When I first began wearing pointe shoes, we wore them twice a week for 15 minutes at the end of class, so one pair of shoes would last many months. By the time I was an upper-division dancer at the School of American Ballet I would go through several pairs in a week. At $60 a pop this was prohibitively expensive. (Today’s prices are even more so; a recent visit to the Freed of London website showed a current price of $94 per pair, and Capezio shoes ranged from $63-79 per pair).
Luckily the School of American Ballet provided a solution: the infamous shoe room. The shoe room was filled with shelf after shelf of New York City Ballet company cast-offs, those shoes deemed unacceptable by various company members for various reasons. Some were obvious, like a lumpy box on a pair of pointe shoes but most were serviceable. School of American Ballet students were able to avail themselves of the shoe room and purchase shoes for the incredibly low price of $15. It was a bargain that was too good to pass up.
However, using the shoe room came with a different price: an inordinate amount of time spent waiting. The shoe room was only open a few hours per week for two hours at a time and we were only allowed in to browse one at a time. (Why this was the case remains an unexplained mystery). However, we never questioned the rules and learned to wait patiently outside the door until Miss Finn, school secretary and steadfast gatekeeper of the shoe room announced our turn.
The shoe room was a tiny little room adjacent to the girls’ dressing room. Okay, it was a closet… but a luxuriously large closet as closets go – any janitor would have been overjoyed to call it headquarters… But this humble closet was a hot spot, the stuff of legend to any newcomer who had not yet ventured inside – it was the difference between affording a new pair of pointe shoes or trying to revive an old pair by pouring polyeurethane in the boxes and baking them in the oven.
Once inside, a decision had to be made as quickly as possible, since time was always running short and a line of other dancers waited just on the other side of the door. Anyone who took too long was sure to hear about it from the others. One boy took so long choosing his (leather) ballet slippers that the entire line of waiting dancers grumbled. “What are you doing in there?” someone finally asked. His muffled reply through door: “Killing the cow.”
Most New York City Ballet dancers wore pointe shoes from Freed of London. The leather soles of the shoes had symbols stamped into them, indicating the “maker” of the shoe. If you already knew which dancer’s shoes (and maker) you preferred, it was easy to grab a few pairs and try them on to see which ones felt best. When the selection(s) were made, you exited and paid Miss Finn and it was the next person’s turn.
It always felt satisfying to leave the shoe room with a pile of shoes. But then again, it also meant a whole lot of sewing since each pair needed ribbons and elastic. Even so, an armload of pink satin is a beautiful thing.
How pointe shoes are made… A clue to why they are so expensive…
Ashley Bouder, NYCB:
Though she’s not sure how many pairs she wears in a season, Bouder typically uses one pair per performance, but if she’s dancing a full-length ballet such as Swan Lake, she’ll use at least two pairs in one night.
Gaylor Minden’s guidelines:
The average life of a pointe shoe is somewhere between 4-12 HOURS of dancing. If your daughter is en pointe 15 minutes per class twice per week, her shoes may last 8-20 weeks. If your daughter is en pointe for a 1 . hour class followed by 2 hours of rehearsal 3 times per week, she may be lucky to get 3-4 weeks of use out of a pair of shoes.
Soloist Callie Manning, Miami City Ballet on preparing shoes:
Every dancer prepares their shoes differently. It can take years of trial and error to find what works best for you. Some of my tricks include: using super glue to make my pointe shoes EXTRA hard and last longer; stitching around the tips (this is called “darning”) to make a nice flat platform; and I also sew an inch of elastic into each ribbon to give them a little stretch. When we are performing I can go through roughly 2-4 pairs per week (even after adding 8 tubes of super glue per pair). It can sometimes take me up to 45 minutes from start to finish to prepare my shoes.