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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Shoe Question


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This may be better suited in the pointe forum, but figured I would ask here for now (please feel free to move if necessary). As an adult student, I only take pointe one day a week. I am new to it so not sure what to expect. How long should my pointes last me? Also, I've read in other places that our shoe experts have recommended alternating pairs: Would this apply for me only doing pointe one day a week, or would this be more for those doing it 3 or 4 times a week?


Also, I've read about people cutting out the satin on the tips of the block (i'm assuming to make it less slipery?). Is this something that everyone does, or is it for a certain shoe/certain floor that the studio has?


Sorry, lots of questions here! Just want to make sure I'm doing everything correctly. Any advice?


thanks! :rolleyes:

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In my own brief experience with pointe, it seems the life of a shoe depends a lot on the brand of shoe, how much dancing you do on it, and perhaps even how "hard" you are on the shoe. I have a pair of Russian Pointes that are still going strong after 20+ hours of wear, but then, I am at a beginning/intermediate level. Maybe someone who is advanced would wear out the shoes much faster? I recently started wearing a new pair to break them in, and planned to either alternate shoes, or just wear the old ones until they "die." I'm only on pointe one day per week, outside of home practice.


I have not cut off the satin from the platforms, and none of my teachers have told me to do so (yet).


The one piece of information I wished someone had told me when I started pointe was that as the shoe breaks in, you need to adjust the padding/taping/spacers you use. What starts out as sufficient may not be enough after 2-3 weeks. I started out wearing purple gel pouches, then had to add a spacer between the pinkie toe and its mate, then switched to the thicker, pink gel pouches after a few weeks. This involved a lot of home experimentation and sometimes painful corroboration in class. Perhaps those dancers more experienced on pointe can comment on this process?

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I'd like to address a few things:


Traditional paste pointe shoes have a shelf life of about 18-20 hours. To give you an idea, my pros who are dancing 30+ hours per week and alternating 10 pair at a time, go through 1 pair per week, 1 pair per performance (unless it's Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty- then it's 1 pair per act). Now, my girls are dancing hard and are also diligent about using Jet Glue and allowing their shoes to dry out.


A dancer who is only dancing 1 hour per week should expect to get several months out of her shoes.


The more advanced a dancer becomes, the more difficult the work and the more that is required from the shoes. An advanced adult dancer may not get as much usage from her shoes because she is dancing more hours per week, and doing more difficult work.


Now, about adjusting padding-

No. The shoes were not fit properly to begin with if there is that much room after break-in. I'm going to say this:

Adult dancers have a tendency to not be able to tolerate properly fitted pointe shoes. Some fitters will give in to this and allow the dancer to take shoes that are too big or are completely wrong for that dancer's profile, toe configuration, or bone structure. That is a mistake. Pointework is not necessarily the 'end-all-be-all' of ballet. Pointework (regardless of the shoes) hurts. There. I've said it. It hurts, Gaynor Mindens or not. It just plain hurts. You're dancing with all of your weight centered into one toe. Your muscles must lift your body up and out of the shoes, and as we age (yes, I am totally including myself here) it simply gets more and more difficult just to get our bodies around- let alone to try to maintain what is required of pointework.


Think about it this way: How often do you see a 40 yr old gymnast doing back flips? Football player getting tackled by 3,000 pound men? Not very often and if you do, then I guarantee you it is a person who studied since they were a child and never stopped. That is because once we get to a certain age, our bodies become stiffer and less strong. Now, does that mean we shouldn't dance or exercise or play a weekend game? No!! Of course not! But it does mean we must change our expectations of being able to perform in a way that would be required of a professional, and with ballet, that means pointe. Period.


I am certainly NOT saying that all adult dancers should NOT dance en pointe; far from it! I would love to teach an adult pointe class!!! But my expectations as a teacher and my work with those adults would go very, very slowly. And I would fit them all myself, and if they didn't listen to my fitting advice, then they would not be able to be in my class.


I hope that makes sense. Find an excellent pointe shoe fitter, and do a great deal of reading about how pointe shoes should feel and what you need to know about them before you go for a fitting. You must know almost as much as the fitter about your feet and what shoes may work for you. Caveat Emptor.

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I cut or "rough" the satin on every pair of pointe shoes apart from my Gaynors. They generally don't seem to need it - in MY experience, of course.


I had a pair of Serenades that lasted about 15 years - at a pointe class a week. They NEVER broke in. Finally gave them to a girl who was the same size and needed a pair of shoes. She said they haven't broken yet, either - and it's been a few months. LOL!


My Principals broke in 2 hours. I finally discovered one pair of Gaynors supple were truly dead, but that was after almost a year of on and off pointe at an hour a week.


My Freeds would break every other week (about 6-8 hours or so), so I gave up on those, because my budget couldn't cope.


So far, the Gaynors are the longest lasting for me. I'm doing 3 hours of pointe a week, minimum, now.


So, yes, it varies with amount of use and type of shoe.


Clara, we're posting at about the same time and I wholly agree with your comments about age. It's sad, but true.... *sigh*

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Thanks for the reply on alternating the pointe shoes Clara. Yeah, I'm definitely not doing any advanced work at all right now, so I should expect to get some time out of them (definitely not one per day or anything like that p.s. - wow, that is a lot!).


So far I've noticed my shoes fit quite well - haven't had the adjustment issues that Gayle pointed out. They fit my feet "snuggly" and I don't sink down in them. I do notice it to be a bit painful, but nothing I can't deal with. So thats good - I was beginning to wonder if I was doing something wrong; but If it is supposed to hurt a little bit, then I feel better about that. :thumbsup:


So many questions when you are a late starter!

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Your feet must not have been well suited to the Freeds, Principals, or Serenades then. If the shoes are not well-fit to begin with, experiences similar to yours would be the norm.


And yes, it is sad, but we're supposed to take comfort that we get smarter as we age....:thumbsup: Now if we could just convince our teens that we are smarter than them..... :thumbsup:


Ask away, Aerbear!!!

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I had a pair of Serenades that lasted about 15 years - at a pointe class a week. They NEVER broke in. Finally gave them to a girl who was the same size and needed a pair of shoes. She said they haven't broken yet, either - and it's been a few months. LOL!


Wait -- just a note of advice here, since there are other beginning pointe students reading this. 15 year old pointe shoes? = no. Using someone else's pointe shoes? = no. Everyone has different feet. Even if the shoes were not 'broken in', your own usage creates weak spots, has the foot start forming to your foot, etc -- even if we don't see it/feel it. I don't think anyone should ever use shoes worn by someone else.

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Actually, I do have another question, although not really shoe related. In my first year of pointe, what should I expect to learn (RAD). I'm not doing exams or anything, but just wondering what exactly to expect.


Not sure if this was posted elsewhere and i'm sure it's different for everyone.... just a rough idea?

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The lady who fitted my pointe shoes recommended darning the platform. You can also buy little darned patches that can be glued on.


Just an aside on fitting, too. I am so grateful that I had a responsible fitter. I travelled through to another city on the basis of word of mouth recommendations. While the second pair I tried turned out to be the ones I bought (and the ones my teacher had predicted, which was cool), the fitter spent an hour with me, trying on lots of different pairs so I could feel what the 'wrong' shoes felt like, and then explaining why they were wrong. She also warned me that my shoes would not feel comfortable in any sense I was used to, so I was just as well discarding that idea from the outset.


Out of curiosity, Miss Clara, is there any benefit to not wearing padding? I know a couple of girls who attended ballet classes very seriously as children and adolescents. They said that their teachers forbade padding from the outset, feeling that it was better to toughen the feet up, and to get the foot used to 'feeling' the floor. Is that true?

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I have a male teacher, who is amazing for our usual barre and such, but the studio he's had is just now adding ballet to their repetoire, and they've asked him to teach pointe as well...while he does a great job with foot and ankle strengthening exercises and such, when it comes to fitting shoes, he really doesn't know anything. He's asking some of his female dancing friends for me, but I thought I'd ask here as well....


Number one, is there a difference between "beginner" shoes and "intermediate" shoes? Or really, should you just wear the shoe that's fit for your foot? (Does that question even make sense?)


Number two, IF there is a intermediate shoe, when should someone "move on"? I'm sure the answer is "when your teacher says", but...like I explained above....that's not really an option....I've been dancing pointe on and off for about four years now....I'm by no means a -strong- dancer en pointe, but I'm beyond the very basics....and I am in desperate need of new shoes, but I'm not sure what to look for, or what to ask for.

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*Hand-raised* I'm one whose teachers forbade padding of any sort, not that there was much around apart from "bunny pads" (very thick, horrid things) at the time.


I can't tell you if Serenades were fitted badly, to be honest. The kid needed shoes and they fit her at the time she needed them. I was rather shocked, myself. I have a feeling they may have been just an oddly made pair? But, then, when I see other students in Serenades, at my current school, I notice that they seem to have a difficult time getting them to break in. I think they're just a really hard shoe, personally.


Freeds - again, where I was you could only get one style (and that was saying something as I was raised on Selva and only ONE style of Capezio). They broke - and from what I hear from both of my fitters (two disparate locations) still break easily. That said, I have strong feet. I LOVED my Freeds, just as I LOVED those Principals. But they are too expensive for me to keep up. Really, I must say I adored those Principals for the short time they worked, even better than Gaynors.




The Freeds, well, I know I was not fitted properly. Not sure about the Serenades - they were supposed to be the "Freed replacement" or so the fitter told me. I used to buy my Freeds by the suitcase-ful. I found a pair of old ones recently and wished I could wear them but they'd already been worn out.


When we were young, we used to darn the toes. Hated doing that so resorted to using Elmer's glue instead. I've only recently hit on cutting the satin instead, but even then, I have to be careful with floors and such. Sometimes it's not enough to darn OR cut the satin, in my experience.

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Yeah, Clara raises good points. My first shoe as an adult was too big. I didn't realize this until I got foot pains during adult camp, and Heidi looked at it and said it was far too big. This despite a very good dance store, and another teacher checking it after I bought it.


Now I know how snug it needs to be. I'd rather have blisters and scrapes then internal foot pain!

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"Now, about adjusting padding-

No. The shoes were not fit properly to begin with if there is that much room after break-in."


That is disheartening to hear. I had asked Ms. Devor for suggestions earlier this year after the shoes that the fitter insisted were correct for me proved impossible to dance in. After reading her response and the articles about how shoes should fit, I concluded that the offending pair was too narrow. As soon as I switched to a wider width, all my problems vanished, but as I wrote, I needed to adjust the padding over time. Just so I understand you correctly, are you saying that that shouldn't be necessary at all?


Thank you for the education!

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Sorry- I don't teach RAD. Mel might know.



Children going en pointe preparing for a professional career with proper shoes for their individual needs, properly fitted, will not need much padding at all.


The padding should be there to absorb sweat, protect skin from blisters (but a shoe that is too wide or too long will cause blisters regardless), and to cushion the tip of the big toe and toenail. Typically, feet will develop some callouses, but they should not end up gnarly. If the feet end up gnarly then pointe shoes somewhere were not fit well. Ideally, the goal is to find a pair of pointe shoes that doesn't feel too bad without any padding at all! Then you put in the minimal amount necessary to achieve the forementioned goals. I am not an advocate of the "no padding" school of thought, but I am from the minimal padding school of thought.


Another thing to think about is that pain receptors in the adult body are different from pain receptors in a child.



Stick to find the right shoe for your toe configuration, profile, and general strength. Don't worry about the marketing hype. :D You'll want to find a shoe that is supportive without feeling restrictive; that allows you to sense the floor (a terminology difference that I think is necessary to differentiate between 'feeling the floor' which could mean that the shoe is too wide/too square/too whatever, and sensing the floor meaning that your can propriocept correctly) without feeling like the floor is coming through the shoe up into your teeth; and one that you feel stable in when en pointe.



Selvas (likely the Italien) and Capezios (probably Pavlowa, Ultimo, Contempora, or Infinita) both were more on the tapered side and had high profiles at that time. Both had shorter-medium length vamps, but the Capezios would have had stronger shanks and the Selvas, slightly less so. They also had a strange rounded platform; the block had no differentiation where the platform began and the block ended. Serenades were squarer to slightly tapered, and had a higher profile, longer vamp, and Freeds- well they would have had the same specs as today, but since there have always been different makers, it's hard to tell exactly what the shape was. Principals depend upon the style.


Bottom line is- since there were so many different configurations there, even if the shoes were sized correctly, if they were not right for your particular feet, then stress is placed on the shoes in the wrong places thus causing either too fast breakdown, or if your feet or technique are not super strong, but you're wearing a super strong shoe, then it will simply refuse to break in no matter what.



There are many possibilities here:

One is that the shoes are simply dead. Time to bury them!

Another is that perhaps you didn't quite know how to allow them to completely dry out/take care of them, and now they have stretched out too much

Another possibility is that they were left in a hot car all day

Yet another is that there are break-in procedures that one can try that you may have been unaware of or didn't quite understand with the previous width

It could be that the shoes are just not working out after having danced in them for a bit

You could be gaining strength and now you will need to go a different direction with shoes

It could be that you have been used to wearing too much padding

It could be that they were not fit on you without padding first, so you could really guage how correct their fit was

There are too many possibilities!


I never had to adjust padding once I found 'my shoe', and my pros don't either.


I remember being asked awhile ago to get detailed break-in procedures from a magazine that was doing an article on the subject, and my pros just didn't need to do very much to their shoes before wearing. There were a few who used the steam from a teakettle to soften the block a bit, and a few who liked to cut their own shanks, but other than that, they pretty much just sew and wear! There are a couple who also use my bunion buster. Their padding ranges from the tiny ouch pouches to lambs wool toe pads, to handiwipes and paper towels.


I should add that most of them wear bespoke Freeds, but all are in natural paste shoes.


Bottom line here is, no, I don't think that major adjustments in padding should happen.

Edited by Clara 76
Added one piece of info!
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If I can chime in about the removal of satin on the platforms; I do eventually remove the satin on the tip of my shoe. However, I tend to trim it off after much wear and tear. After an extended period of time and use, the satin starts lifting and fraying off, and to remedy the unsightly look of excess fabric hanging off my shoe, I trim it off. If I have the time and wherewithal to do so, I will also darn around the edges of the platform after I have removed that torn up satin. The reason why I prefer to darn after the satin is gross and cut off is actually rather practical. First of all, it keeps the freshly cut edges down around the platform, secondly I will darn strategically in the unworn and cleaner parts of the platform edge to try and create more surface area touching the floor. Maybe it's mental, but I feel like it kind of increases my balance because there are more points of contact on the floor.


Also, when it comes to padding, I do prefer less padding. Too much padding seems to make my feet go numb, and I really hate having my feet so cushioned that I can't (cliché) feel the floor. I wish there was a better way for me to pad my toes that didn't take so long though. Currently, I am loving the masking tape wrapped around each individual toe to prevent blisters and also using a "Big Tip" jelly sleeve on my big toes. It's awesome, but time consuming.

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