Dancewear en l’air: Elastic Pointe Shoe Ribbons

50 PhotoWay back when, I told you about the original “tendinitis ribbon”, a pointe shoe ribbon manufactured by Bloch, Prima Soft and Bunheads that featured an elastic insert to be aligned with the achilles tendon for protection. Well an even better version is now available from Body Wrappers / Angelo Luzio and also from Prima Soft. I recently tried the Body Wrappers version, and I am sooo in love with this product!

Available in their Pointe Shoe Ribbon Kit and their Stretch Pointe Shoe Ribbon Spool, these trimmings are made entirely of a stretchable synthetic material that gives a slightly shiny appearance while providing an excellent balance of support and flexibility. Prima Soft’s version, Extension, is available in either Original (Normal Support) or in Extra Support for high arches and overly flexible feet or ankles.

In addition to providing ergonomic support, these stretchable ribbons look lovely with canvas ballet shoes. If you are required to wear ribbons with your soft shoes, you’ll find that the stretchable material looks less contrasting with your tights and shoes than actual satin. They look so good in fact, that I’m using them for my advanced class ballet shoe performance this year.

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Dear CBT: Help for Broken Pointe Shoes?

Dear CBT,

It’s been eight months since I last bought a pair of pointe shoes and my left pointe shoe is already starting to die. My right shoe is completely fine but my left shoe is becoming soft and hard to get onto for pirouettes. I had my teacher check them, and she said my left shoe was dying and that its a good idea for me to start breaking in another pair. I just wanted to know if their is a way to strengthen just my left pointe shoe to get a couple more months out of them. Thank you!

There is a way to use jet glue or hot stuff glue to give pointe shoes a bit more strength. Check out this video by Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Maria Chapman to learn how:

As an added bonus, Maria shows how to find the arch point for your shoes, an important part of proper pointe shoe break-in. However I don’t recommend breaking the shank as she does, but gently bending them repeatedly instead.

I wouldn’t want you to think you can get too much time from one pair of shoes though – I went through a pair a week at my training peak. Ballet can be a sadly expensive pursuit! The important thing is to determine if one shoe is breaking in too fast compared to the other one and why. If there is a dramatic difference, it could indicate either an anatomical difference or a technique issue or both. Technique issues, fortunately, can be controlled to an extent. Talk to your teacher about whether you are working optimally on both feet. It’s possible that you are either not “pulling up” properly (shaping the foot with your own muscles and not letting the shoe take over) on the left or that your right foot is not working hard enough.

If this turns out to be only an anatomical issue, you may have a technique solution anyway, so ask your teacher about that as well. If there is not a sufficient technique solution to it, you have a superficial solution of purchasing two pair of pointe shoes – one pair with a shank suitable for the right and one with a harder shank for the left – and pairing them with each other so you have two pairs with a harder shank on the left than on the right. You want to make sure both feet are properly supported.

Thanks for reading and take good care of those hard-working feet!

Dancewear en l’air: The Procut Convertible Mesh Tight

Do you prefer the feel of no tights in your shoes? But your teacher makes you roll them down? Well now there’s now a tight made especially for you! I was truly impressed to see this design from Body Wrappers style A47, which mimics what dancers often do to their tights with scissors. Built to look to from a viewer’s perspective as a full-footed tight when the dancer’s shoes are on, it actually has three cutouts that reveal most of the foot within the shoe – at the toes, sole and heel. These cutouts provide easy access for foot care post- and pre-pointe class and allow better feel of the shoe for those who like as little as possible between them and the floor. BW included a thong between the big and second toes to keep the fabric secure around the foot despite the cutouts.

The fabric is the same as Body Wrappers classic mesh tight, A46, and like that tight it features a backseam to highlight your lines. Currently, it’s only available in one shade of pink which they call “classic ballet pink”. This color seems to be much lighter than the notoriously bright ballet pink but slightly darker than their popular theatrical pink – which makes it a lot closer to most pointe shoe colors. Available in small, medium, large or tall (yay!), this is a great tight for dancers who need to look completely classical but love that no-tights feel.

Check out the always beautiful Tiler Peck as she introduces this tight in this video by BW:

Dear CBT: Too Late for Pointe?

Dear CBT,

I’m 21 and studied ballet from the age of 4 until 13. However I gave up and returned at 19 but had to stop due to lack of funds! I have my Bloch pre-pointe shoes and my flat ballet shoes which I do practice on, and I’d never buy pointes without a teacher’s instruction.

I’m looking to getting into training soon again, but do you think its too late to work for pointe?

– Ballerina Interrupted

Dear Ballerina,

Good for you for returning to your passion despite setbacks! First, I just want you to know that pointework is certainly not the be-all end-all of dance or even ballet. Ballet can be beautiful, striking and extraordinary without pointe shoes. I’m pointing this out because, not knowing your health nor seeing your feet, I cannot guarantee that you are eligible, but I will give you the parameters so that you can get going in the right direction.

Provided that a dancer is physician-approved for exercise, the only age-related barriers would really be related to bone strength – too young could mean the bones have not sufficiently ossified, and too old could mean they had reached a point of brittleness. There are other possible roadblocks to your success – genetic predisposition to ingrown toenails, limited flexibility in the tendons and ligaments to make an arch sufficient to get over the box of a pointe shoe and other such issues that are best assessed by a well-qualified teacher and your physician in-person.

Provided that you have no such limitations, the most important thing is for your pointe preparation is to get a quality teacher, preferably someone who has taught adults long enough to understand limitations that they run into and how to relay information in a way that makes sense to them. A good teacher for any age group will enforce a minimum of two ballet technique classes per week leading up and for at least the first year of pointe. You should expect at least two years of re-training to prepare, possible more. If you get there in less time, consider it lagniappe.

If you’ll go to my website homepage, look on the black menu bar and click Pointe Shoes. Read those articles. Then check out the Adult Beginner Pointe link on my blogroll to read about one adult ballet students foray into her first year of pointe. Finally, create an account at BalletTalk for Dancers, where you will find message boards moderated for professional dancers with forums for adult student technique issues and adult student support. Search those two forums for “pointe” – there are some great threads there. I think you’ll find these resources inspirational and substantively helpful for understanding what to expect as a potential adult pointe student. Let me know if you have any more questions after checking them out!

Dancewear en l’air: Elasticized Pointe Shoe Ribbons

I used to cut my pointe shoe ribbons and add an elastic strip to the spot that landed at the Achilles. The extra flex gave some room for the ribbons to expand and contract going from plié to relevé and vice versa. Thanks to Bunheads Flexors, there’s no need for such arduous work on top of all the attachment sewing you have to do!

Flexors come four to a pack (enough for one pair of shoes) and come in two versatile shades of peachy-pink to match practically any pointe shoe. These ribbons are recommended by dance teachers (like me) and physical therapists.

Supercharge Your Pointework!

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society agrees: pointework is a serious undertaking. They endorse several tried-and-true dancer exercises that you will find enormously impactful for your oh-so-important foot and ankle training to enhance stabilization, strength and articulation. Add these simple, technique-cleansing routines to your regimen today (You’ll thank me later!):

Doming Exercise

The dancer sits on a chair with knees bent to 90 degrees and feet flat on floor. The dancer then tries to make an arch under the metatarsal heads while keeping the toes flat and long, not allowing any curling of toes. Hold for count of ten, repeat 5 times with each foot. This helps strengthen the intrinsic muscles (the small muscles between the metatarsal bones.

Marble Exercise

Place 20 marbles on the floor. Pick them up one at a time by curling the toes around them. Move each marble to a jar and when dropping in the jar, spread the toes apart as widely as possible. Repeat with other foot.

Alphabet Exercise

Write A to Z with each foot, using the foot and ankle and not the leg to draw the letters. This is a good overall ankle strengthening exercise.

Theraband (Sport Cord) Exercise

Dancers should move their ankle in 4 directions against the theraband. Flex (dorsiflexion), pointe (plantarflexion), sickle (inversion) and wing (eversion). Dancers should first point their foot followed by trying to turn the foot in (“sickle”) against the resistance of the theraband. A dancer should be able to see the tendon just behind the inside of their ankle working. This tendon is the tibialis posterior which is crucial for rising up on the toes.

Releves

The dancer should do calf raises with their feet in a parallel position, otherwise known as a releve. After barre work, it is good to do 24 single leg releves in parallel on each leg. This will help strengthen the Achilles tendon and calves.

Pretty Pointe Shoes, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Peachy pink satin pointe shoes … so beautiful! But they don’t stay that way for long do they? No, after a few hours worth of barre, your pointe shoes will be broken-in and start showing small signs of wear. That perfect amount of break-in only last so long before they start getting too soft and worn down.

If you are taking multiple pointe classes a week, your shoes could even be all used up in a week or even less! If you are still early in your pointe training, your shoes will last much longer – you may even grow out of them before they have a chance to get totally “dead” – but it’s still important to know how to look for signs of too much wear.

The reason that pointe shoes are unfit for wear at a cetain point is that they stop supporting the foot. That will put unnecessary strain and stress on the joints, muscles and connective tissues of your feet. Your pointe shoes are unfit for wear when they offer only minimal resistance in roll-through releve, when they stop supporting the arch and certainly when they allow the metatarsal to pop out of the throat of the shoe.

Some dancers prefer to keep their dead shoes for demi-pointe use during non-pointe ballet classes. This can help a dancer continue to become comfortable in a pointe shoes. Personally, I prefer a real soft shoe for ballet technique classes, but some might find the dead pointe shoes useful for training. Plus, they don’t have to buy soft shoes anymore.

Before storing your “dead” pointe shoes or giving them away as gifts, take some time to analyze how they broke-in. Did the shank break or break-down much more quickly than the box? You may need a stronger shank or possibly a higher vamp. Did the box break down before you got the shank broken-in? You might need a softer shank or even a lower vamp. Take note of how the features of the shoe worked for you throughout your working in them. Make a list of good and bad things you noticed about the break-in and bring it and the shoe’s brand and style name with you when you go for your next fitting. This information is invaluable in deciding whether you should move to a different brand or style or if you are having technique issues that need to be straightened out. Ask your teacher for help if you’re not sure how to make these observations.

Pointe shoes are expensive and breaking in new ones can be no fun, but your health and safety are paramount! Learn to recognize when your pointe shoes are beyond safe use and when it’s time to get re-fitted and buy new ones.