Submitted by CCD Alumna Sarah Jannsen. In addition to dancing professionally in New York City, Sarah is a Fitting Specialist with Gaynor Minden, specializing in professional dancer fittings and product testing and research.
Growing up, I certainly thought pointe shoes were a show of strength by simply accepting how painful they can be. At summer intensives and in long rehearsals, we talked about who had the most bloodied shoes, or who was nursing a nasty bruised toenail. For this reason, I still do love a minimalist approach to my shoes – just my foot in the shoe and small accessories/cushions on pressure points. In my extensive work with dancers – at all places in their journey with dance – I have found that I can be minimalist in my shoes, without the blisters, bruises, corns and pinpointed ouches. Yes, pointe shoes will be uncomfortable at times, but they do not need to be unbearable.
Listed are my best tips and tricks for common pointe shoe issues:
Dreaded, bruised toenails – check your fit! Are the shoes long enough for your toes to be flat – even in plié? If not, try longer. Does your shoe get more “sinky” and “wrinkly” under the foot or at the top of the box as the class goes on? Maybe try a differently shaped box – one with more taper.
A BIG big toe – for tapered toes and a big toe that gets all the brunt of the pressure – sometimes even a different material toe pad (cloth, silicone, gel, lambswool), a toe cap or a toe spacer can be enough so, first, try switching it up! A trick I prefer is a makeup sponge at the tip of the shoes – put the shallower side towards the 2nd toe and the thicker side towards the pinky toe (trim to the best width).
Achilles tendon pressure – pain usually means it is time to check on the health of the lower leg and foot muscles (think Therabands, rolling out, stretching, ice, etc.), and prolonged pain means a check in with your doctor. For your shoes, remember pointe class is often not enough to “break in” a pair of traditional paste shoes. If you feel Achilles tendon pressure, your shoes may need some additional manipulation under the arch or along the wings. Ribbons that are too tight can also cause Achilles pain. If you like to tie your ribbons tighter, try some stretch ribbons or ribbons with elastic along the Achilles to relieve some pressure.
Heel slipping off – there are SO many ways to sew pointe shoes – criss cross or a single loop of elastic are the most common. Sewing your shoes further down, closer to the sole can provide some extra security. Play with where the shoes are sewn, too – really close to each other at the heel or hugging the foot on either side? Heels slipping low can also mean your shoes are too short – check in with your length.
Your foot looks sickled or your shank is twisting – sickling and twisting will be helped most by Therbands and strength exercises, but both issues can be worsened by too hard of a shank or a shoe too small in the front. Try a softer, more broken-in shank that really breaks under the arch of your foot. Or try a slightly wider shoe to fill more into the box and align the toes to ankles. For twisting on very hypermobile feet – play with more secure ways to sew the shoes such as criss-crossed elastic.
If you’re too far forward – add elastic to the front of the box, right at the opening to keep the foot more secure (or try a longer vamp, if possible); if you’re pulled back off the shoes – break in the shank even more or try a softer option, check that your ribbons and elastics are supportive, but not restrictive (try a single elastic, a ribbon with stretch, elastics sewn further towards the back of the ankle). Remember, ribbons should be sewn on the sides of the shoes right on the height of the arch – at an angle back towards the ankles.
If you have any more pointe shoe questions, remember to check with the pointe shoes experts at your local dance wear store – Boulder Body Wear, for example! Fitters love to solve the toughest fitting questions and keep everyone successfully on their toes! Happy dancing!
Colorado Conservatory of Dance works exclusively with our partners at Boulder Body Wear to provide our students with extraordinary expertise, customer service, and personalized care.