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Readying Pointe Shoes: How Ballerinas Sew and Break in Shoes

Sewing pointe shoes Adrienne Canterna of Bad Boys of Dance prepares her Capezio pointe shoes.

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

The process from pointe shoes fresh out of the box to their first wear is a different one for each dancer, learned through experience, mentors, trial and error or observation of colleagues. Some ballerinas can have their shoes sewn, broken in and ready to go in 10 minutes; for some dancers, it can take an hour or more. Either way, most professional dancers have their own routine when it comes to readying their pointe shoes. Here, two ballerinas and Capezio Athletes share their tricks and methods.       

Before she sews her Capezio Glisse 102 pointe shoes, dancer and choreographer Adrienne Canterna says she bends and molds them with her hands and feet and also applies a little water in specific parts for softening. The first thing Semperoper Ballett dancer Sarah Ellen Hay does with her Capezio Contempora pointe shoes is darn the outside of the box to help her from going too far over the box.

Pointe shoes are not functional without ribbons and/or elastic. In fact, most teachers and pointe shoe fitters and professionals encourage dancers to use both ribbons and elastic, as they provide ankle support and help keep the shoe flush to the foot.

“I use the Capezio elastic and ribbons for every pair,” Hay says. “I like to also put a piece of netted elastic over the arch of my foot because I tend to kill shoes rather fast when I’m too far over the box.”

Hay says the task of sewing ribbons and elastic is tedious for her and takes her about an hour a pair. “I’ve been taught by various other dancers, but to be perfectly honest, I have yet to improve,” she says. “I still even ask my mother for help when I am home for holiday.”

Adrienne Canterna. Photo by xmb photography

Adrienne Canterna says that you should be comfortable and feel good in pointe shoes. Photo by xmb Photography

For Canterna, the use of ribbons and elastic depends on the repertoire she is rehearsing or performing. Sometimes she uses both, and other times she uses only elastic.

“I sew with a heavy duty needle and dental floss,” Canterna says. “My mom taught me. She’s a seamstress and a master in many other crafty things. It takes me between five and 10 minutes, depending on my level of distraction.”

Once the shoes are sewn, dancers often have different break-in techniques or little “fix-its” that ensure the best fit and feel.

“I scrape the bottoms with scissors in a specific pattern,” Canterna adds. “I adjust the drawstring elastics a few times while taking my shoes on and off, rosin up my heels, and that’s usually it.”

Hay says, “I put water all over the box and walk around on pointe for a few minutes to get the box to soften and shape to my foot. Then I bang them religiously. I really hate when dancers’ shoes are loud and distract from the performance. So I use a hammer and the floor to bang the shoes until they are much more quiet. I like to have a friend, usually a heavier guy, step on the box so it flattens out a little. Also, when I have a big role, I like to draw a little animal or design so I remember which shoes I need to save for which shows.”

And then these ballerinas are good to go – to take class, rehearse and perform all day in their pointe shoes that they’ve made their own. Of course, both Canterna and Hay have learned over time how to customize their shoes and which sewing methods and break-in techniques work best for them.

“I think using water is a great way to soften a shoe that is too hard,” Hay advises. “And I don’t recommend a lot of glue before wearing them because it makes them sound like bricks! Also, putting a bit of extra elastic in a place that helps hug the shoe to your arch is really nice for the look and comfort of the foot.”

“Your shoes should be comfortable and feel good not just when you’re up on pointe but also when you’re just walking around,” Canterna adds. “Try anything and everything for comfort and efficiency. One thing I have to do is wear a spacer between my big toe and second toe to relieve bunion pain. Everyone has special things they need. Find yours! Ask your teachers or any older professional dancers you trust for tips, and don’t give up!”

Finally, Canterna advises, “Be responsible, passionate and respectful about your body, your shoes, your training, and never, ever, ever stop learning!”