shoes made entirely from natural materials. The advantage of factory manufacture is that every shoe is consistent, unlike the variability of the hand-made Classics.
Like the Classics, the range goes all the way from a light shoe for beginners through to a robust professional pointe shoe for performance.
Chacott Pointe Shoes
Chacott is a Japanese dancewear company and one of the largest in the world—but Chacott pointe shoes are actually made by Freed of London.
Their most widely available model is the Chacott Veronese II (below), best suited to a somewhat tapered (Grecian) foot. It's a super-lightweight shoe which needs very little break-in time. It has a medium to low vamp and a low profile. The wingless toe box is helpful for dancers with painful bunions.
Brown Ballet Shoes for Dancers of Color
Freed have always been known for their signature peach satin, but an exciting development is the availability of brown ballet shoes as a standard color in Freed's range.
My Favourite Freeds
It may come as a surprise, but my favorite pair of Freed pointe shoes aren't shoes I would ever dance in. They're a very precious pair of old pointe shoes, given to me when I was a child by Royal Ballet principal Brenda Last.
She gave them to me when the Royal Ballet came to our town. It wasn't a big town and short on hotels, so the company advertised for families to host a dancer for the season—and bless her heart, my mother volunteered! We had two dancers billeted with us—Brenda Last and Nicholas Johnson.
I was so excited to have a real ballerina staying in our home, and it was fascinating to see how a dancer lived. She got up late, leaving for the theatre around 10 am. She wouldn't get home until after the performance, of course—nearly midnight sometimes—and would then tuck into a hearty dinner. She was so tiny, you wondered where all the food went!
My mother felt so proud of "our" dancers that naturally, when it came to choosing which ballets we would see, she made sure to we went on the nights they were in the main roles. We saw Brenda as the Can-Can dancer in La Boutique Fantasque (which I made a sketch of when I got home). After the performance, she gave me the pointe shoes she had worn.
A couple of years later, when I went to see the film Tales of Beatrix Potter, I noticed something familiar about the Black Pig's feet and style of dancing. Sure enough, it was Brenda!
© 2020 Marisa Wright
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 28, 2020:
I enjoyed learning about Freed and their shoes. One of my favourite Royal Ballet dancers has often said that she wears Freed shoes, so it was interesting to learn about the shoe company.