There's nothing like a fresh, crisp new pair of pointe shoes. The satin gleams, the shank is strong, and there's a faint smell of leather, glue, and travel. But every ballerina knows that newness only lasts for a few minutes. With every class the satin gets dirtier, the shank bends, and the smell turns into that of old feet.
As a pointe shoe is worn, the moisture and heat from the dancer's foot slowly compromises the materials within the box and they become more pliable. You'll notice the shank begins to bend with the arch and the box molds around the foot. They become more comfortable over all and feel more like an extension of the foot, rather than a shoe. This is completely normal, but how do you know when they are too soft? How do you decide when it's time for a new pair?
Most seasoned ballerinas know when they're shoes have become too soft and need to be replaced. They can time it almost to the day when they will need a new pair. However, it's very common for new dancers and their parents to continue to use "dead" pointe shoes. Depending upon the shoe, the dancer, and the frequency of use, they can last from a few hours to a few months and each pair is a financial investment. That is most common reason to not renew the shoes on time. Each pair runs between $90-$150. That's enough to make any parent flinch if they are buying a new pair every few weeks or months. However, dancing on soft, worn out pointe shoes can be dangerous.
As the shoe is worn and it softens, it loses it's supportive features. If it's worn too long the shank can snap, the toes may curl beneath the dancer's weight and the ankles may take on too much of the burden to keep the ballerina upright. This can be dangerous and cause severe injury. Always replace your pointe shoes before they are completely soft and worn in.
If you aren't sure if you're shoes need to be replaced, examine them. Are there soft spots on the inside or outside of the box? Does the shank no longer give the arch sufficient support? Can you feel the floor more noticeably? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to start with a fresh pair and when in doubt, ask your teacher.
Safety first and happy dancing!