Tips & Advice

Summer pointe shoe survival guide

Photo courtesy of Mary Carpenter.
Photo courtesy of Mary Carpenter.

Ballet summer intensives are a fantastic experience. There is nothing better than getting an acceptance letter from your dream school. You get to study with different teachers, make new friends and dance all day without having to worry about homework. Attending a big summer program can add up to many hours en pointe. What exactly do you need to survive a summer program pointe shoe-wise?

The big question is, exactly how many pairs of pointe shoes do you need? The rule of thumb is typically one pair per week. However, the number can vary greatly depending on your individual needs. Dancers who are taking pointe only a few times a week can get away with one pair a week or one-and-a-half weeks. Advanced dancers who are en pointe every day, including variations and pas de deux classes, can easily go through two pairs a week, meaning they need double the suggested amount.

Payton Ann Casey. Photo courtesy of Casey.
Payton Ann Casey. Photo courtesy of Casey.

Payton Ann Casey is a promising young dancer from New York who has attended summer programs at Next Generation and Miami City Ballet (MCB). This summer, she will dance at the Kansas City Ballet School, as well as the Philadelphia Ballet Company Experience. She recommends getting more than you think you’ll need because, as she says, “you never know!” She advises having additional pairs on hand for emergencies.

What should you take in your dance bag? Here are a few helpful items to get you through:

#1. A mesh bag to help your pointe shoes dry while transporting them (no plastic)

#2. Toe tape in several varieties

#3. K-tape, just in case you need a little boost for your muscles

#4. Arnica gel – it is terrific for muscle aches and also works on toenails and cuticles to take the edge off the pain

#5. Stitch kits, including a small pair of scissors, thick needles and sturdy cotton thread

#6. Band-aids, including blister care bandages

#7. Toe spacers (if needed) and backup toe spacers

#8. Pointe shoe glue – Jet Glue, Krazy Glue, Super Glue, Hot Stuff

Some extras that may come in handy:

#1. A shoe scraper to get out the rosin that builds up. You can even purchase a microplane meant for zesting or grating. The microplanes are small, easy to use and have a rubber handle for gripping.

#2. Talc-free powder to help your feet dry out after class. You can find powders with baking soda that help with odor and moisture.

JoyThru dance bag. Photo courtesy of JoyThru.
JoyThru dance bag. Photo courtesy of JoyThru.

Make sure your gear is in order. Anything to help you organize and keep your pointe shoes dry and odor-free is a big plus. The JoyThru bag is a nifty, new bag developed by two dance moms who work in the special needs field of education. The bags have mesh pockets and boast activated charcoal drying packets that can help with mildew and bacteria. The packets can be reactivated by putting them out in the sun. Removable pouches with medical-grade Velcro help with carrying items to and from the studio.

Pointe shoes, like everything else, are subject to inflation, and their pricing has increased steadily since 2020. Can you get away with fewer pairs? Maybe, and only if you are clever and adept at maintaining them. An important way to extend the life of your shoes is to make sure they fit you correctly. Ill-fitting shoes will break sooner than well-fitted ones. Next, make sure your technique is up to the task. Feet hurt more when you lack core strength. Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have time to cross-train and get stronger. You can do a Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT) class or a Pilates mat session in 30 minutes. Even pedestrian planks and squats go a long way to adding power to your dancing. Make it part of your routine two to three times a week.

Another way to extend the life of your pointe shoes is to remember that moisture is the enemy. That is tough when you think about ballet and all that standing on your toes and sweating! For traditional pointe shoes, some kind of glue is necessary to waterproof and strengthen your shoes. Payton says she wishes she had known more about gluing techniques to make shoes stronger throughout the program at MCB last summer. “Even getting a day or two extra out of a pair can go a long way.”  

Make sure your toe pads are dry, and do not leave them inside your pointe shoes. Multiple pairs of pads mean that you can launder and dry them out in between wearings. Try different brands. Try to stay away from plastic or anything that doesn’t have a fabric layer or natural fiber.

Payton Ann Casey. Photo courtesy of Casey.
Payton Ann Casey. Photo courtesy of Casey.

Make sure your shoes dry out properly every day. Traditional pointe shoes are made up of paper-mache type products and, when dried out, re-harden. Take your pointe shoes out of your dance bag every evening. There is nothing worse than leaving your shoes in your bag overnight and pulling them out the next day hoping they can get you through six-plus hours of dancing. Air out your shoes in a place that is dry. The locker rooms at school are not the best place, as they can be damp. Tips up helps to dry out the insides faster.  Make sure you rotate your pairs. Don’t wear one pair to shreds before moving on to the next. Rotating them gives them a chance to dry out.

Prepare your pointe shoes ahead of time. Unless you enjoy sewing at night when you are exhausted from dancing all day, stitch everything in advance. You need your downtime after classes to meet new people, explore the city you are in and, most importantly, get proper rest so your body can recover. Stitch, darn, cut shanks and gently break all before the first day of the program. That is a tall order and may require you to take a break from TikTok. It’s important; you want to be ready for whatever they toss at you during the program.

Payton says her best advice is to soak up every second you can. “It doesn’t matter what program you attend or where you go. If you take in every second and every correction, you can improve anywhere and leave a better dancer.” That is advice any dancer can use. Now get out there and dance your best!

Mary Carpenter.

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 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.

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