I’ve been dancing in pointe shoes for just over a year now. Whenever I tell people that I take ballet–and, more specifically, that I dance in pointe shoes–I always get bombarded with questions. What kind of shoe do you wear? Doesn’t it hurt? How does it work? I’m in now way a professional dancer, and I’m never going to be. I’m also still firmly planted in the land of being a ballet beginner, so a more seasoned dancer might have different answers to these questions. Still, ballet and pointe is so enigmatic to people who don’t participate in it, so I thought I’d do a ballet and pointe FAQ for today’s ballet break.
Does it hurt to dance in pointe shoes?
Well, you’re dancing on the tips of your toes, so…yes.
Of course, it is a different “kind” of pain, and like anything, you get used to it. For me, I usually feel pain from the tightness of the shoe and the intense muscle work that is required to get up on my toes. My toes, feet, and legs are usually sore after class, though that varies depending on how intense class was. Generally–though there are exceptions to everything–the only pain you want to watch out for is a sharp pain.
What kind of pointe shoe do you wear?
What I love about Gaynors is, first of all, how long they last. My friends who wear a more “traditional” pointe shoe buy shoes for 70-80 bucks, and they last 2-3 months. My Gaynors are a bit more expensive (around 100 bucks), but my last pair lasted me about nine months. Gaynors are also made a bit differently than a traditional pointe shoe, so I find it a lot more supportive of my feet.
Cool, so can do that trick Rose does in Titanic?
You mean this?
I cannot. I’m also willing to bet a great deal of ballet dancers out there can’t either. Just because you can dance in pointe shoes, you are not automatically able to do this. A pointe shoe is pretty supportive of your foot, so when you go up over your box, your shoe is doing a great deal of the work alongside of you. Rose’s trick is kinda pointlessly dangerous, really.
Okay, so I guess I don’t understand pointe shoes then.
I totally get that. When I was training for pointe, I had to flat out ask my teacher to bring in a pair so I could see what they heck they were. Gaynor Minden does a pretty good job of breaking down the ins and outs of a pointe shoe on their website, but you can also watch these videos, too.
Why do dancers destroy their shoes before they dance in them?
You mean like the in Center Stage?
Well, not every dancer does this. For instance, I don’t, but that is largely because I wear Gaynors. When dancers tear up their shoes like that, it is because they are trying to break the shoe in (get the shank to bend more easily, get the box to be a bit softer and mold to your foot a bit more). A Gaynor Minden pointe shoe is made so it doesn’t have to go through a “breaking in” process before it fits nicely. My first pair of pointe shoes were a more traditional shoe, but I was told to not do any of this shoe destroying. While a seasoned dancer who wears traditional shoes might break their shoes in like this to get the fit “just right”, as a beginner–and someone who isn’t dancing 8 hours a day in a company that pays for my new shoes–destroying my shoes like that would just mean that my shoes would wear out more quickly, and, as a beginner, I could even break the shoe in such a way that I end up breaking myself. However, there are still plenty of professional dancers that have their own unique ways of breaking in their shoes. Here are some ballerinas from the Australian Ballet talking about how they prep their shoes:
And here is Allison DeBona (with the help of Rex Lajos-Tilton) from Ballet West talking about how she preps her pointe shoes:
I’m not in ballet class, but I want to do pointe work! I mean, with the internet I can do it myself, right?
Sure, you can find foot and ankle exercises to get your strength up, like this one from Allison DeBona.
However, you can hurt yourself so easily in pointe shoes–especially if you have no ballet experience–so you really, really shouldn’t begin a pointe shoe endeavor without an instructor.
So…are your toes nasty, dancer toes?
Ah, yes, the infamous ballet dancer feet. Pointe work is hard on the body, and you can’t do crap like this…
…without some collateral damage. Namely, your feet. I’ll be honest, since I’ve only been at this for a year, my toes aren’t too bad. I do get blisters, and the moment directly after taking my pointe shoe off my toes are kinda weird looking. However, I haven’t been at this long enough to have those gnarly ballet dancer feet. I do have bruises under my toenails, but I hide that with nail polish. Interestingly enough, most dancers look at their nasty feet like a badge of honor, because it is a visual representation of how hard they are working.
What are some other questions you have about ballet and pointe work? Have you ever done ballet or danced in pointe shoes? Let me know in the comments!