As a dancer, I frequently hear the question "how do you dance on your toes?", an action that seems to knock the socks off of most people. But, what most people don't know, is the amount of preparation that goes into the vital accessory that allows dancers to dance en pointe(on their toes): the pointe shoe. Most, if not all, dancers would agree that the perfect pair of pointe shoes makes or breaks their dancing. That is why finding the best match possible for you personally is so important: the end goal for most dancers is to feel as comfortable dancing in their pointe shoes as they are in their ballet slippers.
So, to say the least, my very first pair of pointe shoes was not the most ideal match. But with time, and some good, old research, you will begin to discover what you need from a shoe and what you like in a shoe. For example, you will figure out whether you prefer a softer, more broken-in shoe versus a harder, stronger shoe. The possibilities are somewhat endless these days with all the different brands available. So, play around, because each brand has different qualities to offer, not to mention all the varieties of styles each brand carries. But most important, never settle for a shoe that doesn't feel quite right. Trust me. I tried what felt like millions of different shoes from multiple brands until I found the right pair. This wasn't until just recently, so it did take time but the hunt was well worth it.
In a way, the perfect fit can also come down to how you prepare your shoes before wearing them in class and on stage. I wasn't really aware of this until I saw older dancers at the studio doing it and from watching videos online. So I put some research into it when I was younger and learned of all these methods for breaking in new shoes, such as cutting, bending, or breaking the shank (insole) of new shoes. At the time, it seemed a waste to butcher brand-new pairs of shoes, but it is now something I do regularly.
Over the past few years I've developed my own pre-break-in routine that I always do before breaking them in, in class. I don't have very high arches or insteps, so it's important that I prepare them in a way that will give me the nicest line and allow me to fully get over the box (tip) of my shoes. Also, I find how I prepare my pointe shoes allows me to predict how they will break-in once I wear them for class, compared to an unprepared shoe in which it is harder for me to get fully over the box and the shoe tends to die (soften) faster. Granted, I do know a few people who can wear their shoes brand-new, straight out of the box, so if you're one of those in that fantastic situation, other than sewing your ribbons and elastics, you're good to go. Basically, just play around with different techniques until you find what works best for you.
Now that some of the basics have been covered, here is exactly how I prepare my pointe shoes.
Essential materials: durable thread, needle, pins, scissors, ribbons, elastics, marker and utility knife (to be used with adult supervision)
Here’s a link to a video with great tips ranging from jet gluing dead pointe shoes, to adding a little extra room to your shoes when your feet are swollen because the shoe itself is too small.
Photography Credits: Richard Calmes, David Robertson Jr.
Videographer Credits: Charles Sanford, Jared Johnson