‘Smart’ Ballet Shoes Digitally Paint Dancers’ Fancy Footwork

Ballet is an exquisite, ephemeral expression. A dancer’s delicate footwork vanishes into thin air as quickly as it’s created, but it doesn’t have to. Not anymore.

Enter a pair of “smart” shoes you probably never expected: A sensor-laden pair of E-Traces ballet shoes strapped to a ballerina’s fancy feet. They’re smart pointe slippers that literally transform ballet into art in motion.

That’s right, wearable tech has finally and quite beautifully tiptoed its way into ballet and the most difficult form of it no less — classical pointe. With so much connected footwear strutting into the trendy wearables spotlight, it was only a matter of time.

Spanish graphic designer and dance enthusiast Lesia Trubat Gonzálezsays she created the motion sensor-equipped, satin and leather ballet shoes to help ballerinas “recreate their movements in digital pictures.” And that’s exactly what E-Traces, short for Electronic Traces, do. They capture dancers’ fleeting footwork — every landing, twirl and sweep of the floor — then transform them into vibrant, multicolor digital drawings.

The results, displayed on an accompanying smartphone app, look like curved, whimsical Asian ink wash painting brush strokes.

How E-Traces work is apparently much simpler than balancing on pointe. Still only in concept mode, the tricked-out dancing shoes — outfitted with $20, sew-on Lilypad Arduino microcontroller circuit boards, conductive threads and motion sensors — record the ground pressure and movement of wearers’ feet.

Here’s the geeky-cool part: They then send signals — snippets of “the memory of dance,” as González puts it — to a presumably Bluetooth-paired smartphone. From there, the companion app automatically crunches the dance data and converts it into simple, yet gorgeously animated visual wisps, slashes and streaks. The artful metrics visualizations can be customized to suit each user. Exactly how isn’t clear, though.

E-Traces aren’t available for purchase just yet and there’s no official word on when they will be. Imagining the data visualization of your smooth moves will have to suffice for now.

This isn’t the first time González has dabbled in graphing ballerinas’ motions. She’s also experimented with capturing their graceful motions in scattered salt and smudgy black paint. Sure looks fun, but no thanks. Too messy. Given the choice, we’d stick to the funky hacked slippers.