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.