Frequently Asked Questions about pointe shoes and ribbons

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The following will help answer questions about pointe shoes, ribbons, and more. This is by all means not complete.

Your expert shoe fitter or ballet teacher should be able to answer other questions you may have. It is important that you ask. So for now, here are some questions that have been asked at one time or another and the answers.

Is there a right shoe or left shoe?

No. Like ballet slippers, pointe shoes have no right or left. You should be able to wear them on either foot changing them when you feel they should be changed. Dancers, who have been wearing them for quite some time tell us that when they have worn the shoes once or twice it conforms to the shape of their foot. Changing them after that is uncomfortable.

Why do the Shanks break?

Shanks can break for one of several reasons, the most obvious being that the dancer actually snapped it in half with her hands when breaking in the shoes.

Or, like any other part of the ballet pointe shoe, the shank is subject to repeated stress. If you go up on pointe and bear down heavily in the shoe or push repeatedly over the Box with the whole weight of your body, you can expect a normal Shank to give way. If you treat your shoes correctly, the Shank will eventually soften like other parts of the shoe.

Why do the Box and Platform get soft

Because ballet pointe shoes are not made of steel and the materials will eventually soften under pressure, heat and usage. Pointe shoes are made of fabric, leather, canvas and glue. The more you wear them the more the glue breaks down. This is why it is so important to let the shoes dry between sessions. (remember, not to put them in the oven)

They must have the opportunity to harden again. Many dancers if they can, purchase at least two pair at a time and rotate their shoes for this very reason.

Can I break shoes in faster by wetting them when I first put them on?

You can but beware how much water you use. Too much will ruin the pointe shoes and make them squeak forever after. (and you can't use oil to stop the squeak) A more preferred method is to pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol over the Box while you have the shoes on. Alcohol dries quickly while the shoe is on your foot. Remember to ask a parent's permission first!

After I've tied my ribbons I still have ends so long I can't tuck them in neatly. Should I cut them off?

Manufacturers supply a lot of ribbon. Once you have tied your ribbons several times and are sure of length needed, cut off some of the excess ends. You don't want to have to tuck in a whole wad of ribbon.

Why don't shoes come with ribbons sewn on?

Where you place the ribbons is very personal. Some dancers like them further back towards the heel, others further forward. You have to decide. It can't be standardized.

Where is the correct place to tie the ribbon knot? I've heard different stories

The knot should be made on the inside of your ankle. Notice you have a little hollow there. That's where you tie the laces. Then tuck the ends in neatly under the ribbons. Never place a knot on the back, over the Achilles tendon. The knot should be invisible so you can't put it on the outside or front of the ankle either.

Is it O.K. to buy shoes with room for growth?

No it is not. Ballet and Pointe Shoes must fit exactly. If the foot can move around in the shoe there is danger of injury.

When is the right time to buy new Ballet Pointe Shoes?

When you outgrow them or when the Box, Shank or Platform become so soft you cannot stand in the shoes properly.

Why don't Pointe Shoes last longer?

Because they are made of fabric,leather and glue. They will break down sooner or later depending on how you treat them! (See Care and Maintenance of Pointe Shoes)

How do I know I got the right fit?

There are two ways you can test the size. Put the shoes on and stand on one foot on pointe but don't rise on it. Place your fingers at the end of the sole of the shoe. If it comes level with your own heel the size is right. If the shoe sole sticks out beyond your heel the shoe is too big.

Secondly, with the shoes on make a second position of the feet flat. Do a demi-plie. Do your toes feel they are pushing against the tip of the shoe? Does it hurt? The shoe is too small.

While in the same dance position of the feet, test the width. Are your toes really scrunched? Do they overlap? Chances are this shoe is too narrow.

No matter what always talk to your shoe fitter or ballet teacher who should have a lot of experience in the matter of the correct fit.

What do letters mean on the soles of pointe shoes?

The letters from B, C, D, E, EE, tells you the width of the pointe shoe. The B is narrow to EE being wider than E.

Is there a way to harden the shank for a little more life in my pointe shoes?

Clear shellac is one way to go. You apply the shellac onto the shank several times after the first coat is dry. Apply again until you feel the shank getting a bit harder than it was before you started applying the shellac. For how long it will last? Impossible to say. You will have to be the judge. Try applying the shellac several times to see how many times you need to get it to "feel right" for your feet.

What are the best toe pads to use wool, jell, animal skin or just plain toe covers?

The choice is really up to you. As wearing pointe shoes are very personal and feet, toes are different to each dancer, the choice really will be up to you.

If you ask any dancer in your studio or a professional dancer that has been dancing on stage for a number of years, she may say "I like lambs wool", but that doesn't really tell you anything, does it? It's her toes.

Do you suggest pancaking or using calamine lotion on pointe shoes prior to performance? If so, how do you do this properly?

Pancake your pointe shoes. Put it on very gently so as not to get them too wet, let them completely dry before putting them on, and you are ready to perform.

What should I do if my Pointe shoes are very wet?

Take an old sock and stuff it with some paper, any kind will do. Shape it so that it forms the shape of your foot, the whole foot including the toe part. Now stuff the pointe shoe with the sock so that it holds it's shape. Let dry. Do not put it in the oven!

At what age should my child begin Pointe Class?

The most widely accepted view amoung U.S. teachers is to wait until the child is 11, at which time the growth spaces in the feet have almost closed. Also, it is an age when most girls have reached a level of technique and physical strength allowing them to do pointe without injury to their knees or lower back.

However, there are teachers who take an opposing view. They say it depends on the individual child and that starting early helps shape the foot to work on pointe, as well as build strength.

Whatever the opinion, the children must have sufficient physical strength and technical foundation before starting pointe work. If they don't, they will compensate by rising and lowering from pointe incorrectly - thus creating stress on knees and eventually lower back.

I am sure your daughter's ballet teacher means to start her very slowly at the barre, for quite some time to come. Her teacher is really the only one that can guide her.

If by chance you would like more information on pointe shoes, do fill out the box on "specific questions on Pointe Shoes"

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