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The Ins and Outs of Pointe Shoes

Salvatore Capezio Salvatore Capezio handcrafting pointe shoes

By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.

As if dancing en pointe was not hard enough, taking care of your pointe shoes while you’re not dancing in them is just as important as your technique in the shoes. Here are a few useful tips to help you care for those magical shoes that help you dance your dreams.

Find the right fit

If this is your first time buying a pair of pointe shoes, make sure that you are fitted correctly by a professional. Wearing the wrong kind of shoe for your foot type could cause injury and limit your dancing. A shoe that is not right for your foot could breakdown more easily and not provide you with the support you need. Make sure the shoe will give you enough support to not “roll over” the box but is flexible enough that the shank can fit well into the arch of your foot. Everyone has different foot shapes and physical tendencies, and there are a myriad of pointe shoe styles to accommodate these differences. Remember to allow room for padding around the toes.

Sew ribbons and elastic correctly

Professional ballerinas all have their own preferences for how they sew ribbons and elastic, but some general guidelines apply.

If you’re using elastic, you will want to sew it so that it lays across the arch of your foot for maximum support. You can measure this off simply by putting on your shoes and measuring the distance of the elastic from side to side. Mark with a pencil on the inside edge of your shoe where the elastic should attach. After you cut the elastic to the appropriate length, you may want to quickly run a lighter over the edge to prevent fraying. Be sure to not put the elastic directly in the flame, only near it, and keep a glass of water nearby in case you need to quickly dunk the end of the elastic. If you are young, make sure to get your parents to help you with this. If you feel uncomfortable using a lighter, you can use clear nail polish on the ends. Then simply sew each end on the inside of your shoe.

In order to sew ribbons, first fold down the fabric of the heel towards the toe. Draw a line with a pencil where the heel edge meets the fabric of the sides of the shoe. You will sew the ribbons either on or slightly forward of this line, depending on your preference.  After treating the ends of the ribbon for fraying, fold over the edge of the ribbon one or two times and sew it to the inside of the shoe. If this is your first time, you might want to do a few loose stitches and try them on to make sure ribbons are fitting correctly before making tighter stitches. The heel and sides of the shoe should not gape when you stand en pointe.

Capezio pointe shoesLearn to break in your shoes properly

We have all seen those movies where ballerinas are slamming their pointe shoes into door jams and hitting the box of their shoes with a hammer. While all dancers have different needs, this is generally not recommended, especially for young pointe students, because these actions could break the box or the shank of the shoe in a way that is not supportive while wearing them.

To break in your shoes, begin by massaging the areas where you know you will need more flexibility, such as the sides of the toe box and the part of the shank which should mold to the arch of your foot in releve. Then, the next step is to simply wear your shoes around the house for a few hours. Rising to demi-pointe and walking in your shoes will give your shoes flexibility that matches the shape of your foot. Finally, you can give yourself an at-home barre warm-up in your shoes, working through demi-pointe, before you actually go to pointe class.

Dry out your shoes

In order to give your shoes as long a life as possible, it is very important to let them dry out after use. The moisture that accumulates in the shoe from sweat will cause it to break down more easily, which means you’ll be buying shoes more often. After wearing your shoes, try tying them to the outside of your dance bag instead of throwing them inside. You can also try putting them in a mesh bag that allows air to flow through. If you are dancing on pointe several times a week, it could also be a good idea to always have two pairs of shoes at a time and alternate which pair you use from day to day.

How to know when you need a new pair shoes

Wearing shoes after they have passed their prime is dangerous for your body, and you should always be conscious of the support you need from your shoes for your technique level. Your teacher should be able to help you tell when you need to buy a new pair, but generally, if you notice that you are rolling over the box, crunching into your toes, or leaning too much to the inside or outside of your foot, it might be time for a new pair.