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A Step-by-Step Guide to "Pancaking" Your Pointe Shoes

From left: Misty Copeland, Ebony Williams and Ashley Murphy in pancaked shoes. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

No two pairs of pointe shoes are the same, from their shanks to their boxes, their color to their shine. To make an array of shoes more uniform or to get them to a shade closer to your skin tone, dance teachers might ask that you "pancake" your pointe shoes before going onstage. But what does that entail, exactly? We're here to show you.


(Fun fact: Dancers used to cover their shoes with a thick base called pancake makeup, which is where the term "pancaking" came from.)

Materials needed:

  • a bottle of pink calamine lotion (if you're trying to match pink tights) or a bottle of liquid foundation that matches your skin tone
  • a wedge-shaped makeup sponge
  • a bowl or plate
  • a paper towel
  • pointe shoes
Preparation:
  • Fold the paper towel so that it's thick enough to absorb the calamine lotion/foundation without any seeping through.
  • Shake the bottle of calamine lotion or foundation to ensure it's well-mixed.
  • Pour about three seconds' worth of calamine lotion or foundation into your bowl or onto your plate. (Less is more! You don't want to over-do it, or your shoes will take forever to dry.)
  • If your pointe shoes are well-worn, tidy up any frayed satin by trimming it with scissors.
Steps:
  1. Dip one side of your makeup sponge into the calamine/foundation.
  2. Blot the makeup sponge on the paper towel to eliminate any excess calamine/foundation, which will prevent splotchy streaks on the satin.
  3. Hold your pointe shoe from the inside. With long and light sweeping strokes, begin to paint the shoe, starting with the top of the box.
  4. Work your way around the shoe, using the corners of the makeup sponge to reach satin that's creased or wrinkled. Be sure to paint the fabric that cases the drawstring, as well.
  5. To color the ribbons, lay each ribbon flat over your open palm, making sure that the outside of the ribbon is facing up. Using the same long and light sweeping motions, apply the calamine/foundation from one end to the other. (Don't forget the section of the ribbon closest to the shoe.)
  6. Hang the shoes by the heels to dry. For best results, let them dry for at least one hour before wearing them.
  7. Touch up the calamine/foundation as needed. Often, marks from the stage can be dulled by a fresh coat of color.
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