by Cara Marie Gary
I began taking pointe classes when I was eight years old. I still have my first pair of Leo’s pointe shoes. They’re so small and narrow I don’t think I could fit my first toe and bunion inside them now! One of my ballet instructors, Anita Pacylowski-Justo, helped me transition to the shoe she wore as a dancer. Every since trying on her Bloch Serenade, my foot “fell in love” with this shoe.
I’ve tried to experiment with other brands like Chacott, Russian Pointe, Gaynor Minden, Sansha, Freed, and Capezio, but I always keep coming back to Bloch Serenade (Style: SO131L Width:D Size:2). I like this shoe because it has a wide, square platform which is good for my peasant foot (meaning that my toes are similar in length). I also like that the shank is strong enough to prevent my foot from going too far over pointe.
I’ve perfected my shoe preparation process and can have a pair ready to wear in roughly thirty minutes. I first begin by peeling back the leather sole lining and using my pretty pink pliers to remove the nail. Within the last couple of years I’ve noticed that this technique allows the shank to form better to my foot.
I use my lighter to make sure that the ribbons and elastic don’t fray on the ends; then sew my flexor ribbons and elastic on about one inch from the side seam. I criss-cross two pieces of elastic from the center of my arch to the back of my heel. I prefer using dental floss when sewing because it is stronger and more reliable than thread.
I always jet glue the inside tip of my pointe shoe before wearing them because it prevents the shoe from softening too quickly. Be careful with this quick drying substance. It is painful when it gets stuck to your fingers or even worse, your eyes! One time when I was a student, I held the bottle too close to my face while dripping the glue into my shoe and some of it splashed into my eye! I remember screaming until my mom ran upstairs and had me flush out my eye for twenty minutes. I haven’t made that mistake again.
After letting the jet glue dry, I completely remove the leather sole lining that tends to roll up under my arch when dancing and cause painful blisters.
Depending on the ballet, I will either leave the shoes in their natural satin pink state or I will use Kryolan Aquacolor 9W to make the pointe shoes match my skin tone. At this point I’m finished sewing my pointe shoes and just need to break them in.
I either step on the box of my shoe or use my hands to squish the area so that it is flat. I then slide my calloused toes into my Ouch Pouch Jr. toepads and slightly tighten the drawstring.
I cut off any extra drawstring that goes past the box and then I tuck the drawstring inside with my foot. I spray rubbing alcohol on the area of the shoe that allows me to roll through demi-pointe. I want to make sure this section is pliable so I can roll through easily. It also feels really good on your bunion and pinky toe when this area of the pointe shoe is soft.
You will never catch me without my shoe ruffer. This device is one of the most important tools I use to scratch and roughen up the bottom sole of my pointe shoe. It’s a treasured piece of wood with about 50 sharp, heavy-duty nails sticking out of one end. I can never lose this tool because they’ve discontinued the model I own and if lost it can only be replaced by a much weaker child safe version.
Even with all of these adjustments to my shoe, it doesn’t eradicate the fact that I’m still standing on my toes. I’ve had my fair share of bruised toenails, bloody blisters, calluses, bunions, and corns. At times my feet will cramp, go numb, or get really swollen. Despite all of this, dancing on pointe gives me a sense of accomplishment.
The Joffrey Ballet presents “Unique Voices” from February 11 – 22 at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. This program features Maninyas by Stanton Welch, James Kudelka’s The Man In Black, and Tulle, by Alexander Ekman. All three are Joffrey premieres.
Contributor Cara Marie Gary is a native of Belton, South Carolina. She joined The Joffrey Ballet in July 2012. Prior to joining The Joffrey Ballet, Ms. Gary danced with American Ballet Theatre’s ABTII and was an apprentice with Orlando Ballet. Ms. Gary began her formal ballet training at International Ballet Academy in Greer, South Carolina, under Hennadii Bespechnyi and Vlada Kvsselova. Ms. Gary received additional training at summer intensives with American Ballet Theatre, Brianskv Saratoga Ballet Center, Ukrainian Academy of Dance South Carolina Governors School, Ballet Spartanburg, and Chautauqua Institution. Ms. Gary graduated with honors from Belton-Honea Path High School and is currently pursuing a Business Administration degree online through North Greenville University.
In 2010, Ms. Gary was a competitor in the IX USA International Ballet Competition held in Jackson, Mississippi. She was a top twelve finalist in the Youth America Grand Prix National Finals in 2008 and 2009. She also received the overall Grand Prix Award in the 2009 YAGP regional semi-finals. In 2006, she was awarded a Diploma of Laureate at the VI Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition held in Kiev, Ukraine.
Ms. Gary has had the opportunity to tour throughout the United States and Europe. Ms. Gary has performed the title role in classical ballets such as The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, Don Quixote, Paquita, Markitanka pas de six, and Coppelia. Her repertoire with ABT II includes roles in the Flame of Paris pas de deux, Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, Antony Tudor’s Continuo, George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante and Stars and Stripes pas de deux, Jessica Lang’s Vivace Motifs, Roger Vanfleteren’s Pavlovsk, Jodi Gate’s A Taste of Sweet Velvet, Aszure Barton’s Barbara, and Edward Liang’s Ballo Per Sei. Ms. Gary has performed roles in new choreography by Robert Hill. Her repertoire with Orlando Ballet also consists of Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake.