Making boring words interesting since 2005.

Journalism

I was a freelance journalist for 10 years. Mostly about the arts, music, culture and architecture. Outlets included LA Times, Globe & Mail, Economist, FT, Guardian, Deutsche Welle and Time Out New York.

Power Pointe

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At the end of a murky hallway in the working-class east London neighborhood of Hackney, 12 men stand at battered workbenches under unflattering fluorescent lights. One wields a nail gun; another bangs away with a hammer. Machines hum. There is something severe and decidedly masculine about the whole scene, but what this factory, Freed of London, churns out is about as dainty as it gets: custom pointe shoes for the world’s prima ballerinas.The factory is managed by Gary Brooks, who came to Freed straight out of high school. “I was fascinated when I first came here by how much work goes into making a shoe,” he says. “People either leave after six months or, like me, stay for 30 years.” The only things that have changed since Freed was founded in 1929 are the soccer posters on the wall and the songs coming from the radio.Each craftsman makes 40 pairs a day, all of which start with the same basic materials: satin, cotton, burlap, cardboard and leather. But, as with violin makers and their varnish, rumors abound of top-secret ingredients being added along the way to make one man’s shoes more prized than another’s. Because of this, once a dancer finds a craftsman she likes, she tends to stay with him for her entire career. In turn, the shoe makers take great pride in nabbing the best ballerinas. “I’ve had some top dancers — Tamara Rojo and Belinda Hatley,” says Pat Moran. He’s been at it for 18 years, he says, “and I still remember the times I’ve come to work and made the perfect shoe.”That’s not to say the craftsmen often see their handiwork in action. In fact, Brooks is unusual among his colleagues in that he’s actually been to the ballet. “I really enjoy watching their feet and what they do. It gives you a whole different view,” he says. “But most of the blokes think it’s a bit girly.”First published in Hemispheres magazine in April 2012