There is a volume of ongoing arguments about whether or not a ballet student should use padding in pointe shoes, to avoid pointe shoe pain. Some students are not allowed to, though they are allowed to use tape. Some point out that professional dancers do not use padding in their pointe shoes – although that is certainly not 100% correct.
Some argue that students won’t get stronger if they use pads for support. Well, pads do not give support at all, they give a cushion against the abrasion and pressure of the toe shoes. So strength has nothing to do with it.
If a student is truly ready to dance on pointe, padding and tape have nothing to do with supporting the posture of the toes. I do not really know where these ideas come from. If the toes are already strong enough, from good training and enough pointe shoe exercise, there will be less abrasion against the interior of the shoe. However, if a student cannot get the perfect fit in their toe shoes, they may need padding.
I personally know a world famous ballerina who, well into her career increased her point shoe size so that she could add padding. She became aware that she had been programmed by her schooling to put up with a ridiculous amount of pain, and that her shoes were too short. She never had a problem “feeling the floor” or with ballet foot control.
Toe shoes are designed so that you don’t “feel the floor”. If you don’t have control in a ballet shoe with pads, then your control is barely there anyway. And don’t forget that professional dancers have their shoes custom made for them, so the need for tape and padding is more relative to short term situations such as a minor injury.
Ballet foot control comes from strength in the soles of the feet. The big toe muscles, the forefoot, the arch muscles, all need special exercises to give them strength and good reflexes.
The Shape Of The Foot And Pointe Shoes
There are specific reasons why pointe shoes give blisters. Even with custom-made shoes, once in a while a shoe will not feel the same. They are made by hand, mostly, and will have tiny flaws. A dancer may be experiencing an exhausting rehearsal period, and doing the exact same movements at an intense rate. This will bring wear and tear on the feet in different ways.
A “compressible” foot in a square-shaped shoe will move around in the shoe when you rise up onto pointe. Such a foot should have a more tapered shoe, but take care that it is actually not too narrow or too short for a demi plie in second without the toes crushing.
I think that all students, in their first pointe shoes, should try to do basic exercises without tape or padding. Not as torture, but as a brief experiment to see how the shoes feel. Then they should quickly remove the shoes, see where the red spots are, and be shown by the teacher exactly how to tape those spots.
Lambs wool is a good padding because you can use the exact amount you need. It also moves and slides in the shoe, diminishing the friction. Tape may be needed as well.
But once in a while heavy padding may be needed. I remember once when I tried a different brand of pointe shoe. They felt great for about fifteen minutes. The shoe was much harder than I was used to, and I knew I was going to have to throw them away (yeah right, at the cost of pointe shoes), or wear padding till those shoes were done. I used a heavy slice of foam till those shoes were toast.
I had much more control without that terrible pain!
I don’t understand any dance academy having blanket policies about this. It is the teacher’s responsibility to help each student find out why a pair of pointe shoes hurts so badly that padding is needed. And it still may be needed, depending on the fit and toe shapes.