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 Alexandra Kochis shares her tricks for perfecting her pointe shoes.
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.)
Somewhere in London, at the Freed pointe shoe factory, there is a maker who hand crafts each pair of Alexandra Kochis’ Maker U pointe shoes.
“It’s a really old-school industry; it’s sort of a labor of love,” Kochis said of the traditionally hand-made craft, which required 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 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 shoe to reinforce different 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. For the past seven years with PBT, she hasn’t altered her order.
“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.”