When It Comes To Pointe Shoes, Be Pedantic!

Internet shopping has no doubt made our lives so much easier and given us far wider varieties of choices. There are certain things, however, one should not purchase online.

When it comes to shoes, it is very difficult indeed to know whether they are comfortable or fit well. Shoes, even different pairs of the same design, are all differently cut and sewn so that it is very difficult to know how they will feel. They might rub in the wrong places, they might not be quite the right shape.

Pointe shoes are not something one should buy without trying them on with the help of someone with proper knowledge. Pointe shoes should fit like gloves. Ones toes are not supposed to be able to move around inside but at the same time they must not be overlapping. When one stands in the first position, there should not be any space above the toes either. The back of the shoes should be properly aligned with one’s feet. Even when all these criteria appear to be met when standing flat on the soles of one’s feet, things can and do change when one goes on pointe (stands on the tip of their toes). One’s feet often slip inside when the fitting isn’t precisely right. Because different makers’ shoes change in different ways as they are broken in, one has to have danced in them before becoming certain they are the right pair indeed.

This article is not to instruct people about how to fit pointe shoes themselves. This is to raise awareness as to how important it is to have well fitted pointe shoes both for the sake of technical improvement and the health of one’s feet. If the pointe shoes do not fit well, it is not simply a case of one’s feet sliding around inside and producing blisters; there is the potential to cause structural damage to one’s feet, ankles, knees, hips, back, spine… the whole body.

It is appalling to see how many dancers can go to even the large and well-known ballet shops and come back with ill-fitted pointe shoes. The fitters employed by these shops tend to follow a given a set of instructions but if they have not themselves danced on pointe properly before, and not tried at least a few different shoes from the major makes, it is very difficult for them to make a sound judgement. Different pointe shoe makers can produce shoes with noticeably different characteristics and fits. The shops have to accept the fact that the pointe shoes they carry, no matter how good they might be for many, may not be suitable for certain feet types. They also ought to have enough knowledge in order to advise when the dancers are not quite strong enough for pointe work and recognise if they are not standing straight.

Do not plump for an “easy” option when it comes to pointe shoes. Make sure you find someone who knows, really knows pointe shoes and pointe work. Try on a few pairs from different makes. It is, after all, for your own good. Many dancers are amazed at not only how much less pain they are in when the pointe shoes fit properly but how dramatically their technique improves.

Related reading: “How to Choose Well-Fitted Poite Shoes”

https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/how-to-choose-well-fitted-pointe-shoes/

Lovely pointe work by Vaganova Academy's pupils.

Lovely pointe work by Vaganova Academy’s pupils.

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How to Sew Ribbons on Your Pointe Shoes – Appendix

This is an appendix to the article that was published before on How to Sew Ribbons on Your Pointe Shoes, answering a question from a reader. (https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/how-to-sew-ribbons-on-your-pointe-shoes/)

This article explains a little further on the following:

“An alternative is to sew a very short loop of elastic just long enough to reach from the heel seam of the shoes to the back of the ankle (behind the Achilles tendon) and thread the ribbon through it as you wrap it around your ankles. The heels are pulled up by the ribbons around your ankles and you do not have to risk the discomfort of having elastic around your ankle as well as the ribbons.”

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

As in the photograph on the right, sew a piece of elastic (use a fairly strong piece of elastic for this), which is twice the length from the edge of the heel of your pointe shoes to the back of your ankle, in a loop. One could either sew two ends together or sew them very closely next to each other.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Through this small loop of elastic, thread the first ribbon (always wrap the inside ribbon first. This helps keep the pointe shoes stay with your feet) and wrap it around your ankle. It is not necessary to thread the other ribbon. Just wrap the ribbons around your ankle as usual and tie them, and off you go dancing.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

I have been using this method for a while. It was nice not to have both ribbons and elastic around my ankles. After that, I found such well fitted shoes that did not need any elastic to keep the shoes on my heels. So the elastic was made redundant.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to Choose Well Fitted Pointe Shoes

When choosing pointe shoes, it is vital to choose a pair that fits you perfectly so that you can perform to your fullest capacity, stay relatively pain-free, keep your feet healthy and look great.

It has been concerning me to see that so many people end up buying a pair that is too big for them and they consequently get blisters and a whole lot of unnecessary pain and discomfort.

Here are a few pointers to help you tell whether or not shoes fit well.

Before you go to a shop to be fitted, make sure you have your usual padding if you use any, and preferably tape your toes to save some time. Wear convertible tights or tights socks. Trim your toe nails closely so they do not cause discomfort while you are trying the shoes on. Also, before you go, take your socks off and have a good look at your own feet. Are your second toes longer than the big toes? Is there a gap between your big toes and the rest of your toes?

How much padding you have is entirely up to you, but I usually advise my dancers to have the bare minimum. I find too much padding restricts the movement of the feet, and creates unnecessary and unwanted gaps. If you think that you will then get a lot of blisters without so much padding, the shoes are not very well fitted.

Gap should be filled with toe separators. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Gap should be filled with toe separators.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Silicon tow separators. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Silicon toe separators. Courtesy of Dance Evolution (http://www.danceevolution.co.uk/)
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If you have a gap between your big toe and the others, consider using a toe separator. They are made of silicon and are not as bothersome as you might think. Otherwise, your big toe will be pushed inward and you risk developing bunions.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If the second toe is longer than the big toe, you can use a cap with a little gel to cushion it, or use the same thing to pad the shorter toe a little bit. You can also cut these kinds of tubes to the desired length and use them to protect the joints.

Your pointe shoes have to be just the right size for your feet. I know this sounds a little too much like basic common sense, but surprisingly many people are sold shoes that are too large for their feet. They should be just tight enough so all the toes are fairly well packed together without overlapping each other.  The wings of the shoes should be high enough to encase the top joints of your toes. If your top joints are not properly protected, it will cause pain and present unattractive lines.

These shoes are too long and the box of the shoes are too tall for the feet. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

These shoes are too long and the box of the shoes are too tall for the feet.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

You can check if the length of the shoes are right by standing in second position and doing a demi plie. Your toes should be just touching the end of the shoes without toes being bent. Check there is no gap on the side or in the box above your toes. If you can put a finger inside any part of your shoe easily, it is likely to be too large. Drawstrings can be used, but they are just for fine tuning. You should not be able to wiggle your toes.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

If you can insert your finger in the side of the shoe, it is either too long or too wide, if not both.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The box is too tall for the feet.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The next thing to check is whether the centreline of each shoe is aligned with the centre of your foot. If they are not aligned, the whole shoe is twisted on your foot.

Photo courtesy of Dance Evolution (http://www.danceevolution.co.uk/)

Put one foot across the other and push down. If the shoes fit, the sole of the uppermost shoe should run along the bottom of your feet with the sole bending to follow the shape of your instep. There should not be any gap between the sole and the foot.

The box is twisted and does not continue the lines of the foot. ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

The box is twisted and does not continue the lines of the foot.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Step up onto pointe (make sure you are holding onto something!) and check the lines. The box should look as though it is a part of your foot without any kink or change of direction in the lines. The soles of the shoes still should stay with the soles of your feet. Gently take some steps up and down and see if your feet are well supported. If the shoes are too wide and/or too long, you will feel your feet sinking each time you put weight on your feet.

It is not a good fit if the sole of the shoe is twisted away from the foot.  ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

It is not a good fit if the sole of the shoe is twisted away from the foot.
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

It is not always possible to find your dream pair, but be patient. They are out there somewhere. Also, as you get stronger, your feet will change, so make sure you keep checking that your shoes still fit well.

Sometimes you may have to compromise a little and get the best out of what is available. You can adjust slight discrepancies by using gel tubes, making a cat’s cradle (see toward the end of my another entry on  https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/how-to-sew-ribbons-on-your-pointe-shoes/ ) and there are size changers these days that can change shoe sizes by up to a quarter of a size.

Last of all, if the fitter tries to sell you a pair that you are not quite convinced about, do not be afraid to ask questions and ask to try different sizes. It is wise to try a size down from what you may think is a good fit, just to check that it the best size. Do not be pressured into buying shoes. If they do not seem to know what they are doing, just ask to be fitted by someone else, or go away and ask your teacher to come with you. Most of the fitters should have learned how to fit shoes, but it is undeniable that, unfortunately, you may still come across some who do not seem to know or care about how to fit pointe shoes perfectly. It is your feet and your health you are putting on the line. Choose well!

How to Sew Ribbons on Your Pointe Shoes

There is more than one way to do it, and many have their own personal way, but here is one very good way to prepare your pointe shoes.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

First, fold the heel (the part of the upper that runs behind the heel) of the pointe shoe inwards, aligning the back seam and the sole. As you hold the heel down against the inner sole, take a pen and draw a line from the centre of the heel toward the side of the shoes. The best way to do this is to push the tip of the pen against the inside of the folded part and pull it outward.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

When you buy ribbon for pointe shoes, the ribbon usually comes in one piece. Cut this into two pieces (no, not four!) and place the centre of the ribbon on the inside sole and align the ribbons with the lines you have drawn on the inside of your shoe. Make sure that the ribbon is aligned to the front of the lines, i.e. the whole width of the ribbon should be placed on the toe-side of the line drawn.

Sew the ribbon using a doubled-up thread. You cannot sew the part of the ribbon that is in the middle (as it is on the hard inner sole) and you will just have to leave it as it is. However, be careful to ensure that the middle part of the ribbon does not become shorter than the inside width of the shoe. This might seem obvious, but if the ribbon is pulling the sides of the shoes together it not only prevents the shoes from fitting against your feet closely but can also lead to them becoming twisted. It will also increase the chances of some of the stitching coming undone while dancing.  The ribbon on either side of the sole should be sewn all the way around its edges, i.e. there should be a rectangle of stitching from the top edge of the shoe to just above the inner sole.  Some people sew only the top of the ribbon by the rim, but this is not necessarily secure, and does not necessarily keep the shoes properly on your feet.

Some dancers use only elastic with their shoes, but this is not advisable. Elastic has too much give and the pointe shoes should be fitted firmly to your feet.

DSC04482

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

However, using some elastic for added security is a good idea. Sew a piece of elastic, long enough to go around your ankle, onto the shoes. The best place is just on either side of the seam that runs along the heel. An alternative is to sew a very short loop of elastic just long enough to reach from the heel seam of the shoes to the back of the ankle (behind the achilles tendon) and thread the ribbon through it as you wrap it around your ankles. The heels are pulled up by the ribbons around your ankles and you do not have to risk the discomfort of having elastic around your ankle as well as the ribbons. (Appendix: https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/how-to-sew-ribbons-on-your-pointe-shoes-appendix/)

Whether you use elastic or not, it is a good idea to either rub your heels in resin or put a little water on your heels to stop the heels of your pointe shoes slipping off.

In order to keep the pointe shoes neatly hugging your feet, you can use thick cotton thread to make a “cat’s cradle”. You do this between the sides of the U or V shape at the upper front part of your shoes. You start with one side, about half way along the arch of your foot, pick a point on the other side of the shoe close to the point of the U or V, and then pick a point on the initial side a little closer to the front of the shoe than your initial point, followed by another pick on the other side a little further back from the middle of the U/V and so on. You will end up with a slightly higher than original line on the front of your feet in a slight V shape, which provides extra support and prevents your shoes from pulling out too much. This should be done with your feet in the shoes so you know how tight you should pull the thread (be careful!).

 ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Starting point ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Pick close to the centre on the other side ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Pick a little closer to centre from the inital side ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Pick a little further away from centre on the second side ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Half way ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

It creates a slightly higher box and the thread keeps the shoes nicely snug ©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group
©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

How to Break Your Pointe Shoes In

There are so many different ways dancers prepare their pointe shoes.

Ultimately, you will have to find the best way that works for you. Here are, however, a few tips that work very well for most. These tips are for conventionally made pointe shoes.

First of all, try the shoes on and figure out where you would like them to be softer on the box so that you can use your demi pointe. Hold your shoes in your hands and put your palms over the wings of the shoes (where your little toe and big toe’s joints would touch) and very gently push down on the box. You will feel the box move but make sure you do not push too hard. The warmth of your hands will soften the glue and make it easier to soften and break in.  (Do you know what is inside your pointe shoes? See another entry https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/what-is-at-the-end-of-pointe-shoes/ ) As the glue warms, you will start feeling the box of your shoes moving slightly under pressure.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Next, hold just under the middle of the rim (if your shoes have drawstrings, just under where they come out) with your thumb inside and place the side of your forefinger across the top on the outside, as if to make a T shape. Your thumb should be aligned with the shoe’s length. Gently, using your forefinger as an axis, lift the centre of the shoe, where you would like to bend when on demi pointe. Do this several times but just a little bit at a time until it is a little softer.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Put one hand inside a shoe, palm down, and put the heel of the other hand against the sole of the shoe where the ball of your feet would be (about a third of the way in from the toe).  Rest the top of the box of the shoe down on the floor and push it towards the floor with the heel of your hand while the hand inside the shoe is pushing away from the floor. Do this gently and gradually until you know how the shoes react. When you get used to it, you should be able to do this with just one or two pushes.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Hold the shoes about a third in from the heel (around where the round bit of your heel ends) with your fingers and gently bend both ways. If you use shoes without stitches, you could dislodge the glue and get the inner sole (only about a third of it) away from the base and in this case you will often see the shank. Even with stitched shoes, bending the sole in this way will enable the back of the shoes to move along with the feet better.

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

©Yuka Kodama Ballet Group

Next, hold the middle of the shoe, where your arches are highest, and gently bend it both ways.

All the while you are breaking your pointe shoes in, do it gradually and gently. Try your shoes on often to see how they feel. You do not want to bend them in the wrong places or too much. You will get used to it very soon and you will be able to go through this process very quickly and efficiently, but until then, play it safe.

There are several other things you could do. You can score the sole lightly with a knife to stop the shoes slipping too much or you can darn the tip of your shoes. I never felt the need for either of those things, but often the satin on the tip of the shoes will start lifting when you have used your shoes for a bit, and when this happens I would cut off the satin from the tip and quickly darn the edges to prevent the remainder from lifting.

These are just a few guidelines to start with and you should find your own way to make your pointe shoes as comfortable as possible.

If you are a complete beginner for pointe work, you should not try to break your shoes in before you have showed them to your teacher and got their opinion as to whether it is all right to break them in a little. Often it is best to learn to break them just through normal use at the beginning, even though it takes quite a bit of time.