When I first came to The School of Pennsylvania Ballet in September, my teacher, Miss Arantxa Ochoa, suggested that I start wearing Freed of London pointe shoes. If you are a ballet dancer who has tried multiple brands of shoes in the past, you understand the stress of adapting to a new pair that you aren’t quite comfortable with yet. Over the past eight years, I have tried many (probably almost all) different brands of pointe shoes, but my transition to Freeds was potentially the most difficult, yet rewarding change of them all.
I started dancing en pointe when I was eleven years old. My first pair of pointe shoes were Capezio.
Capezio was a good beginner brand for me, but over time my feet quickly grew a lot stronger so I needed to change to harder shoe. The next couple years I bounced back and forth between Bloch Balance Europeans and Capezio hard shank. Then came along Gaynor Mindens.
There has always been this annoyingly huge controversy over Gaynor Mindens. They are often called “cheater shoes”. Dancers argue that “Gaynor Mindens make feet weak and lazy” because, unlike the traditional pointe shoe, they do not soften over time. (Gaynor Minden ). In my personal experience with these shoes, I do believe that there is a certain amount of strength you should possess before wearing them, and unfortunately my 13-year-old feet and ankles were too weak for these shoes. Although, if I ever have the chance, I would like to try Gaynor Mindens again. This time as an older and much stronger dancer.
When I was 14-years-old, I discovered Russian pointe shoes.
I firmly believed with all my heart that Russian pointe shoes would be “my shoe”. They had a lovely, tapered box and high arch which created a perfect line for my feet. They also had a white complexion instead of the standard, soft pink, which I liked.
Russian pointe shoes worked for me for quite a while, but over time my feet started to blister because of them. Luckily, I am not one to get many blisters so these sudden sores struck me that it was time for yet again another change.
When I was about 16 or 17-years-old, I started wearing Grishko pointe shoes. The style that fit my feet the best was the Grishko 2007 Pro. Their shape and color reminded me of the Russians which is probably why I liked them so much. Once again, I thought I had found “my shoe”. I wore Grishko until I came to The School of Pennsylvania Ballet.
As you could imagine, by this point(e), I was not very fond of the idea of switching to another completely different brand of shoes. Grishko worked well with my feet. Everything about them I loved…that was until I began learning George Balanchine works here at PA Ballet.
Once I began learning Balanchine ballets, I completely understood why Miss Arantxa asked me to change from Grishko to Freed of London. I wear 5 X and my maker is Maltese. Freeds are handmade with very little fabric and are meant to easily mold to the foot of the dancer. They are the lightest shoes I have ever worn which is why they are so perfect for dancing sharp and precise Balanchine ballets; they enable you to move quickly and effortlessly without feeling like there is a giant block on your foot holding you down.
Another aspect of Freeds that I never had to encounter before is that they die very quickly. Most other brands of shoes I’ve worn would last me about 3 weeks to month, depending on what shows I was performing in/ how often I’d attend class. Now that I dance every day for 4-6 hours and I am wearing shoes that are not very durable, I go through a pair every week or week and a half. I glue my shoes in the box and outside the shank to make them harder before I even wear them.
My transition from Grishko to Freeds was far from easy though. Because Freeds have almost no weight to them, my feet would be doing all the work therefore requiring a high level of ankle and metatarsal strength. I could barely get over my box in the beginning, let alone balance and turn. Pushing through my weaknesses, I have been able to build up more strength. I find that doing both barre and center work en pointe builds an immense amount of strength and stability so I try to do that for every class.
I do not know if Freed of London is “my shoe”. In a few years, I may change to something else, but as of right now, Freeds work for me. I hope that they continue to work for me.
My long journey with pointe shoes is not over yet. With each pair I learn something new about the brand, my feet, the style, the maker, and what works best for me. I spend more hours of my day in pointe shoes (or sewing pointe shoes) than in regular shoes. They are every ballerina’s required piece of equipment and the process of finding the perfect fit is necessary in order to improve as a dancer.