102_0102I recently got a new pair of pointe shoes. Like almost every other pair I’ve ever had, they’re Grishko 2007, 5.5 XXX, medium shank. To anyone who isn’t familiar with ballet and with pointe shoe lingo, that means absolutely nothing. To anyone who is, it gives a pretty specific description of what my feet are like, because pointe shoes are a very individualized thing. Different dancers have different pointe shoe preferences based mainly upon the shape, size, and strength of their feet. If I wanted to give you an even better knowledge of the nature of my feet, I could do so by describing exactly how this particular type of shoe fits me.

For those of you who don’t know much about pointe shoes, I will clarify that Grishko is the brand, 2007 is the name of that particular product, 5.5 is the size, (which obviously does not correspond to street shoe size), XXX is the width, and “medium shank” refers to the stiffness of the part of the shoe that would be called the sole in most types of shoe.  (Technically, a pointe shoe has both a shank and a sole, but they’re more or less in the same part of the shoe) I haven’t actually tried enough different types of shoes to be completely sure that this is the best possible shoe for me; in fact, I would expect that a shoe with a shorter vamp would be more comfortable given the shape of my toe joints. Still, I’m pretty fond of the Grishko 2007. It fits decently and, in my personal opinion, it’s basically the prettiest pointe shoe available.

I'm sticking this is just for reference, although some of these labels aren't terms that are used very often.

I’m sticking this is just for reference, although some of these labels aren’t terms that are used very often.

Despite my regard for my particular kind of pointe shoes, and despite the pointe shoe obsession that I share with pretty much every other ballet student in the world, I thoroughly hate getting new pointe shoes. Of course, it’s very difficult to dance in old shoes that have gotten too soft and weak, (or, to use a technical term, “dead”) but the transition from a dead pair of shoes to a brand new pair of shoes is pretty miserable.

Have you ever gotten a finger or toe slammed in a door? Wearing new pointe shoes for the first time feels like having your entire foot slammed in a door, with someone holding the door shut on your foot for the duration of the class or rehearsal. Just in case anyone reads that as hyperbole or humor, I want to emphasize that it really isn’t. A new pair of pointe shoes is extremely hard and quite tight, even if it fits just fine a few days later. Bruises, blisters, bloody toes, and swelling are so characteristic of the ballet experience that it’s weird and unusual not to be suffering from at least one of those afflictions at any given time. Stress fractures and tendonitis are perfectly normal, too, although they are more avoidable. Crushed toes are not avoidable at all. Of course, in my case, the thing about the longer-than-ideal vamp doesn’t help. And it’s true that it’s possible to start breaking pointe shoes in before actually dancing in them, which also helps. But there’s only so much that can be done; it’s inevitable that the first time one wears a new pair of pointe shoes is not going to be an enjoyable experience.

This particular shoe and I got along quite nicely, at least for a couple weeks in the middle of its career.

This particular shoe and I got along quite nicely, at least for a couple weeks in the middle of its career.

It seems like every pair of pointe shoes breaks in slightly differently. Some pairs become reasonably comfortable as soon as they’ve been worn a couple times and have softened just a little bit. Others remain tight and painful right up until the moment that they’re too dead to feel right and function properly. When a pair of shoes is temperamental like that, bruised toenails are inevitable, because that is a problem caused both by shoes that are too hard and shoes that are too soft. On some pointe shoes, the shank is the first part to die, which basically means that the shoe becomes too weak along the bottom of the foot and it becomes difficult to hold the foot in the correct position on pointe. That will hinder balance and control, but it actually makes the dancer’s foot look really good on pointe and it doesn’t generally hurt. Other times, the first part to go soft is the part where the platform meets the bottom of the vamp. (That is, the front of the shoe right at the tip) I know that other people sometimes have the platform die before anything else, but that isn’t something I’ve experienced. I don’t know whether that’s because of the kind of shoe I have or because of the shape of my foot.

On my new pointe shoes, the shanks are probably going to be the first thing to die. They’re already pretty well broken in, which is great right now because it means that the shoes already look good on my feet, (which sometimes can take a few days or even weeks) but it probably means that I can’t count on the shanks to stay hard for very long. The box, on the other hand, is still pretty tight. In fact, on the right shoe, I’ve even bruised my fingers while pulling my shoe onto my foot, and not surprisingly, my foot is more badly bruised. I’m hoping that they’ll soften soon and that this pair of shoes will be friends with me, but I’m guessing that this will be the kind of pair that will be dead before I really have finished breaking them in. (Note to my sister: It’s okay for me to end this sentence with a preposition because the word “in” is not acting as a preposition; it’s acting as part of the verb “break in”.)

102_0103So, to all the non-dancers who like to ask if it “hurts to stand on your toes like that”, the answer is yes. Yes, it does. But we do it anyway because it’s fun and it looks cool.