When the Shoe Doesn't Quite Fit

March 11, 2008

We all know that a pointe shoe should fit like a glove—form fitting and malleable so our feet can be as articulate as our hands. But when you unwrap a new pair of shoes, they are anything but supple! The boxes are rock hard, the shanks barely bend, and the seams are encrusted with bits of sharp dried glue. So how can you be expected to point the tips of your toes and roll through your feet when you are strapped into satin cinder blocks?!

Some dancers prefer to just slap on their shoes and hope that they will break in a flattering way. Others, like me, take less of a risk and rely on simple techniques to guarantee well-formed and pliable, well,…slippers. After I’m done prepping my shoes for a performance, they are almost as comfortable as my fuzzy Uggs I wear around the house.

Even though my pointe shoes are custom ordered from Freed, I still need to do my own cutting, breaking, and reshaping. First, I go to work on the inner shanks. I use a giant pair of scissors to cut each one in half, getting rid of the portion that extends from the heel to the mid-arch. Then, I flip the shoe over and use a box cutter to slice a small section away from the outer shank.* When I point my foot, the shoe bends in half and the new space in the outer shank absorbs some of the extra material…no more clunky bulges of satin hanging off my heel!

Next, I squish the boxes in a door jam – I gently close the door on each shoe so that the box widens and flattens and makes room for my sprawling metatarsals. I drip a bit of Crazy Glue in the tips and, after it dries, I use the giant scissors to scrape away any sharp pieces of factory glue that could leave me with nasty blisters. Then I trim the satin off the tips and cut a cross section of grooves along the bottom of the shank to prevent slipping.

Last but not least, I bang the shoes on a steel block or cement floor (any hard surface that won’t crack or leave marks on the shoes). Softer boxes enable me to feel like a cat instead of an elephant when I’m running across the stage.

I swear by these modifications, but remember that everyone’s feet are different! I’d hate for you to apply my suggestions and then ruin a new pair of expensive pointe shoes. Experiment on an old pair first…and know that it took years of trial and error to find the best shoe-shaping technique that works for me.

* A box cutter can be dangerous if it’s not handled properly! Please make sure you’re careful and/or supervised if you choose to use one.

Click here to see a photo of Julie’s shoe after it’s been broken in!