At the My Beginner Pointe Headquarters, we receive copious amounts of questions about all things to do with pointe.  To add to your knowledge on the subject, I have compiled a list of the absolute Top 20 Questions About Pointe Shoes.

1.  Can you tell where your ribbon needs to be stitched by folding the heel down onto the shank?

The positioning of the ribbons on a pointe shoe is slightly different for everyone.  Folding the heel down to meet the insole will generally work, however it does depend on where the dancer’s arch is most prominent, and where the shoe needs pulling up to best showcase the dancer’s foot.

2.  I have an ballet examination coming up and need to tidy up my pointe shoes.  What do I do if the satin on my platform is becoming tatty?

Firstly, if the satin is dirty, use a small nail brush to simply brush the dirt away.  If you have persistent spots, seek an adult to help place a small amount of methylated spirits on a cotton bud, not ball, to gently rub the spot.  It’s also a good idea to either remove your old ribbons and elastic, wash them and re-stitch them, or wash them whilst on your shoes, being supremely careful not to get any water near the box of your shoe!!!

With regard to neatening the tears on and around the platform of your shoes, I would suggest using a small pair of manicure scissors.  If you need to tidy up your shoes for a special performance or examination and you have lots of tears on the platform, I suggest;

1.  Seek help from an adult to secure a sharp stanley knife.

2.  Outline the platform of your shoes with a pencil, then mark down both sides of the shoe on either side of the pleats where they meet the outsole, which is underneath the shoe.

3,  Gently cut along this line being careful not to cut through the canvas which is directly underneath the satin.

4.  Remove the cut satin and you will be left with the exposed canvas.

(Note;  Cutting the satin in between the pleats underneath the shoe will be the hardest part to do, make certain that once you have finished, the surface is very flat so as not to create an unbalanced surface under the foot).

3.  What do dancers mean when they say their pointe shoes are ‘dead’?

Dancers say their pointe shoes are dead when they consider that the shoes have little to no life left in them.  By that, they mean that either the shank is no longer providing the necessary support or the platform has softened too much, sometimes so much so that they can feel their toes on the floor.

4.  What should I look for in my first pointe shoe fitting?  

There are quite a few factors to be considered at your first pointe shoe fitting.  These are;

1.  The last – which is the foot shaped mold on which the pointe shoe is manufactured around.

2.  The vamp – which is the front part of your shoe that encases the box and platform.

3.  The platform – which is the flattened toe area that enables you to dance en pointe.

4.  The paste – which is the special glue used to harden the box and toe area which comes in different strengths.

5.  The shank – The backbone of the pointe shoe which provides the support for the dancer.  Shanks are all developed with different profiles and varying levels of flexibility.

6.  The style – Each ‘brand’ of pointe shoe has many different types of pointe shoe to cater for the young beginner through to the professional dancer.

(Note;  When you arrive at your first pointe shoe fitting, be sure to wear your ballet tights, and if you intend on wearing toe pads, be sure to take them to your fitting and put them on whilst trying on shoes, it will make quite a difference to the fit.)

5.  How do I break in my first pair of pointe shoes?

Your first pair of pointe shoes should be of a style that is constructed especially for a beginner en pointe.  Generally this shoe will have a graded shank making it easy for the beginner to roll up on to pointe, a wide box which will reduce the pressure on individual metatarsals and a wide platform for ease of balance and a sense of stability.  If you find the most prominent part of your arch and the matching point on your shoe, you can give the shank a few gentle bends to encourage the shank to hug the arch giving a really nice supported feeling en pointe.

6.  Should I wear padding in my shoes or try to toughen my feet up?

I think you should use whatever makes dancing en pointe as comfortable as possible.  We are not designed to dance on our toes, and there are many products out there, so why not use them?  Some ballet teachers may recommend soaking your feet in methylated spirits to toughen the skin.

7.  Do you suggest visiting the podiatrist prior to going en pointe?

I would recommend a visit to the podiatrist before commencing pointe work, as he/she may instruct you on clipping your toe nails correctly, as long toe nails will be extremely painful in pointe shoes.

Perhaps you could ask for assistance on how to treat blisters, soft and hard corns, ingrown toe nails and the removal of hardened skin.

If your feet are in optimal condition, you will definitely be in less pain.

8.  What can I do to prepare my toes for pointe work?

As suggested above, an initial visit to the podiatrist to remove any hard calloused skin will be helpful.  If the build up to your pointe work is gradual, your toes will toughen as your feet and ankles strengthen.  As time passes you will learn where the points of friction between your pointe shoes and toes are, then you can experiment with various forms of padding, until you find what is most suitable for you.

9.  I have read online that if the difference between the length of the second toe and the big toe is great, the dancer may be discouraged from attempting pointe work, is this true?

Having a longer second toe than the big toe should not discourage you from attempting pointe work at all!!!  There are a few modifications that will alleviate some of the pressure from the second toe that you may like to try.  Building up the length of big toe using foam pads can help.  If this is your personal case, I strongly suggest visiting a podiatrist prior to going en pointe and they can modify something for you.  Be sure to take your pointe shoes and padding along with you to trial.

10.  How many pairs of pointe shoes do dancers go through?

Professional dancers in the Australian Ballet receive pointe shoes each week as a supplement to their weekly wage.  Typically corps de ballet and coryphee members receive 2 pair per week, soloistes and senior artistes receive 3 pair per week and principal artistes receive 6 pair per week.  Depending upon the repertoire, the demand of the repertoire and how involved the dancer is in the repertoire, they may not go through their weekly quota of shoes, but other times they may need more, which is why the dancers save their unused shoes for times when their workload is elevated.

For a student with moderate usage, a pair of pointe shoes will typically last anywhere from ten to twenty hours of wear. For dance students, this may mean weeks or months of serviceable use from a pair of pointe shoes.

Full time dance students may get a month of wear out of their pointe shoes, once again dependent on their pointe workload.

Beginners will normally get several months out of their first pair of pointe shoes, in fact they may outgrow them before wearing them out completely.  Part of the reason for this, is that the pointe work a beginner is required to do is gentle, slow barre work, which doesn’t place a lot of stress on the pointe shoe.  More than likely beginners will be required to do only an hour of pointe work per week.

In the course of normal use, there are three main types of wear on a pointe shoe.  The most important of these is the state of the shank.  As the body of the shoe is repetitively flexed, the shank gradually weakens and loses its ability to provide support. A pointe shoe is no longer wearable when the shank breaks down to the point where it no longer provides the necessary support.  The second type of wear is the softening of the box and especially the platform on which the dancer balances.  The last type of typical wear to a pointe shoe involves the satin, usually the satin on the platform will start to tear from the constant contact with the floor, which will be exacerbated if dancing on wooden floor boards.

11.  Could you give me instructions on how to attach elastoribs to my pointe shoes?

When you open up your elastoribs packet, you will see that the ribbons have been cut into four identical pieces with a piece of elastic pre-inserted.  The length either side of the elastic is not the same, the shorter length should be pinned on the shoe to be stitched.  However, before you do this, you will more than likely need to shorten this section as the elastic needs to sit right at the back of the achilles tendon.  I know from experience, that if I don’t cut the shorter length of the elastorib, the elastic winds up at the front of my ankle, therefore it won’t work effectively to reduce the tension on the achilles tendon.  The amount of ribbon you cut will be entirely dependent on the measurement of your ankle.  Perhaps pin the elastorib to your shoe to see how much needs cutting.

12.  Can I switch my pointe shoes from left to right once I have worn them?

Whilst it is possible to switch your shoes over from left to right, you will also need to re-stitch your ribbons, as once you have cut the ribbons the desired length after knotting them on the inside of your ankle, you will be left with one ribbon longer than the other.  The longer ribbon always needs to be the one on the inside of the foot (the big toe side) and the shorter one on the outside of the foot (the little toe side).  If you do not re-stitch your ribbons, the knot will end up on the outside of the foot, which is not recommended at all.

13.  Is it recommended to switch styles of shoe?

I think it is a great idea to switch styles of shoe until you find the one that suits you best, particularly if you are new to pointe.  There are so many different styles, just be sure to do your homework on the individual features before purchasing them, as pointe shoes are expensive items.  It is also a very good idea to take your old pointe shoes in with you to your pointe shoe fitting so the shoe fitter can see exactly how your old shoes have broken down, and what it is about them that you may not like or want to change.

14.  Why are my friends allowed en pointe, and I am not?

Ideally, dancers in a class should be allowed en pointe when a professional has deemed them ready, unfortunately this means all dancers are ready at different times.  Pointe classes can be performed in flat ballet shoes or more ideally demi-pointe shoes.  Time spent strengthening and perfecting technique in flat shoes, will mean the musculoskeletal structure will handle the huge demand of pointe work without fear of damage.  The student must demonstrate that they are responsible enough in class to work safely en pointe.  A very important key factor is whether or not the bones in the feet are fully developed, strengthened and hardened.  This varies from dancer to dancer, and it is not something that can be accelerated.  The dancer must present good posture and alignment as well as having sufficient ankle mobility.  All of these areas will be checked by a professional to deem you ready for the next big step of going en pointe.  Remember that your teacher is primarily thinking of your safety and readiness, and it should not be seen as a personal bias.

15.  How can I make my pointe shoes last?

There are a few different ways to make your pointe shoes last a little longer.  Having a few pairs to rotate is ideal, but not so practical for a student, depending on your individual circumstance.  Rotation of more than one pair of shoes allows for the individual shoes to completely dry out in between wears.  If you have a single pair, make sure you remove the padding whether it be ouch pouches or lambs wool etc. from the inside of the box to allow air to flow freely, and hang somewhere by the ribbons to dry out completely.  Throughout the course of class, the box absorbs a lot of moisture from the feet and if this moisture is allowed to remain in the shoe, it will prematurely soften the paste.

Although I have not tried it, I have heard the recommendation of stuffing the box with tissue or absorbent paper after wearing, to draw the moisture and retain the shape of the box.

There are products like jet glue that can be bought from reputable ballet stores, that can be thinly applied to the inside of the box, platform and areas of the shank that are particularly stressed, which will prolong the life of your shoes a little.  Sometimes jet glue can be applied to brand new shoes if preferred.

16.  What are some steps I can take to reduce the pain in my feet after pointe class?

1.  Remove your pointe shoes and let your feet recover with no covering for a few minutes, and have a nice comfortable pair of shoes like thongs or ugg boots to put on.

2.  Soak your feet in nice, warm, salty water.

3,  Massage your feet and toes with a little arnica cream, which is very good for alleviating bruising.  Massage the toes, metatarsals, balls of feet, arch, under the heel, achilles tendon, flexor hallucis longus (the fhl starts just below the middle of the calf bone nearest the back of the leg, running down the calf to the side of the ankle and into the foot down to the big toe.)

17.  I need to have a coloured pair of pointe shoes for my end of year performance, and don’t want to colour my current pair, what do I do?

I would suggest a little pre-planning in this situation, a great idea is to remove your old ribbons from shoes that are no longer useful and put them away for times like these.  Colouring shoes will always harden your pointe shoes, in order for you to get a few performances out of them.  So, it is a good idea to colour ‘dead’ shoes, and not brand new ones, particularly as you will only require them for very limited performances.

18.  Do you think it is necessary to work in demi-pointe shoes as a preparation for pointe work?

Absolutely I do!!  Demi-pointe shoes are designed specifically to be a transitional shoe from a ballet flat to a pointe shoe.  They have a full leather outsole which simply means it creates more resistance than a ballet flat, making your foot work harder, therefore providing more strengthening in preparation for pointe work.  I highly recommend a pre-pointe program be done in demi-pointe shoes, until the dancer is strong enough to go en pointe.  If this specific preparation is done, the transition to pointe work will be seamless and relatively painless.

19.  Is is ok to order my first pair of pointe shoes online?

No, I would not recommend buying your first pair of pointe shoes online.  Your first pointe shoes should be fitted by an experienced pointe shoe fitter at a reputable ballet store.  As mentioned above, there are many things to be considered when fitting your first pointe shoes, and it is recommended to make an appointment ahead of time, so the decision isn’t rushed.  Ill fitting pointe shoes can result in blisters, corns, sore feet and at worst, injuries.  After you have been correctly fitted with your first pointe shoes, then by all means order exactly the same ones online, be very careful to put in each specification correctly.

20.  How do I stop my ribbons from fraying?

This is an easy one.  You may need to ask an adult for help, as you will need to use a lighter.  Simply lightly singe the ends of the ribbons, the heat will slightly melt the ends, and they won’t ever fray.  Alternatively, you can cut the ends of your ribbons in a sharp diagonal which is also quite effective in stopping the fraying ends.

Written by;  Vicki Attard

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