How Ballerinas Customize Their Pointe Shoes

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Olivia Boisson is a corps de ballet member with New York City Ballet. Boisson has been with NYC Ballet for seven years. As a corps member, Boisson dances 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. She showed us how she customizes her pointe shoes for performances.

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Following is a transcript of the video.

Olivia Boisson: Hi, I'm Olivia Boisson. I'm a corps de ballet member with the New York City Ballet. Every dancer is trying to make their pointe shoe a part of them, so they wanna mold it to their foot as much as possible. So there's a lot involved to make that happen. It's really important, because we have them on from 10:00 a.m., to 11:00 p.m., so you wanna make sure that there's nothing bothering you. So you fix them and fix them until they're right.

If I'm performing and rehearsing a lot, it could be up to three pairs a day. They aren't very strong when you're working with them all day. So, they typically do die pretty fast. Regular ballet flats are just, very soft. They're usually canvas, or leather. You can't go up en pointe with them. Pointe shoes are normally a bit harder so that you can get up on your toes. And men typically wear the ballet flats, and women normally wear them to warm up, but not always. Pointe shoes are around $80 to $90 a pair. At least that's how much they were when I was growing up. But the company gives all the pointe shoes for free, so we have as many as we need.

Every dancer sews their pointe shoes differently. All to support your ankle in different ways. I put mine a little bit further forward, probably like an inch away from this seam. I'm just gonna smush the box. The box is where your toes go, and it's typically pretty tough, and pretty hard when you get a new shoe, and so you want it to be a little bit more malleable so that you can move your toes inside the box. So, I'm gonna smush them.

I need to be able to move that part, so I'm gonna stick my heel in the middle, and pop it like that, so that, now I can bend this part of the shoe. This is called the shank. It's kind of like, your arch support. But you want it to bend, so that you can point your foot. So now they bend in here and they bend here, so it's a little easier for me to get my foot in there. Now I'm gonna bang them, because they're still pretty loud. And when you're dancing, it's very distracting. Alright.

I usually will put a little Second Skin. They're like little gel squares. So, I usually put them at the tips of my big toes, 'cause that is where most of the pressure is when I'm en pointe, and then I tape them so that they stay on. And then I'm gonna put an elastic here, and then I'm gonna put my paper towels on. I just wanna get a good bend in my shoe, which is why I'm like, pushing them out like this. They feel pretty good.

Alright, so now the bottom of the shoe is all, not as smooth, so it's harder to like, slip. So, this is rosin. You can like, smash it and it becomes powder and you kind of, just wipe your foot. Like, the edges that are slippery, and it's a lot less, slippery. Sometimes the very tip here will get very soft. So then I will use this hot glue to harden it back up again. That way you don't have to like, sew a whole new shoe. You can sort of make this last a little bit longer.

Some dancers will put it on the outside. Sometimes they do that, to give it a little bit more support at the top, so that it's not so soft when you get up. With a new pair, it just really keeps you all the way up. With a dead pair, it'd get really soft in here. Everything would just be much more soft. So it's harder to dance hours and hours when the shoe isn't keeping you up. You have to do a lot more work.

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