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The Handmade Shoes That Keep ‘The Nutcracker’ Dancers On Their Toes

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It takes a lot for Ballet West to stage “The Nutcracker” – lots of rehearsals, dedication and shoes to help keep ballerinas on their toes. To be precise, according to Ballet West wig master Yancey Quick, it takes up to 140 pairs of the satin-covered dance shoes for the monthlong production.

There’s not much more than cloth, cardboard, paste and a leather bottom to a pointe shoe, so they don’t live long on the foot of a professional dancer like Lillian Casscells.

“You might go through three shoes in one show or one shoe for five shows, it just depends on how much you’re doing,” she said.

So Quick, who manages Ballet West’s shoe vault, keeps a large stock on hand. The company goes through as many as 1,600 pointe shoes in a season. Since they’re made by hand in England and Russia and cost $80 to $110 a pair, the cost in shoes alone quickly adds up.

“Somewhere between $150,000 and $179,000 just in pointe shoes,” Quick said. “It’s staggering. It’s a very large part of our operating budget.”

Yancey Quick in the shoe vault at Ballet West.

The old, used shoes get sold with autographs, are thrown out or are given away. Ballet West recently sent 400 pairs to Africa.

Casscells got her first pair of pointe shoes when she was 11 years old and figured since then, she’s gone through 500 to 600 pairs.

“When you first put them on, I think there’s like such a feeling of euphoria because you finally put on pointe shoes so they feel amazing,” she said. “Then, when you have to start wearing them for class and start having to learn how to use the pointe shoes with your foot, they start to hurt a lot.”

So Casscells and other dancers each have their own way of breaking in new pointe shoes. For Casscells, that involves glue, a needle and thread and stepping on the shoe.

“After you break it in, put some glue here take out some glue there, take out a nail here, really put some water on it…weird hacks every dancer has to break them in, then they start to feel better,” she said.

One of the around-140 of pairs of pointe shoes dancers rehearsing for Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker” ballet will use.

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