Pointe shoes are not only beautiful, but serve a very important role in a dancer's performance as they provide the proper support to be able to rise to gorgeous relevés. Without the pointe shoe, ballet as we know it today would not exist.
However, the way the pointe shoe is built, it is easily worn. It is essentially very complicated paper maché art, susceptible to moisture and deformation from weight. While there is some necessary “breaking in” dancers do to make the shoe conform to their foot and arch, after a while personalized fit and support begins to break down.
If you do not feel your pointe shoes helping you, they are probably worn and are unsafe to dance in.
So how do you know when a pointe shoe is no longer properly supporting your foot? There are two key tell-tale signs of a worn pointe shoe:
- Sinking into the box
- A Broken Shank
When you rise to pointe, you should be lifting up through your leg and outer foot and not relying on the shank or box to support you. That said, if you can feel the floor through your toes and your arch is not feeling the resistance of the shank, you may be experiencing “sinking” into the shoe. You may also feel like your toes are “knuckling” inside the box. This can cause a dancer to overcompensate and roll over the box tip, making it more difficult to balance turns. If you do not feel your pointe shoes helping you, they are probably worn and are unsafe to dance in.
Your shank should be “broken in” just below your heel to provide the proper support. However, if the shank is broken further down your foot, closer to your box, the shank is now literally “broken.” When en pointe, you should feel yourself “rise” out of the shoe. If your shank doesn't help you feel light as air, it's time for a new pair.
Pointe shoes have varying expiration dates. Usage and storage are big contributors to how long a pointe shoe can last. Professional dancers tend to go through several pointe shoes a week due to long rehearsal and performance schedules. Other dancers can make their pointe shoes last several months, making sure to allow their shoes to dry after class and store them in a cool, dry place. Just like a car, good maintenance can save you some money in the long run.