Welcome to Our Blog! – Ballet Babble

Today we are going to chat a little about pointe shoes and dispel two myths*: “pointe shoes are supposed to hurt” and “you have to really break-in your pointe shoes before wearing them”

So in the old days (say, 25 years ago) a lot of dancers used to break in their pointe shoes by essentially beating them to shreds before ever wearing them. Don’t do that! 

Extreme breaking in of pointe shoes can result in you breaking the arch in the wrong place, making your foot look ‘wrong’ in your shoe. The process of breaking in your shoes while dancing helps to mold your shoe to your foot.

Russian Pointe says “The best way to break in any pair of pointe shoes is through exercises during pointe class.” We agree!

“Unfortunately, many dancers destroy their brand new pointe shoes before dancing in them for the first time by not breaking them in properly. The purpose of breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes is to mold them to the shape of your foot. … You can break in pointe shoes by simply just starting to dance in them” – This is right – YOUR foot, your arch. 

Some of the early breaking-in techniques were really taken from professional ballet dancers that switched out shoes frequently, sometimes during a performance run, and had to wear them immediately. This makes sense, if they didn’t have time to break them in during class or warmup, they found quick and extreme ways to break in their shoes. Additionally, professional ballet dancers have many years of experience with their shoes and know exactly how they need their shoes to feel. Not so much with students. Typically a student of ballet will dance on pointe for many years before they find their own best practices, favorite shoes, and ideal shoe condition.

Beginners and neo-beginners (up to two years on pointe) aren’t dancing on pointe hard enough, or often enough, to need quick or extreme breaking in. They also can wear their pointe shoes for months on-end because they are slowly gaining strength and skill and slowly progressing to more challenging and more intensive movements, which in time will take a toll on the pointe shoes and you will begin to see signs of wear. When you first go on pointe with your first pair of shoes, your teacher might manipulate your pointe shoes to make them easier for you to break them in, get on your box, etc. This is ok – she usually knows your foot, your arch, and what is best for you specifically.

But while beginners and neo-beginners may be progressing quickly, it doesn’t mean they know about their pointe shoes. Many young dancers make the mistake of wearing their first or even second or third pair of shoes waaaaayyy longer than they should, simply because they don’t really know how to recognize when their shoe is no longer in its premium state and what “dead” shoes look like. Be careful!  Ask your teacher to check your shoes if you are not sure, as it can be dangerous (really!) to dance on shoes that are too broken in. The shoes will not hold you properly and you could literally turn your ankle, twist your ankle, or worse, break it, if your shoes are not fully supporting you.

So, pain… what about it? Again in the old days some teachers would say “get over it – it’s supposed to hurt!” Nope, not true. If you take care of your shoes, warm up properly, and are prepared with correct technique and correct instruction, it shouldn’t hurt. Yes, when you are dancing a lot, and working hard on a ballet performance with sustained and frequent rehearsals you may get blisters (they hurt) and you will have tender areas, red areas, and some even bloody from hard work! (that hurts). But the process of dancing on pointe, doing it properly and with the correct instruction (and you following it!) should not be painful.

“While pointe work is not exactly like wearing slippers, it should not be painful for the beginner. There are a few reasons why dancers may get pain en pointe, and each can be easily corrected. If you are strong, have well fitting shoes, and are sensible with how long you are in the shoes, pain should not be a problem.” Ballet Notes

And, remember, to be “properly prepared” to dance on pointe/take pointe class/wear pointe shoes in technique class, it is required that you take a minimum of THREE ballet technique classes each week (1.5 hour classes), with a professional ballet instructor**, year-round for at least two years in order to gain the correct  conditioning, placement, strength, and technique to learn to dance on pointe and do it properly.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but this is the guideline. It is this preparedness, more than age, that determines if a student is ready/not ready to start pointe work.

Not following these guidelines can result in serious injury now, and possibly injuries you have to deal with later in life.

*A myth is a a widely held but false belief or idea

**A professional ballet instructor means someone who either 1. had a career as a professional ballet dancer/danced professionally, 2. has a university degree in ballet pedagogy or  ballet performance, 3. has otherwise  had a career studying ballet under professional/master instructors, performing lead roles, and had substantial teaching experience in a ballet school.