I never seem to find the right pointe shoes. I break them in very quickly, even with hard shanks. My teachers think it's because my feet lack strength. Should my shoes be more supportive? Or should my feet be strong enough to pull myself up in my pointe shoes (rather than relying on them to hold me up)? —Anna
"The ultimate goal is to support your body weight with the muscles of your feet and legs," says Josephine Lee, a professional pointe shoe fitter and owner of ThePointeShop in Santa Ana, California. That said, your shoes need to provide adequate support or else you risk injury. If you have flexible ankles with high arches and insteps, you'll likely have a harder time finding shoes that last. "When your arch folds over on itself," Lee says, "the weight of your body can put excess pressure on the shoe's shanks."
To help with this, practice a daily foot-strengthening regimen. Working with a resistance band (winging in and out, pointing and flexing the whole foot, and pointing and flexing the toes) and doming are some of the most beneficial exercises. Lee also recommends wearing demi-pointe or de-shanked pointe shoes for your regular technique classes instead of slippers. "It's not the prettiest, but it forces you to work through your feet a little bit more."
As for your pointe shoes, try applying Jet glue where your shank breaks to provide additional hardness. Lee also suggests scheduling a fitting and looking into getting custom-made shoes. Evaluate the shape of your current shoes, too, as your feet may benefit from something more tapered or square. "Sometimes a differently shaped box—even if the vamp and shank are the same—can be the key to a longer-lasting shoe if it fits better on the foot," says Lee.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.