When a ballerina unwraps a shiny new pair of pointe shoes, they won’t stay that way for long. To the untrained eye, it seems absurd to sew, step on and scratch a satiny pair of $80+ shoes. But for a ballerina, finding the perfect pointe shoe is a Cinderella story of sorts. It starts with choosing a style and manufacturer, like Freed, Capezio or Gaynor Minden, that fits the shape of her foot. Next, comes some DIY refinement. Each ballerina must figure out how to break in her pointe shoes to customize her fit and support her personal dancing style. It’s an incredibly individualized process that often entails sewing, super glue and even arm strength. Here, PBT Principal Dancer Alexandra Kochis takes us through her process.
Alexandra Kochis, PBT Principal dancer
Current Pointe Shoe Style: Freeds, Maker U, Size 4
First Pair of Pointe Shoes: Capezio Contempras, Size 1c
Retired Pointe Shoes: Average 50 pairs a season
-No X (for narrow width)
-Size 4 with heel pin (to make them ¼ size bigger)
-Sides cut down (to show the shape of the foot)
-Elastic drawstring and U-shaped vamp
Tools of the Trade: Shellac, superglue, blue handy wipes, construction-strength tin snips, needle & crochet thread, hand-sewn flexer ribbons
Organization System: Kochis names each pair in alphabetized order based on different themes (fruit, candy, etc.)
“It’s a really old-school industry; it’s sort of a labor of love,” Kochis said of the traditionally hand-made craft, which requires six-month lead time for ordering.
But despite the personalized care, each time Kochis unwraps a new pair of pointe shoes, they’re likely to vary slightly from other pairs of the same style. That’s why she’s developed her own roughly 10-step process to personally tailor each pair to her exact preferences.
Starting with a basic, stock-strength shanked shoe, Kochis uses utility-strength scissors to cut the shank – or sole of the pointe shoe – where it hits the arch of her foot for flexibility. Kochis then takes up needle and thread to sew elastics to her ribbons and darn around the toe, enclosing the platform with a circle of small stitches. This creates resistance and keeps her evenly balanced on the box of her shoes.
“It evens out every pair. It gives me a real platform to work on,” she said.
As her shoes break in from use, Kochis sprays shellac and applies super glue inside the pointe shoe to reinforce high-stress areas.
“I like them soft, so I’ll wear them a lot longer,” she said. “When it’s super hard, I feel kind of out of touch with the floor.”
Leaving the satin on the toe’s platform to wear on its own, Kochis scrapes the bottoms with an old-fashioned cobbler’s leather scraper to make the shoes less slippery. Before sliding in her feet, Kochis wraps her toes in blue handy wipes for padding.
Kochis usually spends an hour a week to break in and maintain a rotation of 12-14 pairs of pointe shoes to choose from for rehearsals and performances. She chooses pointe shoes based on the choreography, going for a softer pair for jumps, for example, and a harder pair for turns.
For now at least, Kochis has achieved her perfect pointe shoe fit. She hasn’t altered her order for nearly 10 years.
“In ballet, your feet are like your hands, you have to be able to have the most tactility and control onstage…your shoe hopefully will be like a natural continuation of your foot…When you have that style…you covet those shoes.”
Here is her process in pictures: