When I started pointe class last fall, I had no idea how to break in pointe shoes. Of course I heard of people bending the shank, banging the shoe on the floor, hammering or standing on the box and even slamming a shoe in a door frame. Remember the montage of dancers breaking in their shoes in the movie Center Stage? Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew that trying one of these methods was a surefire way to break (not break in) my pointe shoes.
On the first day of class, my instructor had us put on the pointe shoes and walk, then run around in demi-pointe. Although I felt like I was shuffling around in wooden shoes, I knew this was the first step to actually breaking in the shoes … I just couldn’t imagine my feet being strong enough and lasting long enough to break them in successfully. I felt more discouraged when I releved – my feet looked like tiny stilts.
A bit depressed and embarrassed, I lamented about my first class to my neighbor, a ballet dancer who performed the Sugarplum Fairy role in a professional DC-area Nutcracker production just 8 months after having twins. “Oh … maybe I’m in over my head. Maybe I’m not ready. Maybe I shouldn’t even be trying pointe,” I sighed.
She scoffed, “That was your first day! And you had on new pointe shoes! What do you expect?” She paused and thought for a moment. “Try this: wear your pointe shoes in the house, but put socks on over the shoes. Walk around the house in demi-pointe while doing your normal tasks, like the laundry, dishes, etc. with socks over the shoes.”
I wasn’t sure if this was going to work but tried it anyway. At least this method seemed safe (for me and my shoes) and built onto what I did in class. After a few of 20-minute sessions of walking around in pointe shoes in demi-pointe (that is all my feet could stand at the time), I felt like the shoes were not so stiff … and I felt less discouraged. Of course breaking in the shoes didn’t happen overnight and more exercises in class were needed to break them in, but I felt encouraged by this low-maintenance, convenient method that worked from my own body heat and foot strength. I liked this method because:
- the socks kept in body heat to warm up the shoes, which of course softened the shank and box, allowing them to mold to shape of my foot;
- I wasn’t breaking or bending the shank in random places;
- the socks protected the shoes from being scratched up;
- I didn’t worry about slipping on the tile floors with the socks’ traction;
- I was strengthening my feet at same time and;
- this method took no time out of my day since I could incorporate it in my everyday activities – especially important for adult dancers!
By my second class, the shoes felt much more comfortable and I could bend and flex my foot to roll up and releve. I can’t say that walking around demi-pointe in pointe shoes covered with socks broke in my pointe shoes completely, but it was an encouraging start.
This week’s profile comes all the way from France:
Cynthia, who runs a blog over on Tumblr at http://alldayandallnight.tumblr.com/, shares why she started ballet at age 24.
When did you start doing ballet as an adult?
I started this year, in September, at age 24.
Did you ever take lessons as a kid?
No. I would have loved to but my mom was against the idea I did rhythmic gymnastics as a kiddo but quit after a few years. I went back to gymnastics (artistic this time) for leisure at age 15 and never stopped. Now I help training the kids and use some time to work on my flexibility.
Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?
Last year I took a floor barre class. I thought I would never be able to start ballet so late, so I figured floor barre would be a way to get nearer the ballet world. I was quite anxious but the teacher was really nice, and it seems everyone there had wanted to take ballet classes but didn’t. I wasn’t able to attend it again this year, so I took my courage and asked if I could join a ballet class. The beginner’s class was only for kiddos, but she said I could definitely come to the advanced class. I did; and although the first classes were just a blur, I enjoyed it so much!
Where do you take classes?
I take classes, 2 hours twice a week, at a little studio in my hometown (near Paris, France).
What is your favorite part about ballet?
(Can I say the male ballet dancers’ butts?) The grace of the dancers. And the costumes! Personally I feel like the hippopotamus in Fantasia but I’m working on it.
What is your least favorite part?
Turning. I really have bad upper/lower body coordination but my head… it doesn’t like to turn. And being behind in classes; the others all have years and years of practice, so sometimes I feel like I don’t belong here.
Who/What is your ballet inspiration?
Probably my dance teacher. She’s really a great teacher, very nice – and beautiful ! She pushes us to our best. She believed I could perform a variation after only 4 months. And I did. I’m eager to see what we’ll do for the annual gala.
What motivates you to keep dancing?
I simply love it, even though it’s hard sometimes – it’s really a dream come true, so I won’t let it go. And that my dance teacher believes in me. I’m shy and a negative person, so it helps to have someone acknowledging your improvements.
Do you take any other dance classes?
No. But I’d love to learn other dances (like Irish dance or hula) !
What are your hobbies outside of ballet?
I’m a bookworm. And I love going to the museums. I’m also a student-teacher and would like to teach French abroad.
What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?
No matter your age, your body shape, your flexibility… you can do it if you want it! What’s important is to do it with passion. Go dancers!
Anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re willing to understand the basic moves and vocabulary before your first class, or even if you get lost at some point, you can find videos on youtube and stuff in books at the library. And of course, don’t hesitate to tell your dance teacher you didn’t understand.
Do you have a blog?
I blog about books, rugby, ballet, gymnastics, but mostly silly stuff and personal bits too.