Pacific Northwest ballet principal Lindsi Dec tapes her toes to protect them from blisters. Lindsay Thomas.

Need Blister Relief? Try These 5 Tips for Happier Feet

Sally Turkel never had a problem with her feet. Tape on her big and little toes was all she needed before slipping on her pointe shoes. But when she joined Colorado Ballet as a young dancer, the new demands of company life took a toll, and blisters became a constant enemy. "I wasn't prepared for it," says Turkel, now a principal with Ballet San Antonio. "I became known as the one who always had terrible feet issues." It took a few years of experience and tips passed down from senior company members to learn how to avoid blisters.

"A blister is a sign from your body that it's time to take a step back," says Monara Dini, a podiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. "Ignoring it for too long can lead to infection, and a breakdown of the skin and wounds that ultimately take a long time to heal." Fortunately, the right foot care can help dancers speed healing, minimize pain and even avoid blisters in the first place.


Find the Right Fit

Via Burst

Blisters are caused by a combination of friction, pressure and moisture. When the skin is subjected to repeated force, it creates tears in the second and third layers of the skin, while the uppermost layer remains intact. A serum-like fluid flows in to fill the space.

The culprit can be too-big or too-small shoes that create unnecessary friction and aggravate "hot spots," such as bunions and hammertoes, says Diana Werner, also a podiatrist and assistant clinical professor at UCSF. Proper fit is essential. Keep in mind that feet evolve over time, sometimes growing in size or developing new pressure points. "Chronic blisters are a sign that your feet have changed," says Werner. If blisters suddenly become a problem, consider getting refitted.

Avoid Chafing

Slightly damp skin blisters more easily than either very wet or very dry skin. A little petroleum jelly dabbed onto vulnerable spots just before dancing (and reapplied as frequently as possible during long rehearsals) can reduce friction to minimize chafing.

To keep skin dry, Werner recommends sprinkling foot powder inside pointe shoes just before dancing. Also, wear tights made of synthetic, "wicking" materials, such as polyester or microfibers; cotton tends to absorb sweat and exacerbate chafing. When it comes to padding, Werner says old-fashioned lambswool is still the best at wicking moisture away from skin.

And smokers, take note: Studies suggest blisters are more likely to develop among cigarette users, possibly because tobacco damages the skin and constricts blood vessels in a way that weakens the skin's friction defenses.

Tape the Trouble Spots

Getty Images

For extra protection, Dini recommends taping any spots where your shoes rub. Look for a high-quality adhesive bandage that can survive sweat. Using a stretch of tape that's about twice as long as the diameter of the toe you want to protect, fold one end of the tape so that you have a nonstick surface to place over the "danger zone," and then wrap the rest around your toe. Keep in mind that your feet will likely swell throughout the day, so avoid wrapping too tightly.

Drain the Fluid

When a blister appears, Turkel lances it with a sterile needle as soon as possible. "You don't want it to pop in your shoe," she says. Lancing right away will help relieve pressure and pain. But the procedure—and the potential for infection—should not be taken lightly. It is only safe to lance if the fluid inside the blister is clear, says Werner.

First prepare your skin by washing it with soap and water or swabbing it with rubbing alcohol. (If it's the end of the day, experts recommend soaking your feet in warm water and Epsom salts for 15 minutes beforehand.) Next, sterilize a needle by holding it in a flame until the tip turns red. Allow the needle to cool, then use it to gently make one small hole anywhere on the blister.

After draining the fluid, air the blister out overnight. Dress it with antibiotic ointment before wearing shoes in the morning. To relieve pressure, Werner recommends using a moleskin pad cut in the shape of a doughnut. (You can boost the pad's adhesive power with a solution called compound tincture of benzoin, sold in medical supply stores.) Beware of any signs of infection: redness and pain extending up the ankle and leg, or pus in the blister.

There's no need to drain a blister if you have some time off. "Blisters will heal on their own," says Werner. But, "If you must dance and perform the next day, lance it."

Rest and Pamper

Russ Ward via Unsplash

Don't forget the healing power of timely rest. "It's hard to find time in a demanding schedule," Werner admits, "but it can work miracles." She advises dancers to soak their feet in warm water and Epsom salts every night before bed—or at least on the weekend. Even when your feet are feeling fine, this can help reduce swelling. During very busy periods, it's also a good idea to minimize walking as much as possible after a long day of dancing.

Taking such precaution is worth it. As Turkel says, "You can't take a day off because your feet hurt. It's part of your job."

Latest Posts


Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Abra Geiger, from the 2019 YAGP Season Finals. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP

YAGP Finals Kick Off in Tampa This Week—and You Can Watch Them Live!

In a hopeful sign that things may be slowly getting back to normal, Youth America Grand Prix is hosting its 2021 Season Finals live and in person this week in Tampa, Florida. Approximately 800 young dancers will perform at the annual scholarship audition, held May 10–16 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Over $400,000 in scholarships will be awarded, with school directors from all over the world adjudicating both in person and online. The entire event will be livestreamed on YAGP's website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Kaatsbaan Cultural Park artistic director Stella Abrera and executive director Sonja Kostich. Photo by Quinn Wharton, Courtesy Kaatsbaan Cultural Park

The Inaugural Kaatsbaan Spring Festival Brings Together Leading Figures in Dance

The rollout of vaccinations is helping the U.S. turn a corner during this coronavirus pandemic, and artists and audience members alike are looking forward to enjoying live performances once again. It couldn't be more perfect timing, then, for the inaugural Kaatsbaan Spring Festival, which will feature 16 presentations on two outdoor stages in New York's Hudson Valley. Taking place May 20–23 and May 27–30, the festival brings together luminaries from multiple disciplines, including dance, music, poetry, sculpture and the culinary arts.

"During a challenging year such as this, we really wanted to provide artists from various genres opportunities for support and work," says Sonja Kostich, Kaatsbaan Cultural Park's executive director.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks