Ideas For Breaking In Ballet Pointe Shoes

Pointe shoes can be constraining and painful if not previously prepared -- follow this guide to quickly and correctly break in a new pair.

The rite of passage that is pointe is an important and painful step for any dancer. The transition from ballet slippers to pointe shoes (also called "toe shoes") is not an easy one, and generally separates true budding ballerinas from casual dancers.

Pointe shoes, made of canvas, burlap, glue, and satin, are deceptively elegant. They are sleek and unmarred when you first open the box and accompanied by beautiful pink ribbons. It is not until you attempt to put the shoes on your feet that you recognize them for what they really are--a corset for the foot, tight, constraining, painful, difficult to dance in, and difficult to wear for long periods of time. Fortunately, some of these difficulties can be alleviated through the process of "breaking in" the shoe. This involves molding the shoe to the shape of your foot - pointe shoes are generally useless for ballet exercise until they are at least slightly broken in.

Start by softening the shank (the underside) and the block with your hands. Bend the shoe gently and massage it, concentrating on the demi-pointe area and continue with this technique. Some dancers need to arch their shoes (holding the toe and heel and manipulating the shoe into an arch shape.)However, do not overarch the shoe! Applying too much pressure can make it snap, and although some dancers will break the shank deliberately, it is not recommended for your first pair.

Next, if you're going to add anything to make your shoes more comfortable, now is the time. Many dancers stuff the toes with lambs' wool, but feel free to be creative with whatever you think could work. You can buy gel packets that are fitted for pointe shoes, or sew a tiny cushion. Keep in mind that when you had your shoes fitted they would already be snug, and if you add too much now they may be even more uncomfortable to wear. This is also a good time to add protection to the tips of your shoes to make them last longer-- apply a square of moleskin or simply tape them with medical or sports tape. This will prevent your shoe from wearing out too quickly as the satin is rubbed off the tip, and it will afford you some extra grip on the dance floor.

Once you have done all you can with your hands, lace the shoes onto your feet. (If you have not yet sewn on your ribbons, do so now.) With any luck the softening should have rendered your shoes capable at least of performing minor exercises in. Tendus and relev├ęs in first and second position are excellent here, and be sure to roll through your feet.

Keep at the barre for at least an hour, either in-class or on your own. Your shoe will soften evenly and conform to the shape of your foot, making it not only more comfortable to wear but easier to dance in. Try not to move away from the barre (however, go ahead and try some other exercises) until you are sure your shoes can handle it. First-time pointe dancers should not have to worry about that right away, but keep it in mind for your next pair of shoes!

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