If you are a dancer, or are the parent of a dancer, who is now dancing en pointe, you know that pointe shoes can be expensive and making them last longer can be a boost to pointe shoe budget!
Before we get into the meat of this post, I would like to mention that it is UNSAFE to wear pointe shoes that are “dead”. This means that the shoe is too soft to support the dancers foot and can result in injury and strain on the numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the foot and ankle. If your shoes are beyond re-hardening, please do not continue to wear them for the sake of saving money. It is not worth the injury that may result!!!
That being said, here are some steps you can take to help your shoes last longer!
Shellac your shoes before wearing them.
Shellac, (yes the varnish used on wood floors!) does two things for your pointe shoe. First, Shellac seals the inside of your shoes before wearing them, preventing the sweat from soaking into the shoe. Moisture is one of the main agents in breaking down the paste in the shoe. Preventing moisture from getting into the canvas from the beginning can be essential in prolonging the life of your shoe. Additionally, Shellac hardens the shoe slightly and prevents them from getting to soft too soon.
Shellac can be purchased at most home improvement or hardware stores. (I personally prefer the kind you purchase in a paint can, but some prefer to use the spray application. For our purposes, I will detail how to use the liquid form.) You should also purchase several cheap 1 inch paintbrushes to apply the shellac. Make sure the Shellac is mixed, then apply a thin layer of Shellac to the inside of the shoe’s box – on the bottom and up the sides. Make sure not to Shellac higher than your metatarsals so that your shoe is still able to bend at your demi-pointe. Once the Shellac soaks in, you can apply another layer if you wish. You need to allow your shoes dry for a full 24hrs before wearing them in class.
You can use this same method to re-harden your shoes after they begin to break down! For re-hardening, make sure that you allow your shoes to dry before applying the Shellac and also allow the Shellac to dry before wearing them in class.
Use Jet Glue to re-harden your shoes.
Some dancers like to use a little Jet Glue, or another re-hardening glue, before wearing their shoes the first time. I would caution against putting too much glue in your shoes initially because it will result in your shoes hardening too much resulting in your shoes being very loud while you are dancing! I prefer to only use Jet Glue after my shoes have broken in to allow the outside of the shoe to soften enough to quiet the shoes.
Jet Glue can be applied in the same manner as Shellac, however, I would recommend gluing the bottom of the shoe, and not quite as far up on the sides as you would for Shellac. The glue is much harder and can bother your toes! Dancers do have different preferences, however, so you can test what works best for you and your feet. Jet Glue can be purchased at Ballet 5:8’s front desk.
Purchase more than one pair and Rotate!
This is probably the most important step in preserving your pointe shoes. Although the up front cost of purchasing two pairs of shoes is higher, it is well worth it in the long run! Dancers should allow shoes to dry in an open area (not inside a dance bag) the day after they wear them and use the alternate pair of shoes the next day. Dancers should continue to rotate their shoes each day. As we discussed before, moisture is a key factor in breaking down the paste in your pointe shoe. Allowing your shoes to dry after each wear for a full day will significantly slow the break down of the paste due to moisture! Older dancers who are dancing for many hours a day may want to consider changing shoes between class and rehearsal and rotating 3-4 pairs at a time. It can also be helpful to label each pair with a different number, letter, or symbol to keep track of different paris of your shoes!
As always, check with your pointe teacher if you have questions about your pointe shoes - they are a wonderful resource!
There are also some additional ways to help strengthen the box of your shoe (such as putting an extra nail in the shank!) If the above steps are not enough to help your shoes last longer please talk to your pointe teacher for their recommendations.
This post's author, Mrs. Lauren Ader-Cumpston, served as the Ballet Mistress for the Ballet 5:8 professional company from 2012-2017 and is the Founding Director of Ballet 5:8 School of the Arts's Conservatory Program.