Just like in Cinderella’s tale each ballerina has their perfectly fitting pair of pointe shoes. And even though a prince may not place the slipper onto our foot, for a ballerina it sure feels that way when we find our perfect pair of pointe shoes to perform happily ever after in.
Pointe shoes are our tools and I don’t think it is always known by the public how crucial it is for them to be perfect for each dancer and how essential it is to have comfortable, well-fitting and well-made pointe shoes, not only to dance at our best but to prevent injuries caused by ill-fitting shoes. Dancers spend their whole careers looking for the perfect shoe and having so many makes of pointe shoes out there, with each one having a catalogue of different styles to choose from it can be a long and difficult process to find the right style and maker for you.
Throughout my years of dancing, I have used about 6 or 7 different makes of shoes after starting pointe work at the age of 11. I joined The Royal Ballet School wearing Bloch (if I can remember correctly) and during my time there I tried shoes from Suffolk, Bob Martin and the Freed of London company – where I had customised pairs that I continued to wear into my first year as a professional dancer. Customised shoes are wonderful as you can cater the shoe to your own foot and personal requirements, e.g. the hardness or length of the schank, the vamp depth, the height of the heel, etc. It really can be a luxury to have this option but not always possible or necessary and as I said before all makes have a variety of different styles with large and small differences between each.
The cost of the shoes can also vary from around 50 – 100€, an expenditure that can build up as the shoes don’t last forever. Unfortunately, as a student, the cost falls usually onto your own lap, or more accurately the lap of the dancer’s helpful parents, and I remember always trying to find ways to lengthen the life of my pointe shoes using ‘special’ glue to keep them sturdy.
When in a company our shoes get generously paid for by the theatre but as you can imagine the girls go through a lot of pairs, racking up quite a big bill at the end of the season. Personally, I tend not to need too many pairs but that number can depend on the productions we are performing and the roles I am dancing. On average I would say about 2 pairs per month is enough for me.
About a year ago I decided to once again change my shoes due to not liking a modification Sansha made on the style I was using. After trying many other makes, mainly from girls in the company, I discovered a shoe by Grishko I thought was worth adjusting to. The adjustment is always quite hard – you almost have to learn how to dance again when in a different shoe, and it takes a while but if you find a pair worth doing it, you’re half way there.
Since then I am really happy with this model and am still finding ways to improve the shoe for my foot. It is quite a transformation they go through after arriving in the theatre to their first steps onto the stage. Each dancer discovers their own little individual rituals for preparing them before they are dance ready. We all have a bag of tricks that help perfect and prepare the shoes – resulting in the great feeling of a new pair on my feet.
We also all have different ways to help the shoe feel as comfortable as possible, for dancing around all week on our toes could be a very painful job. And yes there are days when my feet can’t manage even putting them on but most of the time wearing them is actually a joy. Some girls manage to wear nothing in the shoes, maybe just a lot of plasters to protect the skin and others, including me, enjoy a good old ‘Ouch Pouch‘ between our toes and the floor. Everyone finds what is best for them, and nothing is wrong.
With all pointe shoes, each pair is its own and each ballet requires a different shoe. In some roles, a harder shoe is appropriate – when balances and turn are a priority, whereas a nice soft pair is perfect for jumps and quick footwork. A good shoe can mean a great show, and you immediately know if it will be a good pair or not.
A pointe shoe becomes part of the dancer, an extension of her foot. It needs to support and assist her so she feels confident and secure. It must also be aesthetically pleasing, part of the costume. A beautiful shoe encourages a beautiful dance. They have to come together as a team, that is until that pair is done and it is time for the next pair to be prepared and placed on her foot.
Here is a video to show you how I prepare my shoes before I work in them. Maybe some of my tricks and tips can help you improve your own ballet shoes in the future. If anyone wants advice please contact me, I would love to help and share your tips too.
I hope you enjoy my first video and found it useful.