Noelani Pantastico in David Dawson's Empire Noir. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

"Dance Gave My Life Meaning Before I Knew I Needed Meaning in My Life"

Apparently, it all started at a pizza shop in New Hampshire. I was monkeying around, brimming with nervous energy. A stranger approached my mom and said, "You know, you really ought to put her in some dance classes."


I was born on Oahu to a Hawaiian-Filipino father and an Aussie mother. My late father would play the ukulele in his spare time, while I'd imitate whatever form of hula I could grasp at that point. He unknowingly taught me about rhythm and music, and is a big part of why I gravitated towards dance.

We moved every couple years across various states. I did whatever activities my mother could afford, trying out gymnastics or soccer. Being one of six kids, we mostly just had each other and lots of housework. I craved consistency and a place to feel rooted. I developed anxiety, literally pulling my hair out while obsessing over small things, which I suppose helped me feel like I had a sense of control. Looking back now, I see how lost I was.

Pantastico in Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Then at 11, I started attending the renowned Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Nothing had come close to how dancing made me feel. The late director Marcia Dale Weary gave me structure and positive reinforcement, with goals to be better. She made me see and hear beauty daily, things that I hadn't felt consistently since my Hawaii days. Dance gave my life meaning before I knew I needed meaning in my life.

Dance has always made difficult times more bearable—without question, saving my life. I have several years left before I hang up my shoes, but now I'm finding other ways to contribute to the art form. I formed Seattle Dance Collective with James Moore to create opportunities for artists to come together. I have a bucket list of choreographers I'd like to work with (or work with again), and if my own list doesn't get fulfilled, then at least I can provide these powerful encounters for others.

Pantastico and Seth Orza in George Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

We need art in our lives to survive. It's something primal. I see it when people listen to music or look at paintings. When people are being creative. When people dance. I feel very lucky to give back to an art form that has shaped my existence so beautifully.

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Rachel Papo

Our 8 Best Pointe Shoe Hacks

It turns out that TikTok is good for more than just viral dance challenges. Case in point: We recently stumbled across this genius pointe shoe hack for dancers with narrow heels.

Dancers are full of all kinds of crafty tricks to make their pointe shoes work for them. But don't fear: You don't need to spend hours scrolling TikTok to find the best pro tips. We rounded up a few of our favorites published in Dance Magazine over the years.

If your vamp isn't long enough, sew an elastic on top of your metatarsals.

Last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Elizabeth Murphy admitted to us that her toes used to flop all the way out of her shoes when she rose up onto pointe(!). "I have really long toes and stock shoes never had a vamp long enough," she says.

Her fix? Sewing a piece of elastic (close to the drawstring but without going through it) at the top of the vamp for more support...and also special-ordering higher vamps.

Solve corns with toe socks

Nashville Ballet's Sarah Cordia told us in 2017 that toe socks are her secret weapon: "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

(For other padding game-changers, check out these six ideas.)

Save time by recycling ribbons and elastics.

Don't waste time measuring new ribbons and elastics for every pair. Washington Ballet dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson told us that she keeps and cycles through about 10 sets of ribbons and crisscross elastics. "It makes sewing new pairs easier because the ribbons and elastic are already at the correct length," she says. Bonus: This also makes your pointe shoe habit more environmentally friendly.

Close-up of hands sewing a pointe shoe.

Murphy-Wilson sewing her shoes

xmbphotography, by Mena Brunette, courtesy The Washington Ballet

Tie your drawstring on demi-pointe.

In 2007, New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild gave us this tip for making sure her drawstring stays tight: "I always tie it in demi-pointe because that is when there's the biggest gap and where there's the most bagginess on the side."

Find a stronger thread.

When it comes to keeping your ribbons on, function trumps form—audiences won't be able to see your stitches from the stage. Many dancers use floss as a stronger, more secure alternative to thread. Fairchild told us she uses thick crochet thread. "Before I go onstage I sew a couple of stitches in the knot of the ribbon to tack the ends," she says. "I do a big 'X.' I have to make sure it's perfect because I'm in it for the show. It's always the very last thing I do."

Don't simply reorder your shoes on autopilot.

Even as adults, our feet keep growing and spreading as we age. Atlanta podiatrist Frank Sinkoe suggests going to a professional pointe shoe fitter at least once a year to make sure you're in the right shoe.

You might even need different sizes at different times of the year, says New York City Ballet podiatric consultant Thomas Novella. During busy periods and in warm weather, your feet might be bigger than during slow periods in the winter. Have different pairs ready for what your feet need now.

Fit *both* feet.

Don't forget that your feet might even be two different sizes. "If you're getting toenail bruises, blood blisters or other signs of compression, but only on one foot, have someone check each foot's size," Novella says. The solution? Buy two pairs at a time—one for the right foot and one for the left.

Wash off the sweat.

Blisters thrive in a sweaty pointe shoe. Whenever you can, take your feet out of your shoes between rehearsals and give them a quick rinse off in the sink. "If feet sweat, they should be washed periodically during the day with soap and water and dried well, especially between the toes," says Sinkoe.