5 Points for Pointe Shoes - Dance Blog by Kimberley Berkin
Starting on pointe is a very exciting time for a female dance student, I still have my very first pair of pointe shoes in my bedroom now!
I remember vividly going to a dance shop in London with my mum and trying on my first pair of pointe shoes - I was so excited to get them home, but like so many dancers (and parents) I wasn’t really sure what to do with them next!
There are a number of different things that I would like to share with you when it comes to starting on pointe, from what accessories you really need to looking after your pointe shoes in between classes and more.
These 5 Points for Pointe Shoes will be informative for any student already dancing on pointe and for students who are about to start on pointe too…
My 5 Key Points for Pointe Shoes are:
- Pointe Shoe Accessories
- Preparing Your Pointe Shoes
- Breaking in your Pointe Shoes
- Looking after your Pointe Shoes
- Re-using your Pointe Shoes
1. Pointe Shoe Accessories
There are a number of pointe shoe accessories that you will need to purchase along with your pointe shoes. Some of these accessories are essential and others are a matter of choice and preference.
The first thing that you will need are Pointe Shoe Ribbons. Unlike many flat ballet shoes, pointe shoes don't come with the ribbons pre-sewn but don’t worry I talk about sewing ribbons a bit later!
You will need something to help to protect your toes from blisters, especially when you first start on pointe. Most students choose Toe Pads, which wrap over the ends of your toes and help to prevent the inside of the shoes from rubbing against your skin. You only need the protection on the top of the Toe Pads so make sure that you are wearing them the correct way! Remember to try your Toe Pads with your pointe shoes at the time of your pointe shoe fitting.
The traditional thing to use in your pointe shoes is animal wool and though this can be very soft next to your skin it does need changing regularly. If your toes overlap each other or you suffer from bunion pain then you could try using toe separators inside your pointe shoes as well. Though it is important that your feet are protected don’t overfill your shoes with unnecessary padding as you need to be able to move your toes freely within your pointe shoes.
It is worth buying some Pointe Shoe Elastic as this can be sewn onto the shoes to stop them slipping off your heels. Pointe shoe elastic is also quite useful for performances, exams and auditions as it provides extra security in case your ribbons come off! I used to use a pointe shoe scraper underneath my pointe shoes for performances as it would give the shoes extra grip and stopped the soles getting too slippy.
You should definitely have a specific Pointe Shoe Bag for your pointe shoes as this will help to keep them clean and safe in between your classes. I would highly recommend a bag that is breathable and I will explain why later on!!
My Essential Pointe Shoe Accessories:
- Pointe Shoe Ribbons
- Toe Pads or Animal Wool
- Breathable Pointe Shoe Bag
My Optional Extra Pointe Shoe Accessories:
- Pointe Shoe Elastic
- Toe Separators
- Pointe Shoe Scraper
2. Preparing your Pointe Shoes
I am a firm believer that if you are old enough to dance on pointe then you are old enough to prepare your own pointe shoes. There is sewing involved so definitely ask for help if you need it. Preparing your own pointe shoes gives you a sense of ownership over your shoes and remember just like in your ballet classes you won’t get better if you don’t practice!
You should start with sewing your ribbons:
First you will need to cut your new ribbons into 4 equal lengths.
Fold the heel of the pointe shoe over and mark it with a pen in a diagonal line:
You need to sew your ribbons at an angle as this helps to pull the side of the pointe shoe around your foot giving you more security. Use the pen line as a guide:
Begin in the corner and using a running stitch with a standard needle and thread just work your way around the ribbon in the shape of a square or rectangle. I always sew an extra line back along the top for extra security:
Your sewing does not have to be neat but take your time to do it properly. Avoid coming through onto the satin but the odd stray stitch will be fine! Make sure that you do not sew over the drawstring otherwise you won’t be able to adjust them.
You now need to try your pointe shoes on. When you are doing up your pointe shoes you need to tie up your ribbons with your foot flat on the floor with a bent knee. This will make sure that when you stand up and start dancing your ribbons won’t be too tight when you plié.
Always start with wrapping the inside ribbon first followed by the outside ribbon and finish by tying them in a knot just under the groove on the inside of your foot by your ankle bone. DO NOT tie your ribbons on the back of your achilles:
Write on the back of each shoe a simple R and L for Right and Left and adjust your drawstrings to make sure that the shoes feel snug. You will have four ends of your ribbons that may need cutting if they are too long.
I always leave about 3-4cm in length so there is enough spare ribbon to tuck them under after tying the knot.
Once you have cut your ribbons they will now be different lengths, which is why you need to label the shoes R and L before cutting your ribbons. To stop the ribbons from fraying you can cut a small triangle in the end - simply fold the end of the ribbon in half and snip upwards.
If you plan to sew pointe shoe elastics onto your pointe shoes you might find it easier to sew onto the shoe if you turn the heel of the pointe shoe inside out:
The position of the elastic should be behind the ribbon and angled in the same direction, so as to wrap around the front of your ankle to help stop the pointe shoe slipping off your heel.
3. Breaking in your pointe shoes
Breaking in your pointe shoes is a very personal ritual and one that you should take care in doing properly before you start your first class in your new pointe shoes. The vamp is usually quite bulky and hard in new pointe shoes so don’t be afraid to squash this down. You can begin by standing on them and then using your hands like you are giving your shoes a massage just work the edges down so they are moveable and don’t look so clumpy on your feet.
You will need to give the backs of the pointe shoes a little bend to help them move with your foot as you go onto pointe. You need the backs of your pointe shoes to be hard enough to support you on pointe but if they are too hard at the beginning then you are going to struggle to articulate the foot properly inside your shoe.
You want your pointe shoes to mould to the shape of your feet so I always used to just walk around in in my new pointe shoes for a whole evening before wearing them for class. The sweat and warmth of your feet will help to soften the shoes slightly without the need to bend them with force.
4. Looking after your pointe shoes
It is important that you look after your pointe shoes and take the responsibility to make sure that they are stored properly in between your classes.
The main thing to remember at the end of your pointe work class is to remove any toe pads or animal wool from inside your pointe shoes. As I mentioned previously, sweat from your feet will soften the shoes so if you keep your sweaty toe pads inside your pointe shoes you will reduce the lifespan of the shoes.
The pointe shoes need to dry out in between your classes, which is why I would recommend using a pointe shoe bag that is breathable and lets the air get into the shoes. Avoid keeping them in their original plastic bag!
If you wrap the ribbons around the heel of your pointe shoes this way in between classes then it also helps to keep the shape of the vamp as they are drying out:
Your pointe shoes will become soft over time but if you look after your pointe shoes correctly, by removing toe pads, wrapping the ribbons correctly and keeping them protected in a breathable bag then not only will you keep them looking clean but you will help to prolong the life of them!
5. Reusing your Pointe Shoes
Once your pointe shoes are ‘broken’, either because the back of the shoe has snapped or become too bendy or the ends of the pointe shoe have gone soft, then all is not lost! You shouldn’t continue to wear them as pointe shoes if they get to this stage but you can turn them into soft blocks, which are basically broken down pointe shoes.
To turn your pointe shoes into soft blocks simply remove the material layer of the sole and then rip out the entire hard back ensuring that you fully remove any nails in the sole of the shoe:
Then simply glue the material sole back down and get to work squashing the ends of the shoe so that they are no longer hard. With permission from your teacher you can now wear your soft blocks for your regular ballet classes. Wearing soft blocks for class is an excellent way to strengthen your feet and your ankles.
You can also re-use your pointe shoe ribbon. Simply unpick your sewing and hand wash your ribbons to get rid of any dirt. Once they are fully dry then you can re sew them onto your next pair of pointe shoes! Remember that they will be different lengths so make sure that you sew the correct ribbon on the correct side of each shoe otherwise you won’t be able to tie them up around your ankle! This is useful if you are going through a number of pairs of pointe shoes but I would always have new pointe shoe ribbons for exams, performances and auditions.
I hope that you have found these points helpful. If you are already dancing on pointe, you might find my Tips On Ballet Technique pointe work series useful. You can watch the first video in the series below.
This blog post was written by Royal Ballet School trained ex Professional Ballerina, Kimberley Berkin. Kimberley is the Director of Courses and Principal of the Ballet Associates Programme at Professional Dance Experience Ltd. Kimberley also co-founded the PDE Dance Supplies online dance shop along with her husband, Michael Berkin. You can learn more about Kimberley Berkin here.
Kimberley Berkin January 2018
- Kimberley Berkin