Does it feel too soon to think about your pointe shoes and back-to-school? It’s understandable that it might be daunting to think about the upcoming ballet season, but it’s never too early to reassess your shoes and get ahead of your fall classes. It might help to think of it as a tune-up for your feet, and what better time than in between summer programs and the start of fall classes?
Summer dance camps don’t offer a lot of free time to analyze what is happening with your pointe shoes, and when fall classes begin, there are loads of things to think about, including school and homework. That makes late summer the perfect time to take a good look and re-evaluate for the upcoming season because pumpkin spice lattes and Nutcracker rehearsals are just around the corner.
Approach your analysis like a lab experiment. Think of yourself like a scientist searching for the truth; rigorous testing is necessary to figure out what works for you and what does not. Start by finding some quiet time so you can focus without any distractions. Going through this process while you have free time helps you think through what it was about a particular style that worked or didn’t.
Take all of the pointe shoes you wore over the summer, even the ones that didn’t work for you, and place them in separate piles labeled “yes,” “no” and “maybe.” Set up your “lab” by using good mirrors, or several mirrors at different angles, along with a ballet barre so you can do classroom steps in each pair of shoes.
One great way to see yourself is to take short videos doing relevé, échappés and pirouettes. You can shoot into a mirror to get good angles in poses and during movement. The videos shouldn’t be for social media; think of them as a way for you to watch yourself in a completely candid way without the pressure of trying to look perfect.
Create a document that you can easily edit and take detailed notes. You can organize it by the date, including the season, and each pair of pointe shoes can have a section that breaks down what happened when you wore them. You may find these guidelines helpful for your evaluation:
#1. How did the shoes fit?
- Was the size the best for you, or was there an issue?
- Too big is just as bad as too tight; it is important to figure out if you hit a growth spurt during the summer and adjust your size accordingly.
- Calluses, blisters and some bruising go with the territory; however, the amount of pain should be manageable.
- Pointe shoes are supposed to be snug, but if you have to keep stuffing the shoes with padding, that is a sign of a problem.
- Pay special attention to what happened when the shoes were worn a few times.
- If you are in so much discomfort you cannot get onto pointe, that signals that something is just not right.
#2. Were you able to execute the steps given in classes?
- If pointe shoes are unsupportive, you can’t do a proper relevé.
- If they are too hard, you can’t get over enough to feel all of your turnout muscles or fully stretch your lines.
- If something didn’t work for a pas de deux class, maybe it will work for a Bournonville variation. If a pair was good for a challenging variation, maybe it won’t work for the Willis in Act II Giselle.
#3. Was it supportive in the box and arch?
- It takes time to figure out if the shoe is losing support in the arch or in the box.
- Everyone knows that shoes that break down after two barre exercises aren’t going to cut it in the long run.
- Did you do everything you could with the shoes — gluing and drying out?
- Maybe your ribbon placement could have helped with the support.
- Did you buy square shoes even though you have a tapered foot? How did that work out for you?
- It is important during this assessment that you are honest with yourself.
- Sometimes things can be fixed with a harder, more supportive shoe, and sometimes something completely new is needed.
#4. What about your alignment? Did the shoes get in the way of you being up and on your legs?
- Were you able to properly lift out of the shoe while still maintaining the feeling of the floor?
- Were you able to be up on top of your hips and lengthen your spine, or did the shoe feel like it got in the way?
#5. Ballet aesthetics require a beautiful line.
- Did the shoe augment your line, or did it look more like a street shoe?
- Did you purchase a particular pair or brand because a famous dancer or influencer posted it on TikTok?
- The best shoes enhance the leg line and give an ethereal look that is unique to each individual.
Finally, seek out someone you trust who will give you an honest, unbiased opinion. This could be a teacher, professional fitter or a mentor who understands the challenges of finding a good shoe. Dancewear companies are always coming out with new styles and innovations to help you and your technique. The plus side is that there are so many options that there is a pointe shoe style out there for everyone. The downside is that just because something is shiny and new doesn’t mean it will work for you. A good pointe shoe should make you feel like things are possible and not out of reach, and your notes and analysis will help you make sense of what is optimal. Finding the best shoe can be a career-long process, so don’t get discouraged if it takes awhile to figure it all out.
By Mary Carpenter of Dancewithmary NYC.
Mary Carpenter is a former professional ballet dancer who began her studies at CCM, the official school for the Cincinnati Ballet Company, and was on scholarship at the David Howard Dance Center. Mary also holds a BA with high honors in dance from Butler University. She has danced for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Ohio Dance Theatre, Granite State Ballet, Maryland Ballet, Lexington Ballet and Charleston Ballet, and performed in numerous off-Broadway shows. Mary has contributed to the dance community as a dedicated instructor in ballet, Pilates and Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT), and served on the faculty of Broadway Dance Center, the Ballet Hispánico School of Dance, Barnard College and The New School University. She is current faculty for Ballet Academy East and the world-famous Steps on Broadway. Her classes for adult beginners are available virtually on the Dancio.com website.
With over three decades of experience, Mary has become a highly skilled pointe shoe fitter. She has worked with dancers from prestigious companies such as American Ballet Theatre (ABT), The Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet. Her expertise in fitting pointe shoes has led her to give lectures at renowned summer programs, including ABT/JKO, Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYSSSA and Oklahoma Summer Arts in Quartz. In 2015, Mary launched her YouTube channel, “Dancewithmary NYC,” where she shares her knowledge and expertise on pointe shoes through monthly segments. Her channel has become a valuable resource for dancers and teachers seeking guidance and advice.