Showcased on a mantle inside The Rosin Box is an original pair of Capezio pointe shoes circa 1889 that Jenkins proudly displays as the store's centerpiece. The shoes serve as a subtle reminder of Jenkin's dedication to his craft and exemplify The Rosin Box's long-lasting reputation as "the" place for pointe shoes and pointe shoe fitting.
Tucked in amongst a row of older homes that have been converted to shops and restaurants in downtown Philadelphia's historic district, sits a small dancewear store, with a big reputation. Founded in 1977, The Rosin Box has become synonymous with pointe shoes and pointe shoe fitting in the Philadelphia area and with dancers from all over the world. From a humble beginning as a hobby for owner Len Jenkins' mother, the business has grown if not much in physical size in importance to a myriad of dancers and dance organizations in the region.
"We started out in a tiny place farther up Sansom Street in which our entire inventory could fit into something the size of that cabinet," said Jenkins, pointing to a cabinet about the size of a refrigerator. "Business was slow at first and we had few customers. Things started to change for us about the time the motion picture "The Turning Point" came out. Suddenly everybody wanted to take ballet. Then in the early 1980's other films like "All That Jazz" and "Flashdance" made dancing cool and continued our boom in sales."
Over the years Jenkins said The Rosin Box carved its niche in the marketplace because of its dedication to the proper fitting of pointe shoes. "Dancers came to us because they were tired of getting shoes that didn't fit," said Jenkins.
The The Rosin Box's heavy concentration on footwear is also due in part to a problem facing many small dance retailers in that they cannot compete with large mail order and Internet retailers on price when it comes to dance apparel. "If you wear a "small" in a particular brand tights, that fit is going to hold true every time and wherever you buy them," said Jenkins. "Finding the proper fit in a pointe shoe is a dynamic process remains an ongoing process for a dancer."
A former dancer himself, Jenkins has been fitting pointe shoes for over twenty-five years and has conducted seminars on the craft. "I tell dancers I learn more from them than they do from me when it comes to shoe fitting," said Jenkins.
From years of feedback Jenkins says that he has developed "a process of assessment" in fitting pointe shoes that he likens to his work as a paramedic. According to Jenkins, the keys to finding the right shoes for a dancer are knowing the individual characteristics and construction of the shoe brands he carries, examining the shape of the dancers foot, experience in gauging a dancer's reaction or lack of reaction to the fitting process, and asking a lot of questions.
"We really look out for the good of the dancer whether they like it or not." said Jenkins. "I can't in all good conscience send somebody home with something that will not work or will be damaging to them."
Jenkins says for veteran dancers looking to be fitted, he will ask what shoe they are wearing now and what their likes and dislikes of the shoe are. Then ask about what they put in the shoe besides their foot. "Toe pads will change the shape and size of a person's foot and that needs to be taken into account when choosing a shoe," said Jenkins.
A first fitting of a young dancer according to Jenkins can take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. "I put younger dancers in something light, because they will usually outgrow the shoes before they will wear them out," said Jenkins. "For any beginner you really want a shoe that is more flexible so that they can start working their feet and developing muscle memory and strength."
Jenkins notes that ninety-nine percent of the pointe shoes on the market today are made pretty much the same way they have been made for the last hundred years. "Most shoes are made of paste and the shoe is meant to mold to the dancer's foot through body heat this reduces inside movement and gives the dancer an even break-in," said Jenkins. "The exception is the Gaynor Minden shoe which has really revolutionized pointe shoe construction, using polymers and foam for added strength and comfort."
In addition to carrying most brands of pointe shoes, The Rosin Box also stocks a number of other styles of dance footwear including jazz shoes, tap shoes, dance sneakers, ballroom shoes, ballet slippers, and shoes for Flamenco and Swing. The store also stocks core dance wear items such as basic leotards and tights along with some designer leotard brands such as BKWear.
Jenkins says most of The Rosin Box`s new business comes via word of mouth and that this year he is seeing an increase in the number of ballroom dancers looking for shoes as well as those interested in jazz sneakers.