Pointe shoes have gone relatively unchanged since they were first designed decades ago. Most pointe shoes are still made from a mix of cardboard, paper, leather, burlap, satin and glue. Pointe shoe padding techniques however, have embraced modern-day technology. There are a plethora of different padding materials and types. With that in mind, its astounding to learn that many students are not padding their pointe shoes to their advantage!
Current Padding Theory:
Current pointe theory says, that if a student is experiencing pain in an area of her feet, she should pad that area to cut down on pain and pressure.
Proper Padding Theory:
In reality, if a student is experiencing pain in an area due to shoe fit, she should build up padding to the areas AROUND the pain or pressure to redistribute weight to a larger surface area, rather than one small pressure point.
For example, consider the tapered feet below: Tapered feet need a tapered shoe and box. Here is the same foot in a tapered shoe:
A tapered box would fit this foot well. This particular box hugs the metatarsal area and would give support of the forefoot. This dancer would most likely leave the pointe shoppe with a pair of high-tech gel pads that cover the toes and forefoot. Perhaps an “Ouch Pouch” that offers a thin layer of a fabric infused with a gel to reduce friction and lightly pad the shoe. This type of pad would work for the first few classes, until the shoe starts to break in. As the shoes mold to the foot and stretch out a bit, this dancer will find increasing pressure on the big toes. If common padding myths are applied, she’ll buy a thicker toe pad or a gel cover for her big toe.
The issue here, however, is that there is a lot of extra negative space left in the shoe where the toes taper off, as seen filled in black below:
In order to ease pressure and pain on the big toe, this dancer needs to increase padding to the negative space. She can wrap her 4 smaller toes in lamb’s wool before putting on her toe pads. Some professional dancers even use newspaper or paper towel to fill the negative space in the shoe.
Building up the negative space will effectively re-distribute pressure from the big toe to the whole foot, which will reduce pain in the big toes and joints. If the dancer continues to dance with all weight on her big toe, she can cause fractures or even bunions to form.
Let’s consider the peasant shaped foot below:
If this dancer were to only apply a pad that covers the toes and forefoot, she’ll leave too much negative space within the shoe. The pinky toe will squish under the 4th toe, and the whole foot will sink 1/4 – 1/3 inch into the shoe. This will put all body weight on the big toe, which will curl or bend in the shoe as it compresses to meet the height of the two toes next to it. The big toe will be forced to bend throughout rehearsal, when it should be straight and flat.
By padding the negative space, the dancer will evenly distribute pressure to a larger surface area, allowing all toes to lay flat and straight without curling.
Adding more and more padding to the area that hurts will only build up more pressure to the area, increasing the pain!
Types of Padding
Toe Pads: Pads that cover the forefoot and toes. This type of pad is often made of a silicone or a gel infused fabric. Other materials are fabric, lamb’s wool, or foam.
Spot Pads: Small pads of various shapes that are designed to reduce pressure in certain areas, build up shorter toes, or reduce the box by 1/2 – 1 full size.
Toe Spacers: Small pads, often made of a soft silicone rubber or gel material, intended to be placed between toes with naturally large spaces between them. Toe spacers can help prevent bunions by keeping the big toe in proper alignment.
Toe Caps: Small caps to cover each toe. Especially helpful for bringing the length of 2nd and 3rd toes to match the length of the big toe.
Loose Filler: Lamb’s wool, newspaper, polyester fiber fill, and paper towels are other materials used in filling negative space within pointe shoes. These materials can be molded to precisely fill any space needed.
Toe Tape: Sports tape or medical tape is often used to cover spots where your feet take extra friction. Tape reduces friction and prevents blisters and hot spots.
A word about dancing with NO PADDING…
There is a school of thought among some members of the dance community who believe a student should dance without pointe shoe padding to toughen the feet and become a better dancer. There are applications where this theory can work. If the dancer has been fitted for a pair of shoes that are a perfect fit this theory can work, meaning there is very little negative space within the shoe, the shoe is the perfect width, and the box fits the exact contour of the toes.
However, PointePerfect.com strongly discourages this practice if the shoes aren’t absolutely the perfect fit. Most dancers will be unable to go without padding in their shoes.
This does not make one dancer superior to another.
Pointe shoes are meant to be an extension of ones foot. Dancing with no pointe shoe padding in a shoe that is not a perfect fit is a recipe for disaster and injury, not tough feet. Padding is meant to enhance the fit of the shoe. Few feet are perfect, and few dancers should go without padding. Instructors are responsible for the safety of their students en pointe. Proper padding is an absolute must!
A word about OVER PADDING…
On the flip side, care must be taken that the dancer is not over padding her feet in the shoes. Too much padding can cut off circulation to the toes, which is dangerous en pointe. The dancer must be able to “feel the floor” while en pointe, so she can tell where the next step should be placed. Some very thick gel pads cause the dancer to lose feeling of the floor. Pointe will always cause some discomfort. To counter this, foot strength will increase as training time increases, and feet will build calluses. The dancer should never pad her shoes so much that she loses the floor and feels nothing.