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:

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Ballet Shoe Review: Body Wrappers A45 “Wendy”

Dancers are always looking for a reliable ballet shoes that will show clean lines and provides optimum comfort. The Body Wrappers A45 Wendy is a good start and tries to incorporate a lot of good new ideas, but overall it missed the mark for me.

The last, constructed of what they called TotalStretch canvas, was not as supple and comfortable to me as I had hoped but instead seemed just average. Which is fine, but I’m not sure why they marketed it as special. They say that it “supports and protects muscles.” While they did line it with a thin foam, I wish they provided info on what they are basing that claim on. They also claim to be antibacterial, which I do really like and I’m guessing was achieved by incoporating a chemical treatment to the fabric.

The last is curved for a right and left fit. The peachy pink color matched BW’s theatrical pink tights pretty well. It’s a prettier color than a lot of other brands have created. I liked how that extended the line, but they were still too light a pink to keep from looking gray after a few classes got them dirty.

I found the elastic drawstring to be a bit too thin, made thinner by its own stretchiness. I am not a fan of elastic drawstrings because they never seem strong enough to actually do anything. (Not that I love cotton either, considering that they offer almost no give – can’t we have a happy medium?) The problem was the same here. I did like the “lingerie elastic” binding and found that part really soft and pretty – it has a hint of shimmer to it. It did get a little fuzzy and frayed in the course of normal use.

My main gripe with these shoes had nothing to do with these superficial issues though and everything to do with the foam-padded heel. I love a shoe that incorporates impact absorption, but this heel pad was a huge impediment to proper fit of the shoe. It seems that BW did not calculate properly for the additional fabric at the heel that would be needed to include the heel pad, so the heel sat about an eighth of an inch below where is should – perfectly placed to irritate the Achilles tendons as much as possible and cause the shoe to come off the heel during jumps. This is just a terrible construction issue. What are the two main things a shoe must do? Stay on the foot and allow proper movement. Because of the poorly thought-out construction of this shoe, it could do neither. Tightening the drawstring only worsened the irritation and loosening the drawstring at all meant the shoe would pop off even more easily. Ironically, the packaging instructs that the shoes fit so well that most dancers won’t even need elastics.

All of this said, if you are a dancer who needs a lower heel – and I know there are plenty of you out there! – this might be the ideal shoe for you. Body Wrappers certainly had some great ideas, and I look forward to checking out their next try. I will continue to post reviews of the many shoes I have worn. Have you tried the Body Wrappers A45 Wendy shoe? What did you think?

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.

Dancewear en l’air: The Pro Pad by Ouch Pouch

Toe pads are essential for most pointe students, but some can be bulky and prevent articulation. The Pro Pad by Ouch Pouch is an excellent alternative to traditional pads because it features gel padding only on the top of the pad to protect the toe joints from friction and pressure. The bottom of the pad is fabric only to allow real connection to the shoe and floor.

Fits Like a Glove – For Your Foot! – Part 2

Once you’ve found the best pointe shoe combinations of box, width, vamp and shank, try the remaining shoe or shoes with cushioning. I do not recommend loose lambs wool, paper towels or newspaper. There are so many much better options available these days!

Cushions should enhance comfort and fine-tune the fit; they should not be used to compensate for a sloppy fit! Use as little cushioning as possible. Many dancers who wear no pads find they need at least one of the oval or mushroom cushions. If these are not sufficient, use additional cushions. It is also possible that a narrower box or a box liner is needed to prevent the foot from dropping in too much. If the length and width are correct but there is pain or pressure on the toe(s), more cushions may be needed. Here are some options: Continue reading

Fits Like a Glove – For Your Foot! – Part 1

There is more to fitting a pointe shoe than finding the right shape, though shape is integral. Each part of the shoe should be checked and the overall fit should exhibit certain characteristics. How do you check for these things? How do you start the fitting once you’ve chosen shoes based on shape?

First off, you need to get the correct size for the brands you are going to try. The best way to do this is to have your foot measured on a Brannock device. Stand with one foot on the device with the heel all the way against the back, and make sure the feet are parallel. Measure with the weight completely on the foot being measured. Find the appropriate width and arch length. Next, measure with the weight off the foot being measured and note change in width. (This is how you measure metatarsal compression.) Measure both right and left feet because their may be a difference. Now, put on the first pointe shoe you want to try on.

Be sure toenails are neatly trimmed and the drawstring is properly pulled and secured. Standing flat, pull slowly and carefully criss-crossing the ends parallel to the floor, not upward toward the knee. When pulling the drawstring, be sure both ends are completely free and that there are no knots. Always pull both ends evenly, so that you don’t lose one end inside the binding. The drawstring should feel snug, not tight, to avoid irritating the Achilles tendon. Tie securely. Stand in second position and grand plié. This will put the foot in its longest position. The toes should just barely touch the end of the box, without feeling crunched or smashed.

Set a foot en pointe with no weight on it. You should be able to pinch 1/4” to 1/2” at the top of the heel near the drawstring casing to ensure that there is enough room for the toes when rolling up through pointe and when standing flat. If you can fit a whole finger in the back of the shoe it is too long. If you cannot pinch any material it is too short.

Many dancers are fitted in shoes that are too short, and compensate for the discomfort by increasing the width. A foot that is a true wide is the exception. Shoes that are too short and wide cause great pain. Dancers will do almost anything to alleviate it, including wearing padding that only exacerbates the problem. If a dancer has enough room for bulky pads, the shoe is not properly supporting the sides of the feet.

Now that you have the correct size in the shoes you are trying on, you will need to check the fitting for proper width, box, vamp and shank.

For the box and width: Focus on how your toes and the ball of your foot feel. Are toes held tightly together (no wiggle room) without being pushed on top of each other? With a perfect fit, the edge of the hard part of the box does not show through the satin. The shoe should be snug enough that you can barely slide a finger into the shoe a bit at the top of the foot. If you can fit a finger easily in the throat or sides of the shoe it is too wide or the box is too big. The foot should fit snugly against the top of the shoe. Additionally, the strengthened wing of the shoe should be high enough to just cover the big toe joint, while not restricting demi-pointe.

The compressible foot should be fitted carefully and might need a narrow box or a boxliner. Pointe shoes must not be too narrow. Allow enough width for demi-pointe. If a shoe is too tight, the metatarsals and toes may be constricted and unable to move properly. This can compromise fine control of the forefoot. The front of the shoe should be sleek and snug, but not so tight that bunions bulge or the edge of the box digs into the bunion from underneath it. Shoes that are too wide are unsupportive and can cause great pain. Too tight shoes or shoes or those that are too tapered can promote bunions and cut off circulation.

Next, check the vamp and the strength of the shank: When on pointe, the foot should be over the platform, not held back, over too far, sinking in the box or popping out of the box. In general, short toes want short vamps, long toes want long vamps. The vamp should be long enough to keep the dancer from popping out of the shoe, but short enough to not restrict demi-pointe.

A less flexible ankle is often helped by a shorter vamp, but make sure knuckles and bunions are totally covered. Dancers who go over too far despite deep vamps and straight, stiff shanks should try vamp elastic. If the shank twists noticeably away from the sole of the foot, check the dancer’s alignment and be sure the shoe is not too narrow.

In general, the lighter and more flexible the shank, the easier it is to roll through demi-pointe and to get over the platform. Flexible shanks allow a dancer to achieve a higher demi-pointe before attaining full pointe, and they readily conform to the foot. They are beneficial for less flexible ankles. Professionals often prefer softer shanks because they can better control their shoes.

Firmer shanks may be necessary to prevent a dancer from going over too far, which can overstretch the ankle and hinder placement. Harder shanks are required by dancers with highly arched feet and by those who are tall and big-boned, but they give more resistance in rolling through demi-pointe.

(¾ shanks should never be used to help a dancer get over. Doing so will cause the dancer to sit on the shortened shank and encourage Achilles tendinitis due to the clenched tendon trying to hold the foot in the en pointe position improperly. Sitting is the danger for those new to pointe, because if they are not taught to pull up out of their shoes, they will sit in them. While you can sit in any pointe shoe, ¾ shanks make it easier for lesser experienced dancers to sit in their shoes. I do not allow beginner pointe students to wear ¾ shanks!)

In part two of this article, we’ll finish up this fitting and talk about toe pads.