The Secret Lives of Pointe shoes, or rather, the answers to many commonly asked questions and some unknown tips that keep me happily on my toes.
Pointe shoes are the main form of footwear for any classical female dancer. On average, during rehearsals I would go through one to two pairs of shoes per week. This number varies dramatically depending on the performance season we are in. For example, in an incredibly pointe shoe orientated ballet such as Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake I would commonly go through one or two pairs of shoes in just one show alone. In a more contemporary season however, I would sometimes only use 2 pairs of pointe shoes for the entire season. With a single pair of shoes costing between $60-$120 it’s easy to see that this becomes a pricey business. Luckily, the RNZB provide the dancers with shoes so this is not an expense that the dancers need to worry about.
Gone are the days when I shoved my little 9 year old feet into plastic cups stuffed with tissue and tried to imagine them as beautiful, shiny, satin pointe shoes. Back then, to own a pair would be like finding pure gold. Nowadays a little of that notion has changed but not greatly. There is still nothing quite like holding a fresh pair of shoes for the first time, the smell of the new fabric and the knowledge that your next class is going to feel fantastic!
So how and why do a beautiful looking pair of shoes like the ones above end up looking like the ones pictured below?
All feet come in different shapes and sizes. Therefore, even when two people may fit the same size shoe it will look and feel completely different. A pointe shoe needs to hug a dancers foot perfectly to allow them to utilize their technique to their best ability. For this reason each dancer has their own unique way of ‘breaking in’ their pointe shoes. It is dependent on where their foot naturally bends, how hard they like their shoes and where they may have sore spots such as bunions etc. My left foot is much noticeably longer than my right foot which means that I have a slightly different process preparing a shoe for my right foot than my left. You can see this difference in the picture below.
So, what happens to these unmarked, shining beauties? I go through the process of shaping the shoes to my feet. Firstly I sew ribbons and elastics to my shoes. The elastics give me extra support and hold the shoe tightly to my heels so I can comfortably rise on and off my toes without the shoe slipping off. I sew ribbon, aligning it with my arch so that the shoe pulls tight at a natural bend point. I have been asked if the rumours are true. Do dancers use dental floss to sew their ribbons? In my case and that of many others in the company- yes! I learnt to use dental floss due to its strength and ease through the fabric of the shoe. I feel safe in the knowledge that my ribbons aren’t unravelling or falling off thanks to the floss strength. I must admit to being very obsessive with my ribbons. Never has a ribbon come unstuck or untucked and fingers crossed it never does.
After 45 minutes of sewing comes the fun part! Shaping my shoes. I tear 1/3 of the upper sole out of my shoe to allow it to bend comfortably with my arch. Sometimes, depending on the variants in shoe this may involve using pliers to remove a nail or two that holds the soles in place.
Stop! Hammer time. I have custom altered my pointe shoes to better fit my feet. Like the majority of females in the company I wear Bloch shoes in Heritage. Made an inch higher in the vamp (top front of the shoe) to properly support my arches. This causes a slight problem when it comes to bunions though. Yes, nasty bunions that get squished inside a shoe. That’s where my trusty hammer comes to the rescue. I bash the top of my shoe (as pictured below) until it’s nice and mushy and can mould around my foot with ease. This also stops any nasty bunion pain! I always have to be careful not to get too carried away and ruin the shoe by hitting too close to the top. It’s vital that stays solid to balance on my toes.
Lastly, I bend my shoes lightly, allowing me to rely on the strength of my feet to roll through every part of my foot from flat standing to pointe and back again. Voila! That is my pointe shoe method.
I would love to answer any questions that anyone may have! There is so much to cover on the topic that I could end up boring everyone with a mini novel. However, anything I haven’t covered, please ask!