Breaking in hard shoes irish dance ready to feis
The Shoes
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Are you breaking in your hard shoes the right way?

Whether it’s your very first pair, or you go through six pairs a year, breaking in hard shoes is never fun. Beginners right through to World Champions all have war stories of blisters, bleeding, and general frustration at getting the leather to bend and soften in just the right way. There are secret hints and tips shared amongst dancers, shortcuts to getting shoes broken in – some work and some do not. We spoke to Adrian Gavigan, shoe expert at Antonio Pacelli, to debunk some of the most common methods.

Myth: Folding the shoe in half and placing it under a mattress or couch cushion will bend it the right way
Fact: Hello, taco toes*. According to Gavigan, “folding them and putting them under the mattress can destroy any support and creates a weak point in the sole. This can cause dancers to roll over the shoe when doing toe stands.” Better to manipulate the shoes with your hands so you can see that it is bending in the right spot.

Myth: Standing in hot water will soften the leather
Fact: It will actually destroy your shoes. Gavigan says, “this is a terrible idea and can affect the stitching and glue used to adhere the sole to the upper, as well as drying out the leather. It also invalidates any warranty on their shoes.” Best not to try that one!

Myth: Using a leather softener like Hot Glove (used on baseball mitts) will speed up the process
Fact: Be careful what you use. This is a tricky one, and not something Gavigan advises. “We have heard of dancers using products designed for other uses, but again, this can damage the leather and make the shoe non returnable in the event of a fault.” Some leather softeners, like Hot Glove, require putting your leather product in the oven – we definitely don’t recommend putting your hard shoes in the oven!

So after this list of don’ts, what are Gavigan’s do’s? “The best advice I can give is to wear them around the house with a comfy pair of socks to start the process of moulding the shoes to your feet.” Unfortunately there are no quick fixes, and you don’t want to risk damaging your shoes trying to rush the break in process (they are expensive, after all!)

But what if you really struggle to break shoes in? “If a dancer has real trouble breaking in hard shoes then there are models out on the market such as our Ultralite jig shoe which are designed for no break in time and are made from soft leather and have soft flexible soles.” says Gavigan. He goes on to add, “However, dancers need to remember that these shoes are for experienced dancers only. These type of shoes require a dancer to have strong arches as the shoe relies on the dancers foot for structure. If you want a good middle group then the Ultraflexi jig shoe is a good balance of easy break in and support.”

How do you break in your hard shoes?

*taco toes – when your shoe/foot bends so far over that it creates an unnatural curve, much like a taco shell. This is not a good thing! Your foot should be straight when doing toe stands – taco toes lead to serious injuries.

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  • ma23peas

    With all the new shoes out there, which ones are favorites? Our brand changes every time a new pair is needed…hmmm

    • readytofeis

      That’s a really great question, and it’s definitely one we have in our editorial calendar for early 2015! There are so many options, and each brand does something better than the others, so we’ll be comparing and contrasting to help you guys.