How to Choose a Toe Pad for Ballet
Pointe shoes enable ballet dancers to rise onto the very tips of their toes. Although the structure of the shoes provides plenty of support for a properly strengthened foot, they can still be painful to wear without any padding.
Types of Toe Pad Material
There are toe pads made for dancers of all levels. Since everyone’s feet have unique needs, there are additional accessories available to alleviate specific discomforts. Read on to see if there is something on the market for your foot.
Regular practice is for young girls to purchase a box of plush lamb’s wool to stuff at the bottom of the pointe shoes when the girls first go en pointe. Generally, lamb’s wool is gathered into a ball about the size of a fist, then stretched and wrapped around the toes. This creates a uniform pad.
Although some dancers still swear by it, lamb’s wool has a tendency to get matted down after a few relevés, leaving gaping holes in the pad. When this happens, some toes are left unprotected — ouch! If you love lamb’s wool, try to wrap the wool around your bare foot, and then put your tights over the pad. This will help alleviate bunching. You can also find the pre-formed lamb’s wool pads that stay in place. Another use for lamb’s wool is to use it for specific problem areas in conjunction with other pads.
There are many plastic pads on the market that contain a malleable gel-like substance inside. Often, the pad is a bit stiff when cool, but becomes more viscous when warmed within the pointe shoe. These pads are often used by beginners, as they provide quite a bit of pain relief. However, some dancers complain that the gel squishes away from the areas taking on the most pressure en pointe, leaving little cushion where you might want it the most. More advanced dancers often say that these pads are a bit too bulky.
Among the most popular pads on the market right now are ones made of a uniformed “gummy” substance. They often come in varying thicknesses for different levels of dancers, and some have an attached fabric cover. Newer pointe dancers will usually choose the thickest pad, as their feet are not yet calloused and will be more prone to pain and blisters. As a ballerina becomes more accomplished en pointe, she will choose the thinnest option. An advantage of the fabric-covered pad is that you can throw it in the wash; this is good, because they will start to stink after a couple of weeks!
If you are willing to part with a pair of socks, go ahead and cut off the tops and create your very own toe pad. You can customize the fit with your scissors and choose whichever thickness of sock you would like. Place this pad under your tights so it won’t move around within your shoe. Again, these can be great because they are washable as well.
Hot Tip: Tape Up
Regardless of the type of padding you use, it’s always a good idea to tape your toes to prevent blistering. Some dancers prefer to only tape the toes prone to blisters, while others will wrap each toe individually. Waterproof and duct tape work well due to their stickiness. Athletic tape (like the kind sports trainers use) can provide protection without hindering mobility. Foam tape is great for additional padding, especially for preventing bruising to the tops of toenails. Cloth tape is great for its breathability, but tends to move around after a few minutes of dancing.
Many advanced dancers barely use padding at all. This is because they like to “feel the floor” when they dance — which gives them a sense of control of their feet and a connection with the ground. Also, due to their calloused and strong feet, advanced dancers are already protected from pain. Paper towels are very inexpensive and are disposable after one use; so many pros find them to be convenient when they forget regular pads. They can be cut or ripped to fit around your particular foot size. They do have a tendency to disintegrate and rip when feet start to sweat however.
Kitchen Cloth Towels
In most supermarkets you can find rectangular packages of very thin cloth towels designed for wiping down countertops. They are often striped in blue or pink — or are all white. Dancers who find paper towels to be too messy may choose these as a re-usable alternative. Much like socks, they can be cut for customized fit. Double or even triple them up for extra padding.
In addition to your toe pad, there are solutions available to specific ailments. Most of the following products suggested can be found in the foot section of your local drugstore, dance stores, or in dance-supply catalogs.
- Bruised toenails: Use clear silicone toe caps that come in various sizes. These usually need to be wrapped with tape to secure while dancing.
- Corns: Cut out a bit of moleskin, which comes in squares that have a fuzzy cushion on one side and a sticky back on the other. Secure the moleskin with tape.
- Bunions: Using a silicone toe spacer may alleviate the pain of a first toe bunion. Place the spacer between your first and second toe — you probably will not need to secure it with tape.
- Blisters: If you have an open blister, disinfect the area first. After that, you can pad the blister with sterile wet burn pads, a band aid, or individual corn pads that are like moleskin. Finally, seal it up with waterproof tape.
Trial and Error
The needs for dancers’ feet are all different, especially as pointe work becomes more advanced. A new teacher, shoe, or rehearsal schedule can change your needs dramatically. If you are suffering from toe pain or any of the ailments above, begin to experiment with different combinations of support. And remember, just as you need to break in your pointe shoes, you may have an adjustment period for your toe pads, as well.