Tuesday, May 6, 2008

More Shoe Questions

Here's a question that came in about our shoes:

What are the shoes called that men wear? Do they too have the flat looking stiff toe like the women's? If not, how are they able to get up on their toes like you do? How long does a pair of shoes last? I know that it's likely to be different for each ballerina, but is there an average? 100 pairs sounds like so many!

Well, luckily (or not, depending on how you look at it), the men don't actually ever dance "on their toes", or on pointe, as the women do. They wear softer slippers made of either leather or canvas that don't have a hard toe box like pointe shoes do. The sole of the mens' shoes are somewhat stiff, but not nearly as hard as the shank of a pointe shoe. I think most of the men wear what we call "split sole" shoes now, which means that there are two separate pieces of material on the bottom of the shoe, one under the ball of the foot and one under the heel. The material in the middle is gathered together to make the shoe form more nicely to the foot and hug the arch. Men aren't immune to shoe problems, but theirs aren't custom made and they last a lot longer than pointe shoes do, so they're generally less problematic.

As far as how long pointe shoes last, that's an interesting question because it really does vary a lot. Generally, given their price (round about $80 a pair, but I'm trying to find out the exact price for us-- I think we get a discount for buying in bulk), their life span is ridiculously short. However, there are certain "makers" (each shoemaker has his own symbol by which we identify him, and we refer to them as Maker C, Maker Diamond, Maker Anchor, etc.) that are known to last longer than others. This might be because their shoes are harder or shaped differently, or just because they fit a certain dancer's foot really well. But then other makers are known to "melt", meaning they might be nice shoes but are more lightweight and just kind of disintigrate pretty quickly. Another huge factor is what exactly you are wearing those shoes for--- what particular ballet or role you're doing, and how hard or long your rehearsals are. A classical pas de deux nearly always requires very hard shoes because you spend so much time doing adagio work on pointe, there tend to be a lot of supported pirouettes, and if your shoes are soft your partner often can't find where your center of balance is. Performances of such a ballet call for a brand new pair, which I will have broken in slightly during class that morning. For rehearsals for something like that I might wear previously worn shoes, but they've still got to be pretty hard.
But then there are other ballets that you don't want hard shoes for, or that actually work better in softer shoes. Even though you don't have the same support, in softer shoes you have more connection to the floor and more control over off-pointe steps. For class, I will either break in a new pair for a rehearsal or performance later that day, or will just pull out whatever I have handy in my shoe bin that I know I won't need for anything else. (One of the worst feelings is to realize that you "wasted" a really great pair of pointe shoes in class, and then can't use them for a rehearsal or performance).
So, to answer the question (at last), there really is no one answer! With hard use, they can last you only a few hours, but certain pairs can last for days. A performance of a classical ballet will usually eat up a single pair in one night, but that pair might then still be usable for class or a rehearsal later. Sometimes a dancer will hit on a maker whose shoes are quite hard and heavy (some dancers prefer this, some hate it) and they'll last for several shows of a ballet that's less pointework-heavy. (We also use a type of glue intended for building model airplanes to add a little life to our shoes. A few drops seals the tip to make it less water-soluble. Unfortunately, it also makes them louder and if it leaks through to the outside, quite slippery).
I would say an AVERAGE might be two or three days for the lifespan of a pointe shoe. For some of us it's longer, some it's shorter. There are so many variables that come into play having to do with different makers, techniques, foot problems, injuries, fluctuations in the quality and construction of the shoes, that it's impossible to give a specific answer.


  1. I hope that you are not too bombarded with questions about pointe shoes. But I was wondering, look at all of those shoes in the picture and when I go to the performances, in the baskets and at the tables...has any body considered the issues with sustainability and if any part of the pointe shoes can be recycled? And if you don't sell them all, what happens to them? Thank you for these blogs and I am glad that you are on the road to recovery and looking forward to see you dancing on stage.