Your first pair of pointe shoes
There are many techniques to sew and prepare your pointe shoes. Getting your first pair of pointe shoes is a right of passage for a dancer of any age. Often, you start with one method and adapt as you learn what works best for your feet.
How to sew and prepare pointe shoes
Ribbons and elastics:
In the video below I show my particular preference for placing the ribbons. My method is different than many dancers. I adapted this method after seeing a principal dancer’s ribbon break and fall off during a pas de deux. Naturally all you could watch was a dangling pointe shoe! You will also see the usual method of cutting the ribbon into four pieces and sewing on individually.
- Fold down the back of the shoes so that the center back seam is centered on the inside of the shoe.
- Mark the angled fold of the fabric with either a pen or a straight pin.
- Cut your ribbons into four pieces. Place one ribbon in each angled fold.
- My tip: cut the ribbon into two pieces and center each one across each shoe in the fold.
- For the most secure attachment and hold, always sew ribbons and elastic in a rectangle by hand. You can use doubled pink thread, dental floss or a specialized ballet thread.
Pointe shoe preparation:
- Pointe shoes do not have a left and right side. Decide which shoe is best for each foot and mark the shoes. Do not switch shoes back and forth.
- Adjust the drawstring by crossing the string before you pull it. Make sure there are no gaps between the shoe and foot. Stand with your weight on the foot and pull snugly. Tie in a small bow.
- My tip: Trim the drawstrings as needed but leave in a small bow. Tuck in shoes. You can always trim and cut the bow later but if you cut them too short to start, you will have no leeway.
Tie the ribbons:
- My tip: Lay the inside ribbon under the outside ribbon in order to give as much support to the high point of the arch as possible.
- When tying your ribbons, keep the ribbon as flat as possible to enable a smooth line and space to tuck your knot and ends. Tie the knot at the soft indentation between the achilles tendon and ankle bone. Wrap and tuck ribbons to hide. If are dancing on stage, always secure the ribbons with a quick slip stitch. If you have a quick change, a secure tape is okay.
- Singe the ribbons with a match once you have determined the proper length. They will continue to fray if you do not. Most ribbons are made from a synthetic with nylon and will melt. Hold the match close but do not set on fire! If you have cloth ribbons, you will need to hand hem them.
Padding: toe pads, lambs wool, etc:
- You will need padding when you start en pointe. Over time, your toes will develop calluses but at first your toes will be tender. You can protect them in several ways. Never leave shoes on long enough to get blisters. You will miss more classes en pointe due to blisters rather than removing as soon as necessary. The olden days of proving your dedication with bloody toes are gone!
- Try to use the least amount of padding. As shown on my video, I recommended that the students cut out the padding underneath the ball of the foot. You need to “feel the floor” through the shoe. When I first started en pointe, most dancers used lambs wool. It is still available but gel toe pads have become very popular. When I was a professional dancer, my feet were well conditioned and I just used a piece of paper towel.
- Padding should never be used to fill a shoe that is too large!
- Toe nails should be kept short and cut straight across in order to avoid pressure. Take care not to cut too short or you may encourage an ingrown toe nail.
Blisters and prevention:
- If you are prone to blisters, powder your toes prior to putting your padding on. Be sure to do this away from the dance floor and do not get on the sole of your pointe shoes.
- You can use paper tape (Micropore 3M) which is sold at drugstores. There are also brands that make toe tape for pointe which is identical. Very strong adhesive tapes are not recommended because if you develop a blister, it can be very painful to remove.
- Some dancers use liquid bandaid (New Skin) and bandaids for prevention.
- Have a blister and you must wear your shoes? 2nd Skin is a gel padding used for burns and is excellent for an emergency. It is not recommended for a regular use as it can soften the skin and calluses. You do want calluses! Don’t let the manicurist cut off your calluses anymore.
- When you are more advanced, you may have a performance where you must dance en pointe but have a blister. Some dancers use Oraljel or Baby Anbesol to numb the pain. Hopefully, you will not need this if you are prudent!
- The best prevention is to remove your pointe shoes when you feel a blister coming on.
- There are different foot types. Some have short even toes, some have a longer second toe, and some have graduated length toes. Often dancers add a toe cap in order to equalize the length of two toes. It will give you more surface to stand on .
- If your toes wing outward at the big toe joint you should use a toe spacer. This will help prevent bunions and distribute the pressure more evenly along the foot. Toe spacers can take the form of a wad of lamb’s wool, a gel toe spacer or a trimmed cosmetic sponge.
Breaking in your pointe shoes:
It is best to break your pointe shoes in on your feet and let them mold to your foot. You do not know yet where you may need the shank to be bent or if you need a softer spot in the box. After your first pair, you will be better prepared to manually manipulate your shoes. Bending the shank by hand , smashing the box in a door way etc. are not recommended at this time. However, for all shoes I like to flatten the box gently to make sure the dancer has adequate width in the forefoot. It also makes a more pleasing line.
Next time~a beginning pointe video!
Learn more about beginning pointe in this former post~
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