Buying your first pair of pointe shoes is a critical coming-of-age moment in any ballet dancer’s life. It means you’re growing up and, hopefully, your technique is strong enough to support yourself on pointe. But finding the right pointe shoes is like finding your Patronus, it’s very personal. Make sure you’re putting in your due diligence, so you can rest easy knowing your shoes are doing their job and you can do yours.
All pointe shoes are not made equal. You may hear other dancers rave about a certain brand or style, but “the best” doesn’t necessarily mean “the best for you”. It’s often a lot of trial and error, so don’t be discouraged if it takes you a couple shoes to find your perfect match. Established brands like Bloch, Gaynor Minden, Capezio, Mirella, and Grishko are loved and well-respected for a reason, and you should not take a chance on a cheap and unknown name. Different companies may specialize in serving different foot shapes, or boast certain trademark materials. Under the banner of each brand comes a large variety of options. Proflex, FeatherFlex, Medium Shank, Strong Shank, Soft Pointe, Demi Pointe, Classic Satin, Matte Satin are all labels you will run into, but think of it as having the opportunity almost customize your shoe.
Ask your Teacher
Your teacher knows your strengths and weaknesses, literally. They may be able to provide insight on certain areas of the foot that will require extra support. If you have, for example, a flatter arch or hypermobile feet, you will want to address that when picking your point shoes. Take note of their suggestions and bring them to your fitter.
Consult the Owner
It’s very customary for dancers to have one-on-one fitting sessions with the owner or workers at dance stores. There is typically at least one person on staff qualified as a fitter, feel free to ask for them directly. Don’t be shy, they are experts and have seen it all. They will know the right questions to ask you and can flag potential issues in fit that could cause you discomfort or injury.
Anatomy of a Pointe Shoe
Pointe shoes are made up of many parts, including:
The most common box shapes are Tapered, Slightly Tapered, and Square. The length, shape, and width of your toes and toe knuckles (will classify under the profile height of the shoe) will inform which box shape is correct for your feet.
The platform is what it sounds like: the flat platform the dancer balances on en pointe. Contrary to popular belief, the box is not made of wood, but instead chemically hardened cardboard or alike. Colloquially, you might hear your teachers and other dancers refer to the platform as the ‘block’. There isn’t as much variation in platform size and shape as other parts of the shoe, but you might find some minor differences between brands.
The vamp is the front surface of the shoe when you’re en pointe, the top of the box. The length of the vamp can differ, can should be chosen based on the shape of your feet and toes. A good fitter will watch a dancer rise from flat to demi-pointe and adjust the length of the vamp accordingly.
The wings are the sides of the shoe. They support your foot and metatarsels in the shoe when you overextend in pointe. There are various heights of wings to choose from that will cater to different foot shapes and flexibility levels. Consult your fitter on what height will be best for you.
The shank is the sole of the pointe shoe. It is a strip of stiff material that will support your arch en pointe. Choosing the right stiffness (Soft, Medium, Hard –Flexible option available with some brands) will be key in keeping you balanced and secure. A dancer who has trouble rising to pointe will require a softer shank, and a dancer who breaks pointe shoes easily and has a high turnover rate, may require something harder.
Size & Fit
The general rule goes that a pointe shoe should fit snug but comfortable. When standing flat, the tip of big toe should just scrape the end of the shoe (the interior of the platform). Some dancers, for fear of rubbing and scraping, will pick too-large shoes and stuff the space with protective padding like lamb’s wool. While we understand the motivation to protect against blisters and pressure marks, too-large pointe shoes put a dancer at major risk of twists and sprains.
Strap & Ribbons
Ask the older dancers at your studio for advice on how they sew the straps and ribbons on their pointe shoes. There are a few different philosophies on strap and ribbon placement, and you should apply the one that best supports your feet and ankle’s unique needs.
Ill-fitting pointe shoes can leave you injured. Whether that be through surface wounds like cuts, bruising, and bunions, or through accidents like falls and twists. Dancers are pretty well-accustomed to pain, but don’t ignore those signs in the first few weeks using your pointe shoes. You’ll want to stay vigilant and note any particular areas of the foot that seem to be suffering. Perhaps it’s just wear and tear that you’ll need to push through, or it’s fit issues that can be addressed and resolved.
The Main Pointe
Take care in your graduation to pointe shoes. Pointe is incredibly rewarding and allows ballet dancers to reach higher heights (literally). However, putting yourself and your long-term health first is essential. Keep tabs on the state and strength of your body, primarily your feet and ankles. Speak to your teachers and the senior dancers/pointe veterans. Outside of medical professionals, they will often be your best resource for advice.