When pointe shoes are selected carefully, with the correct fit, including vamp and shank, the breaking-in process should be very straightforward. It should never be necessary to alter the shoes significantly before use; in fact, if alteration is needed, they may not be the correct pointe shoes for the dancer.
The best way to break in any pair of pointe shoes is through exercises during pointe class. Rolling through demi-pointe makes the shank more flexible without compromising its support. Pushing gently over the box on pointe helps the shank mold to the arch so that it will curve and conform when the foot is not on pointe. Simply wearing the shoes during exercise will warm and moisten the toe box, so that it will soften and form to the toes, becoming more comfortable with each use.
Getting a head start
If a dancer feels that she needs to give her pointe shoes a head start, she can warm and bend them gently with her hands. Massage the box lightly to soften and warm it before putting the shoe on. Flex the shank gently a couple of times, exerting very little pressure (stronger pressure can bend the shank in the wrong place for the dancer’s arch, or even break the shank).
Advanced and professional dancers, after they have gotten to know exactly where and how they like their shanks to bend, might also flex the heel a bit more, with the shoe on and the foot on pointe, or even cut off the very end of the shank. These methods are not recommended for beginners, and even intermediate dancers should only alter their shanks after consultation with their teachers.
What not to do
We’ve all heard of the extreme breaking-in rituals to which some dancers subject their shoes – standing on or otherwise strongly flattening the crown, wetting the toe box, banging the box platform on the floor or with a hammer, or shutting the shoe in a door. These are all likely to damage the shoes, thereby decreasing their lifespan.
Evaluate the fit
The most important thing to remember is that every pointe shoe has been carefully constructed to work as a whole to support the dancer. Altering it will almost inevitably alter its functionality. If the shoe doesn’t fit and function according to the dancer’s needs, she should seek her teacher’s advice and, probably, a re-fitting in a different pointe model, size or set of specifications.