A dazzling pointe shoe takes the place of the traditional glass slipper when PBT’s prince searches fair and wide for his perfect match. Even outside the fairytale, finding the perfect pointe shoe fit is a Cinderella story unto itself in the reality of a professional ballerina.
When a ballerina first unwraps a pair of brand-new pointe shoes, they won’t remain that way for long. To the untrained eye, it seems absurd to sew, step on and scratch a flawless new pair of pink satin pointe shoes. But, achieving that perfect fit is an incredibly individualized process that often entails sewing, super glue, specifications and even arm strength.
Here, PBT Principal Christine Schwaner shares her tricks for perfecting her pointe shoes.
Christine Schwaner, PBT Principal Dancer
Current Pointe Shoe Style: Freed Maltese Cross, Size 4.5
First Pair of Pointe Shoes: A Brazilian pointe shoe followed by Chacott’s, her first pair of pointe shoes in the U.S.
Design Customizations: Longer vamp (length from toe to opening of shoe), an arc-shaped side cut, higher heel extension (to keep the shoe on the foot)
Pointe Shoe Rotation: 2 pairs of prepared pointe shoes with 4-5 new pairs a week
Tools of the Trade: Hot glue, scissors, hand-sewn ribbons & elastic, Ouch Pouch toe pads
Although pointe shoe preparations are an extremely personal process, PBT Principal Christine Schwaner does entrust one important step to her husband, PBT Soloist Alexandre Silva.
Since she orders shoes with the hardest shank – or sole – strength available, Schwaner calls on her husband to contribute some arm strength. With her guidance, he cuts the shank where it hits the arch of her foot to make sure “the point breaks in the right spot.”
Before cutting, Schwaner usually preps each pair with some hot glue in the toe to extend the life of the shoe. Schwaner finishes up by sewing elastics into her ribbons for performances, and banging the box of the shoes on a hard surface to muffle tapping.
“It’s very time consuming,” she said. “I don’t remember watching TV without having a pointe shoe in my hand.”
Schwaner’s perfect pointe shoe came with the help of a visiting representative from Freed, who gave her a one-on-one fitting at PBT.
“She personalized the pointe shoes. That was a bonus,” she said. “I think pointe shoes are just beautiful. It still amazes me that how we train ourselves to go on the tiptoe of the foot…how graceful you have to be.”
For Schwaner, the pointe shoe acts in tandem with the costumes, makeup and choreography onstage.
“It’s all involved to build the role,” she said. “The pointe shoe, for me, is like the floor. It’s your partner as well. You count on that…I need to have that connection. It’s become very personal that way….Once they’re good to me, I’m very loyal.”