Your Body: Pointe Pain

Pointe work often brings blisters and calluses—par for the course for most ballet dancers. Raina Gilliland, 20, can attest to the challenges. The Minnesota Dance Theatre company member started pointe class when she was 8. Problems she’s already had include ingrown nails and a bunion. However, Gilliland admits some of her injuries could have been prevented if she had taken better care of her feet.

Dancers, pointe shoe fitters, and podiatrists all agree that finding pointe shoes that truly fit—and continuing to adjust that fit throughout your career—reduces the chances for injury. “Dancers think they get to a certain age and they stop growing,” says Jane Denton, a Bay Area podiatrist who works with San Francisco Ballet dancers. “But their feet get longer and wider with use over time.”


Marika Molnar, director of Westside Dance Physical Therapy in Manhattan and director of physical therapy at New York City Ballet, recommends that dancers get refitted for pointe shoes every six months to a year. “You could be a 7.5 when you’re 20, but when you’re 25, you could be an 8 or a 7.5EE,” she says.


Padding can help. Gilliland uses paper towels—“whatever’s in the bathroom”—and a toe spacer to help cushion her bunion. She’s seen many other kinds of padding used, including blue masking tape, which is waterproof and doesn’t slip. “But using lots of padding makes it not only harder to get into the shoe, but can change the shoe’s shape, or even contribute to its breaking in the wrong way,” Gilliland says. “Try to keep it simple, so you don’t mess with the shape of the shoe.”


Once you do find the right box, shank, vamp, width, and padding, you may still have to deal with minor foot problems. Here’s how to prevent and treat a few of the most common:


Blisters If you dance on pointe awhile, you build up calluses, so blisters usually aren’t as common. “On rare occasions if I get one,” says Gilliland, “I let it dry overnight, and maybe put on a little Neosporin + Pain Relief. Then I do what I can to avoid irritating it.” If she has to wear her pointe shoes the next day, she’ll rub more ointment on and cover it with her paper towel padding. Thin gel sleeves often can help to prevent irritation, but if there is chronic blistering, “you need to see if it’s the shoe that is causing it,” Denton says.


Corns Corns occur when pressure causes your skin to thicken into a deep, cone-shaped mass, pointing down inside the skin between toes. For a hard corn, pumice it gently so it doesn’t get too large, and wear lamb’s wool between the toes when in pointe shoes, Molnar advises. However, if you develop a soft corn, go see a podiatrist. “Dancers should not try not to gouge it out themselves,” Molnar says. “I’ve seen too many nasty consequences.”


Bruised Nails/Missing Nails If a bruised nail looks like it may be close to falling off, try to keep it attached as long as possible. If the nail is very loose on one side, bandage it. It helps to protect the nail bed from the pressure of the pointe shoe, Denton says. Molnar suggests that dancers also ice the toe as needed, or use Anbesol (an oral pain relief product) because it numbs the skin.


If the skin under the nail seems raw, keep it covered with a layer of antibacterial cream and bandage it, especially while dancing, to prevent infection. And if the nail falls off and you still have to dance, Denton suggests slipping on a gel toe sleeve for cushioning and protection. 


Bunions Bunions, while hereditary, can be exacerbated if a dancer overdoes her turnout, rolling forward into the front edge of the big toe, causing joint deformity. A foam toe spacer helps keep the toes properly aligned and counteracts the pressure inside the pointe shoe. Denton recommends Voltaren gel, an anti-inflammatory available by prescription.


Gilliland has her own version of a foam spacer: She takes a makeup wedge, cuts it down to fit, and replaces it every couple of days. “It absorbs the sweat,” she says, “and they’re cheaper to buy in bulk.”


Hannah Maria Hayes is a New York writer with an MA in dance education from NYU.



Model: Sarah Hay. Photo by Nathan Sayers.

Show Comments ()
Career Advice
Photo via Unsplash

Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.

Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.

Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Via Instagram

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
Emily Ramirez as "Meg Giry" in The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.

What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.

In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Is this the turning point when we'll finally see an end to dancer mistreatment? Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:

If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.

Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
Photo by Rachel Papo for Pointe

We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.

So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.

The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Lee Cherry; Courtesy Tricia Miranda

With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.

How To Land An Agency

"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.

You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."

Keep reading... Show less
Members of METdance and Bruce Wood Dance rehearsing Bridget L. Moore's new work. Photo by Sharen Bradford, Courtesy METdance and BWD

Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit and for details on the respective engagements.

Dancers Trending
Clifton Brown in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Photo by Andrew Eccles, Courtesy AAADT

Onstage, Clifton Brown is a force of nature. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer joined the celebrated company at 19, in 1999. In 2011, he left to dance with Jessica Lang Dance and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before returning to Ailey last year. Brown has been trying his hand at choreography on the side, but this week his first larger work—a commission from The Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent—premieres on a program of new works by choreographers who still perform.

Brown will take a day or two away from the Ailey company's rigorous tour schedule to see TWB dancers perform his Menagerie, danced to Rossini's Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D Major, at Washington, D.C.'s Harman Center for the Arts. We caught up with him last week in Chicago.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
Adriana Pierce made Acantilado on her colleagues at Miami City Ballet. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Pierce

Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."

Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
PC Michel Schnater for Dance Spirit

Ever since we heard that Michaela DePrince's memoir, Taking Flight, was going to be a movie, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting for more info. Almost three years later, it's been worth the wait—we just learned that the Queen of Pop herself will be directing DePrince's biopic.

"Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity," Madonna said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside."

Keep reading... Show less


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox