Every ballet dancer has a pointe shoe prep process that's akin to a sacred ritual. And while some modifications are meant to make feet look prettier, the most critical tricks help those precious shoes last as long as possible—because at $60 to $100 a pop, they have to. We rounded up some of the best hacks to keep your shoes from dying prematurely.
Keep 'Em Dry
Moisture is the worst enemy of pointe shoes, and your sweaty feet start to break down those boots from the moment you put them on. Richmond Ballet artistic associate and school director Judy Jacob says taking the time to make sure your shoes dry out is the most effective and inexpensive way to make them last.
To get your shoes completely dry, try to rotate between pairs. "Students probably won't have five pairs of shoes, like professionals do," Jacob acknowledges, "but try to keep two pairs going at any given time." She recommends storing your shoes in a mesh bag, which promotes air circulation. If you only have one pair, using a blow dryer on them at the end of the day can help. Jacob has students who put cedar wood blocks in their shoes at the end of the day, too, because cedar draws out moisture. (The pleasant cedar smell is a nice bonus.)
Unless you're required to, don't pancake your shoes—the water on the pancake sponge will make your box and shank break down more quickly. And if you have to color your shoes for a role, use dye sparingly, to avoid overwetting.
Mix 'Em Up
Another cheap way to save your shoes, Jacob says, is to rotate them from one foot to the other after each wearing. That won't work for every dancer—if one of your feet is significantly larger than the other, for example, it's a no-go. But if you can swing it, rotating shoes between feet will keep you from wearing the same pressure points over and over, extending the life of the pair. Jacob recommends marking each shoe with a number or symbol, so you can easily keep track of your rotations.
Glue 'Em Good
For many years, dancers used wood shellac to harden the boxes and shanks of their shoes. And while some dancers still swear by that old standby, Jet glue has become a newer favorite. Originally created for building model airplanes, Jet glue is fast-drying and leaves shoes harder than shellac does.
But proceed with caution: Once you apply Jet glue, there's no way to remove it, and it can dramatically alter the shape of your shoe and the way it breaks in. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Marisa Grywalski, who's a big fan of Jet glue, is careful to use it only on the insides of her Freeds (castle maker)—if applied to the outside satin, it can create a slippery situation. "I put it inside the shoe at the bottom of the tip, and then around the top like I'm making a little cup in the box," she says. "Then I glue on either side of the shank, until just below the place I like my shoe to break." Grywalski reapplies glue when her shoes start to soften, which can sometimes get her through one more rehearsal or show.
Sew 'Em Up
Marisa Grywalski shows her darning method.
Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Always wearing through your box? Give darning a try. Grywalski has come to rely on darning to make her shoes last, because it keeps her from breaking down the platform and box around her big toe too quickly. (Check out her darning skills in the pic above.)
Darning is tricky at first, and it requires a bit of a time commitment, but it gets easier—and quicker—with practice. When Grywalski first started darning, it took her two hours to do both shoes; these days, she can complete a pair in 30 minutes. You can darn your shoes two ways: either by simply whip-stitching around the platform with thick thread, or by stitching your leftover drawstring cord to the crown of the platform. Grywalski likes the drawstring method, because she finds it softens less over time.
It'll take a while to figure out exactly where to position your darning stitches, so be patient. "It's just trial and error," Grywalski says. "If you don't like it at first, it might be because the darning is in a weird spot."
A version of this story appeared in the December 2016 issue of Dance Spirit.
There are tons of amazing things about conventions—the celebrity teachers, the variety of styles taught, the chance to bond with friends from across the country. The floors, on the other hand, generally aren’t so amazing. Dancing on carpet or a slippery parquet floor can seriously hinder your movement. More important, it can lead to injury (and we’re not just talking rug burn). How can you get the most out of convention classes despite the floor you’re dancing on? Dance Spirit investigates.
When you enter most convention classes, you have a choice: Find a spot on the central ballroom floor or spread out on the carpet. Sixteen-year-old convention regular Morgan Geraghty, who dances at Millennium Dance Complex, Movement Lifestyle and EDGE in L.A., usually heads straight for the carpet. “I tend to find the ballroom floors too slick,” she says.
But while that carpet may look soft and forgiving, looks can be deceiving. It’s likely just a thin plush layer atop hard concrete. Katie Lemmon, an athletic trainer with Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, warns that for those used to dancing on sprung studio floors, surprisingly hard surfaces can cause a jolt to their bodies—especially when jumping. “Since there’s not as much give, it’s important that dancers really use their plié before and after a jump to absorb some of the shock,” says Lemmon, who works with dancers at The Joffrey Ballet. “Keep strong through the core to avoid strain on the lower legs, feet, back and hips.”
Morgan Geraghty prefers the extra friction provided by carpet to slick ballroom floors (photo by Mario Sinclair, courtesy Morgan Geraghty)
Turns and quick direction changes can also be problematic on carpeted floors. “Because of friction, carpeting doesn’t let your feet move as much,” Lemmon warns. “So you might need to limit what you’re doing.” And, trust us, your favorite teacher will understand why you opted for a slow double pirouette instead of a quadruple. “You have to be careful,” says NUVO Dance Convention faculty member Ray Leeper. “I hate seeing twisted knees or rolled ankles because dancers threw themselves into a turn on a carpet.”
At conventions, Erin Smith, 17, who dances with CC & Co. Dance Complex in Raleigh, NC, prefers parquet floors—the laminate wood-like surfaces that are generally in the middle of the ballroom. “It’s easier to turn and it’s more stable than the carpet, where I sometimes have trouble finding my center,” she says.
But that parquet floor comes with a list of problems as well. First of all, like the carpet, it’s not going to have as much give as a sprung studio floor, so the same rules about using your core and your deepest pliés still apply. And parquet presents
another potential hazard: cracks and crevices. Erin remembers cutting herself several times on the cracks between the panels,
especially during floor work.
“The worst part to dance on is that little strip of metal on the floor’s perimeter
between the wood and the carpet,” says New York City Dance Alliance and Monsters of Hip Hop teacher Tony Testa. “If you’re near it, be careful of rolling your ankles.” Testa warns that even when the metal is covered by tape, the tape will usually peel back as the weekend goes on. After tap classes, especially, the metal might stick up at odd angles. “It’s possible to catch your foot on one of those metal edges,” he says. “And that will quickly ruin your day.”
Lemmon also recommends being aware of the slip factor: “Your foot sticks differently than it does on a marley surface,” she says. “You might have to modify your movement based on how slippery it is.” But, she warns, that doesn’t mean clenching your toes to the floor, which may be your body’s first instinct. “Focus on using the core to hold your balance, and try to actually be more relaxed through your standing feet and toes,” she says. “Gripping the floor may lead to shin splints or tendonitis of the foot and ankle.”
What you put on your feet can make all the difference when dancing on a strange floor—and that might mean going against popular trends. “Socks are all the rage right now,” says Ray Leeper of NUVO Dance Convention. “But we advise dancers at NUVO not to wear them, because we’ve seen too many kids in socks go down on a parquet floor. Going barefoot or wearing the right shoes is better.”
L.A. dancer Morgan Geraghty likes to be barefoot, no matter which surface she’s dancing on, but she’ll opt for thick-soled boots or sneakers in hip-hop class. Erin Smith, a dancer with CC & Co. Dance Complex in North Carolina, uses a more broken-in pair of jazz shoes (since new shoes can be slick) for jazz class on the ballroom floor.
Tap can be tricky. Of course, you’ll be in tap shoes, but those soles can be a slide-y mess on a parquet floor. On the other hand, you won’t be able to hear your taps on a carpeted floor. “The hard floor is always really crowded because everyone wants to hear their sounds, but if you think about it, with all those people crammed onto a small space, you’re not going to be able to hear yourself anyway,” says Erin. “If you’re on the carpet to avoid slipping, you can still know if you’re making the right sounds based on what they’re doing onstage.” And if you’re slipping uncontrollably on the parquet floor, remember that tapping quietly with bare feet is better than face-planting in tap shoes.
Ultimately, the shoes you choose for each class will depend on where you’re standing and what the choreography is like—so your footwear decisions will need to be made at the last second. “Always bring all the shoes you could possibly want for each class, then feel it out once you get there,” advises Morgan. “It’s all about testing the waters and seeing what works.”
Whether it’s your first pair or your 50th, picking out the right pointe shoes can be difficult. Dance Spirit talked to Victoria Lyman, owner of Allegro Dance Boutique in Evanston and Barrington, IL—the Joffrey Academy of Dance’s shop of choice—to get the lowdown on the latest shoes. These picks are comfortable, flexible and quieter than ever before. Finding your perfect pointe shoe just got a little bit easier!
Lyman says: “Your feet are always changing, so it’s important to make sure you’re fitted for shoes regularly.”
Box narrows slightly, making it a good choice for dancers with tapered toes
Made with a new glue that reduces sound
Lower heel means less bunched-up fabric on pointe
Soft shank helps you get all the way over your box
Elastic drawstring ties on the side of the foot, so it’s easy to hide
Lining wicks moisture and helps keep your shoes smelling fresh
Sleek heel and profile show off your pretty arches
Softer shank lets you roll through demi-pointe more easily
Wide platform helps with balance
Pre-darned platform—the work’s done for you!
High vamps, high sides and medium support make this shoe a good fit for feet of moderate strength and flexibility.
Hard shank will last through countless relevés
Plush lining + built-in toe pad = super-comfortable
Lightweight and quiet
Available with a super-hard shank that’s good for dancers with strong feet
Elastic drawstrings and binding keep the shoe from slipping off your heel
Photography by Nathan Sayers.
Your teacher has finally given you the OK to go on pointe! As any experienced ballet dancer will tell you, your pointe shoes can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. The right fit ensures that you’ll be able to work safely and gives you a solid foundation for your pointe technique. Seeing a professional fitter for your first pair—and coming to your appointment prepared—will set you up for success.
How to Find a Fitter
In many cases, your teacher will recommend a fitter. But what if she doesn’t? “I’d suggest calling a dance store you trust and asking if there’s a professional fitter on staff,” says Josephine Lee, who owns Dancer’s Choice in Irvine, CA (and the affiliated roving pointe shoe fitting business The Pointe Shop). You should also be sure to ask how many brands of shoes the store carries. A qualified store, Lee says, will have at least five to eight different brands. That variety is important: It indicates that the store sells lots of shoes, and it makes it more likely that you’ll be able to find the perfect shoe for your foot.
A pointe shoe fitting at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School (photo by Meghan Swartz, courtesy PBT School)
How to Prepare
According to Kerri Angeletti, who manages The Dancer’s Pointe in Pittsburgh, one of the most important things to figure out before your fitting is what type of padding you’ll be using, because padding can dramatically affect the fit of a shoe. Talk to your teacher about what she prefers. Some teachers will want you to start with a specific type of toe pad, such as a gel pad or lambswool. Others may request that you learn without padding at all. Either bring the teacher-approved padding with you to your appointment or be prepared to buy it at the shop.
It’s important that you come to your fitting dressed appropriately, in a leotard and tights, so the fitter can see your lines clearly. “Your first pointe shoe fitting is your first pointe class,” Lee says. Make sure your tights are convertible, since the fitter will also want to look at your bare feet and toes. And don’t schedule a fitting right after class, Lee adds, because your feet will likely be swollen from dancing, which will change the way the shoes fit.
What to Expect
Angeletti recommends allowing at least an hour for your first fitting. “You need to try on a variety of different shoes so that you can really feel the differences between them,” she says.
The fitter will usually begin by getting up close and personal with your feet. She’ll analyze the line created by the top of your toes, the width of your metatarsal and the length of your toes and feet. Then, you’ll begin the Goldilocks-like process of trying on shoes, searching for the pair that’s just right. In addition to looking at the shoe on pointe, Angeletti has the dancer plié in second position—“the position in which the foot is longest,” she explains—to determine if the shoe’s length is correct. As a pointe beginner, it’s especially important that your shoes fit well on flat as well as on pointe. You’ll start out spending relatively little time on your toes as you build strength.
How to Get the Right Fit
To describe the perfect fit, Lee uses a saying she first heard from a Capezio shoe designer: “The pointe shoe should mold to the foot like a cast.” Your shoes should feel tight, but your toes shouldn’t curl under and you shouldn’t feel pinching in your metatarsal. “Be very vocal about how you’re feeling in each shoe,” Angeletti says. Now isn’t the time to be agreeable. Your fitter needs as much detail as possible in order to get you the best, and safest, fit.
Nervous about speaking up—or just about the fitting process generally? Mackenzie Cherry, a student at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, got a confidence boost at her first fitting because her whole class went as a group, which made her much more comfortable. If your class isn’t going on an excursion together, consider asking a friend if you can schedule your appointments together.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t think your first pair is “the one.” It’s important to remember that this is a process. Lee points out that many dancers continue to change their pointe shoes periodically throughout their careers as their abilities and preferences change. And to answer one of the most frequently asked fitting questions: Does it hurt? “It’s a little painful,” Mackenzie admits, “but if you’re excited about being on pointe, you don’t really think about it.”
Common Fit Problems—and How to Solve Them
Pressure on the big toe
Josephine Lee, owner of Dancer’s Choice in Irvine, CA, says that too much pressure on the big toe can mean you’re sinking into the box, a problem that can be solved with a more tapered shoe. But it also may depend on your foot shape. If you have a long big toe, it’ll always bear more weight on pointe. As you train, you’ll gain strength and learn to lift up out of your shoes, which will alleviate that feeling.
Pinching in the metatarsal
“You need a wider box,” Lee says. The width is correct when your feet are nice and flat on the floor, without being able to wiggle inside the shoe. Some dancers need a more triangular box—one that’s wide at the metatarsal but tapered at the toe—to keep them from sinking into the shoe.
Lee says sickling on pointe may be a sign that a dancer is struggling to get up over her box and is pushing over her pinky toe to compensate. A softer shank can help you stand fully and correctly on pointe. The downside is that softer shoes wear out faster. But, Lee says, “it’s better than learning bad habits.”
You work hard in dance class to perfect your technique and perform at your best. But what you do outside of class counts, too. The truth is, little everyday habits—like carrying an overstuffed dance bag or texting nonstop—could be negatively affecting your body and, ultimately, your dancing. Dance Spirit investigates seven bad health habits that have repercussions in the studio.
The Habit: Crossing your legs.
The Risk: “Doing it once or twice isn’t a big deal, but habitually sitting with your legs crossed can lead to real changes in your body,” says Alison Deleget, a certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Since you’re not sitting evenly on your pelvis, you’re forcing your spine to curve to one side.” Over time, you may develop back or hip pain, and overstretched back muscles on one side of your body may leave you feeling uneven in class. Want to look ladylike without throwing your body off balance? Try sitting squarely on both hips and crossing your feet at the ankles.
(Photo by Ammentorp Photography/Thinkstock)
The Habit: Constantly texting.
The Risk: Typical texting posture—head bent forward and shoulders slumped—puts the equivalent of 60 pounds of pressure on your upper spine, which can lead to wear and tear on the supportive tissues between your vertebrae. “It shortens the muscles in the front of your upper body and neck while overstretching and weakening the muscles in the back, which may make maintaining correct épaulement more difficult,” Deleget says. In the short term, spending hours hunched over your phone could cause headaches or a sore neck and shoulders; in the long term, it could mean herniated disks or nerve impingements. The next time you get a text, try bringing your phone up to your face to respond, or ask Siri to type for you.
The Habit: Cracking your neck, back or toes.
The Risk: You may have heard rumors that popping your joints will eventually lead to arthritis. The good news is there’s no research supporting that theory, and feeling a hip pop during class is perfectly fine. The problem comes when dancers start forcing their joints to pop instead of letting it happen naturally. This can stress the joints’ connective tissues and cause them to overstretch and become unstable. “It’s like dancing on a slinky when you should be dancing on a bed spring,” Deleget says. “That slinky gives much less support.”
The Habit: Walking like a duck.
The Risk: All the older dancers are doing it, but that doesn’t mean you should. “The joints of the knees and ankles work like hinges, designed to move straight forward. Walking turned-out means putting excessive stress on the insides of your knees, ankles and toes,” Deleget says. It won’t lead to better turnout, but it can lead to anterior hip pain—a common and sometimes debilitating injury for dancers.
The Habit: Carrying your dance bag on one shoulder.
The Risk: When only one side of your body carries a heavy load day after day, you’re likely to develop muscle imbalances that can lead to overwork- and stress-related injuries—from your shoulders all the way to your pelvis. “If one side of your upper trapezius muscles becomes more developed than the other, your shoulders may also look uneven when you’re dancing,” Deleget says. “Opt for a backpack, and wear it the proper, ‘geeky’ way—straps secure and chest strap fastened, not thrown over one shoulder or hanging down over your butt.”
(Photo by Bonnin Studio/Thinkstock)
The Habit: Typing in bed.
The Risk: It’s been a long day, you’re exhausted and you have a paper due tomorrow. You may be tempted to snuggle up in bed to write that essay—but resist the urge. “If
you plan on working for an extended period of time, always sit up with your spine in a neutral position. Don’t slouch and definitely don’t lie down,” Deleget says. Making bad homework posture a habit strains the connective tissues in your spine, which can cause pain and stiffness in your lower back when you dance. Sitting up straight improves your core strength and posture for class.
The Habit: Wearing flimsy shoes.
The Risk: Your feet are two of the most important parts of your dancer body, so it’s crucial to shoe them with care. Podiatrist Ronald Werter, who works with professional dancers in NYC, says the worst options for your precious feet are paper-thin flip-flops or super-squishy boots. “They’re worse than walking around barefoot,” he says.“Unsupportive shoes force you to put more pressure on the inside of your foot, which causes the tendons that support the arch and ligaments in the ankles to stretch.” Without proper tension, foot and ankle strength will be much harder to retain.
Werter recommends testing shoes before you buy them by squeezing both the arch and where the big toe hits with your thumb and forefinger. If you can compress them to half the thickness they were before, save your money. Instead, look for a shoe with a hard rubber or leather arch built in.
As for your favorite heels, Werter says they’re OK as long as they’re not higher than two inches. Just make sure that the middle of the shoe, where the shank would be on a pointe shoe, can’t fold easily, so you have strong support.
Alright ladies, you know who you are: That girl who will forgo comfort for fashion, especially if it means rocking a great pair of heels on the dance floor. (I am, very occasionally, one of those people. But I always live to regret it.)
Really, nothing beats the costumes for Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella. Helloooo gold pointe shoes! (San Francisco Ballet principal Sarah Van Patten in costume, photo by Nathan Sayers for Dance Magazine)
So let's talk about Cinderella, since I know you all went to see the movie this weekend. She dances, all night, in a pair of glass slippers. Ouch! Can you say blisters?! And do those things have even the slightest bit of arch support?
Fortunately, the smart folks over at Quora set out to determine whether Cinderella's dainty shoes could actually hold up to a night of dancing. Mechanical engineering, meet dance.
Engineer Antariksh Bothale makes several simplifying assumptions, but he determines that the force of Cindy's foot on the glass is three orders of magnitude less than the force that glass can sustain. But, that just means that Cinderella is safe to stand around. What about when she actually starts moving? Taking a few more assumptions into account, Bothale determines that the force of Cindy's step takes her dangerously close to the maximum stress the glass can withstand. He suggests that her shoes be constructed out of a special material called "thermal toughened glass," which doesn't sound very stylish but can apparently withstand greater force.
Lastly, what happens when Cinderella runs out of the palace at midnight? There are a lot of variables at play here, and running will apply three to five times the amount of walking force. But suffice it to say that if Cindy's dress is huge and cumbersome (which we know it is, because have you seen that thing?) and prevents her from taking long strides, she'll still be within the limits of how much stress the shoes can withstand. Bothale notes that running with a "toe-first foot strike" would solve the problem, but I, for one, know that Cinderella isn't some dainty prancing princess. She runs like a real girl and that's the whole point.
Girl with the biggest dress wins. (Still from Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh)
Last night was the Capezio 125 Years Anniversary Celebration, and they put on one fabulous show. It was all in celebration of the dancewear company that Nigel Lythgoe (in his introduction speech) called “the Sopranos of dance.” And he’s got a point: Capezio probably sold you your first pair of pointe or tap shoes, but did you know that Salvatore Capezio opened his first store at the age of 17, and the company has been passed down within his family for five generations? Plus, every pair of shoes is handmade!
Capezio also knows how to celebrate in style: Stellar performances included American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland and Jared Mathews, Momix, The Lombard Twins, Rock Steady Crew and The Rockettes. (Phew!) Here were some of my favorite moments:
* Is that a centipede? A scarily-long arm? No, it’s iLUMINATE, one of the most innovative new dance groups around. Perfectly timed lights keep you guessing the whole time. Check them out on "America's Got Talent" to see for yourself:
* Don’t you love when a bunch of boys come together to show off tricks, flips and flawless technique? Did I mention they were shirtless? The Bad Boys of Dance’s choreography to Queen and Michael Jackson music was red hot, and it was fun to pick out some of my favorite male dancers like Jakob Karr and Rasta Thomas.
* There’s nothing classier, sexier or jazzier than original Fosse choreography. Especially when it’s done by Broadway greats. Jennifer Dunne, David Warren Gibson and Dana Moore were flawless as they revived The Mansion Trio from Pippin. And, man, could they pull off those fishnets and high-cut leotards! Here's a great video from 1972:
* Broadway legend, Ann Reinking shocked us all by appearing to introduce Tommy Tune as the winner of the 61st Capezio Dance Award. Looking stunning in white, she brought back memories of the classically dressed Grace Farrell she played in Annie (pictured). Oh yeah, and only Tommy Tune could make a bright red suit look timeless.
* Some of the best moments were the out-of-the-blue cameos by dance celebs who made me smile. And Mandy Moore’s Break the Floor routine was full of them. Not only did it feature many of my favorite comp kids and teachers (they couldn’t even all fit onstage at once!), but TWitch and Nick Lazzarini also fought to be Moore’s dance partner. Before long, TWitch was stolen away by none other than “Dance Moms’” Abby Lee Miller! The audience went wild.
Thanks for a great night, Capezio! And thanks for all the shoes.
Aminah Abdul-Jillil is one of the most successful dancers in L.A. right now, with a resume that boasts gigs with Britney Spears and Janet Jackson and commercials for Pepsi, Mazda and New Balance. Sounds like enough to keep any girl busy, right? But Aminah recently began to explore another passion: shoe design.
Her first collection—six distinctive pairs of sandals that are equal parts elegant and edgy—just came out. Are they a bit pricey for most of us? Well, yes. But I love how they seem to combine Aminah's worlds. Don't the oversized bows look dance-inspired to you?
Gotta love dancers branching out. Check out all of Aminah's shoes below!
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