There are lots of information on how to find a the perfect-fitting pointe shoes, but did you know that choosing the right padding can affect not only the fit of your shoes but also your ability to dance for many hours on your toes? Dancing en pointe will never be completely comfortable….you just do it, through the pain, slowly gaining strength and getting used to the pain that it eventually feels normal. But, it doesn’t have to be excruciating pain. There are lots of options you can choose from to help you focus on the dance and not on the pain.
Beginners whose feet are not calloused yet and are just learning to get used to pointe work tend to rely more heavily on their shoes. They are more prone to blisters and abrasions, and will usually choose thicker pads that provide both lots of cushioning and protection from abrasions. As they progress and become more advanced, their feet become stronger and more calloused, relying less on the shoe to hold them up and generally prefer thinner padding to allow them to articulate the foot better and feel the shoe as a part of their foot.
It is generally recommended to pick the thinnest padding you are comfortable dancing in. This ensures that pointe shoes fit as close to the actual size and shape of your feet. Don’t worry if you find that your toe pad choice does not live up to its initial expectation. Many dancers develop their preferred padding over many years. Some change toe pads according to the demands of the choreography; thinner padding for Romeo and Juliet and thicker for Don Quixote. Some dancers use a combination of some sort. Experiment. Only by dancing in them will you know if it is the right padding for you.
Types of padding
Cut-up socks, old tights, stockings
Advantage: economical, reusable/washable, widely available, thickness can be customized
Disadvantage: provides padding according to thickness which means if you want more padding, you will need thicker layers thus sacrificing foot flexibility and ability to feel the floor en pointe.
Recommended for dancers who are looking to protect their feet more from abrasions than for cushioning.
Paper towel/toilet paper
Advantage: economical, widely available, absorbent, thin
Disadvantage: not sturdy, can be messy, offers minimal protection. Paper towels or tissue paper easily breaks within the shoe. It can disintegrate and cause uncomfortable residue on your feet inside the shoe, does not provide cushioning
Band aids/toe tape/athletic wraps
Advantage: economical, widely available, convenient, hygienic, thin, certain degree of customizability, can be used in combination with other padding
Disadvantage: plastic band-aids may unravel and cause abrasions between toes, fabric band aids may be better, applying can be time consuming, does not provide cushioning, only protects from abrasion
Advantage: natural, more breathable than synthetic, reusable, easily moulds to the feet including between toes, thin, some have treated with antibacterial properties preventing stink
Disadvantage: little to no cushioning, wears out quickly
Lambs wool toe pads
Advantage: same with lambs wool but without the ability to mould to between the toes, preformed makes it quick and easy to wear
Disadvantage: little cushioning, wears out quickly
Foam toe pads
Advantage: economical, provides good cushioning
Disadvantage: usually thick and may alter the feel or fit of the pointe shoe and not allow dancer to feel the floor, not very breathable and can get stinky
Cloth-covered gel pads
Advantage: thin yet provides good protection and cushioning, washable and reusable, long wearing, cloth absorbs the sweat so feet stay comfortable
Disadvantage: can be more expensive compared to other padding options
Advantage: provides very good cushioning, available in various thicknesses, reusable/washable
Disadvantage: thicker silicone pads may alter the fit of the shoe quite noticeably, dancers may not feel the floor due to the cushioning that the material provides, can be more expensive compared to other padding options
Gel/foam inserts and mini pads
Advantage: made of various materials and thickness allowing for a more customized cushioning and protection where the dancer needs it (e.g. more cushioning on the tips and less on the top and bottom of the toes), worn on the shoe and not on the feet so less prep work involved when wearing shoes
Disadvantage: may shift inside the shoe so better to put an adhesive, may have to get multiple sets if dancer alternates shoes
Individual toe sleeves
Advantage: provides good cushioning and protection to particular toes such as a longer 2nd toe or the big toe, takes very little space in the shoe allowing the dancer to feel the floor and articulate the foot well, can be combined with other thinner types of padding or protection
Disadvantage: only protects particular toes not the whole forefoot
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Just pick your padding and parade en pointe! (Can you say that quickly ten times?)