If you have ever seen the movie Center Stage you will notice a minute worth of footage where ballet dancers look like they are wrecking a pair of $80 shoes, but guess again. Let’s start with the basic ballet slipper, which is soft fabric like cotton that molds to your feet the minute you wear them for a few hours, but Pointe shoes are in no way that simple.
Getting fitted for your first pair of Pointe shoes when you are young is like a dream, because you will finally be able to do all the graceful and elegant moves and phrases that you have seen danced across the stage by older students, in film, and on stage. Let’s get real – you need to be ready to work harder than you have ever worked in your life. I’m not saying this to scar you or deter you from Ballet, but there is a reality that you need to understand to be great.
Pointe shoes are the one part that is key in your first year. It is important to go to someone who can fit you for the correct style of shoe that is necessary for your type of foot. Everyone’s feet are different. Some have incredibly high arches, others have flat feet, some have falling arches, while others have their second toe longer than the rest of their feet. These are all little nuances that you don’t think about usually buying shoes. This is why it is important to go to a shoe place that has a person who understands feet, how each style of Pointe shoe is different, and how each shoe relates to the different types of feet.
There are five things to look at when buying Pointe shoes which include the shank, vamp, box, platform, and heel. The right shoe is based on the layout of your foot and will protect the delicate parts, as well as offer support to the contours of your foot. This is extremely important to prevent pain and bunions, sinking into your shoe, and forced weight onto your big toe potentially causing injury from not being over your box properly. For example, the first two toes after my big toe are longer than the rest of my toes, and the toes eventually taper down to the smallest toe on my foot. Since my two toes are longer than the rest it causes them to stick out. In my first pair of Pointe shoes, these two toes felt a lot of pressure because I was sliding in my shoe and it was causing them to curl instead of extend. The reason I was sliding in my shoe was because the profile height of the shoe was to big and I was given the wrong box type for my foot. Be sure that you have a snug fit around the box and width part of your foot to prevent the sliding as well as the right type of box.
The vamp length is another spot I have seen dancers struggle. I was subbing as a ballet teacher and I noticed a student was not getting over her box, and on top of that she was sickled in what we were doing across the floor. When I looked at her foot the person who fitted her didn’t fit her properly. She had a shoe for a square box foot when she needed to have a tapered box (toes fall in line like a slant). The shank strength she had was too strong for her feet. She needed a pre-arched shank due to her flat feet to give her more support. Lastly, her vamp length was too long. She had short toes and an inflexible arch. With a vamp that is too long it also causes difficulty getting over your box.
Pointe shoes are a trial and error process. Your feet change as you get stronger and may need to adjust to a new type of shoe as your feet develop, but the thing I need to harp on the most is to know your body. You are the only one that can say when a shoe doesn’t feel right. Just like the girls on Center Stage they beat up their shoes to adjust them to what feels comfortable on their feet. Now I am not suggesting you do this, but as I got older I use burn the fabric on the bottom of my box and rough up the bottom of my shoe so it wasn’t so slippery. I had friends that didn’t like how stiff the box was so they would beat it up on the floor to loosen it. Needless to say, your first stop needs to be to figure out your foot. Talk to you Ballet teacher and see what they know. If you have any doubts before you go to the store check out the website below. It will teach you how to look for the right shoe for your foot. Happy Pointe Shoe Hunting!