Almost every child who dances dreams of the day they will be put ‘en pointe’
But for many it can be a big disappointment. Without correct preparation and expert shoe fitting, dancing “en pointe” can hurt!!
It’s very important to first check with your dance teacher whether or not you are ready to be put ‘en pointe’. It is not easy learning to support all of your body weight upon your toes and it takes strength of so many parts of your body.
You’ll probably need to have been dancing for a number of years and of course young bones are still forming and need care and support to develop properly.
But even if you are ready, poorly fitting pointe shoes are likely to make pointe work painful and more difficult. They will never feel as comfortable as a pair of everyday ballet shoes, but if they fit properly, they will feel like they are part of your feet.
So first let’s look at some of the different parts of pointe shoes, which need to be considered to get a correctly fitting pair.
A hollow box within the front end of the shoe often made out of cardboard and hardened glue. This helps to supports the dancer’s toes whilst en pointe. Boxes vary in:
Width, (e.g. Bloch B, C, D, & E fittings
Depth (this is the vamp) – see below
and shape (square to tapered).
The shank is the stiff insole that supports the arch of the foot. It has varying degrees of flexibility and is typically made of redboard or leatherboard. This gives the dancer support on the arch of the foot when en pointe.
The vamp is the front part of the shoe measuring from the bottom of the toe box to the drawstring. The vamp comes in varied shapes and lengths to suit different shaped feet.
Two typical vamp styles are V-vamp and U-vamp
The stiff sides of the toe box that provide lateral support while en pointe.
Ribbons and Elastic:
The primary purpose of the ribbons and elastics is to keep the heel of the shoe on when doing demi-pointe.
They also pull the shoe tighter to the foot so that the shoe closely follows arch of the foot.
So if you think you are ready to go ‘en pointe’, first talk to your dance teacher and then get fitted by an expert.
Preparation For Pointe Shoe Fitting
Wear something comfortable that you are able to move freely in. Tights are ideal or socks are fine. Make sure your toenails are neatly clipped and your feet are clean. If you have had a pair of pointe shoes before, please bring your most recent pair as this will help in finding a new pair and also so that the fitter can look at your habits en pointe. Please also bring any padding and spacers that you would normally wear as this obviously affects the fit of the shoe.
Check the fit of the box:
First pick your toe protection so that your toes feel more comfortable within the pointe shoe. Your toes should stay long and flat within the shoe so that your big toe just touches the end of the box. The box should catch the widest part of your foot at either side and snugly support your bones without squeezing.
Animal Wool or Ouch Pouches will be given to you by your experienced pointe shoe fitter so that your toes will be given that extra bit of protection. There should be no bulging of the skin over the vamp of the shoe when standing. The top of the box should sit against the skin of the top of your foot.
Take a look at the length of the wings, they should guide your foot into the shoe to fit snugly. If they are too long, it may be hard to work properly through the demi-pointe of the foot, because the stiff sides of the wings will not allow the shoe to follow the bend of your arch.
The vamp is located near the front of the shoe above the box. If the vamp is too long, you will not be able to rise through the demi-pointe effectively. If it is too short, it won’t sit correctly and support the top of your foot in the shoe, so you will end up over pointing.
Heel: The satin of the heel should come 7/8 of the way up your heel bone. Too high, and you may get problems with the attachment of your Achilles tendon. Too low, and you will get frustrated with the heel of the shoe popping off when you rise. It is important to make sure the heel of the shoe hugs your heel, as it helps keep the foot supported, especially when doing exercises and dances in different ballet positions.
Check the position of the shank– Look to see that the shank sits in line with the sole of the foot when the foot is en pointe. If the shank of the shoe is twisting, check the alignment of the foot first. As long as the box is sitting square and the foot is in good alignment, it will be safe for you to go en pointe. Often twisting of the shoe is due to the shank not conforming to the shape of the arch. It may be remedied by repeated bending of the shoe to ‘break it in’ before wearing. However, the shank may also twist on the foot if the box is too narrow, so recheck this area again.
Check the width by looking at the alignment en pointe– With both shoes on, stand with your weight on both feet and knees bent (2nd position). In this position, your feet will be at their widest. In addition, you should feel the little and big toe joints and the centre of the heel on the floor. Your shoes should feel snug but not pinch. You should also feel the box ‘cupping’ your toes. Next, place one foot en Pointe without transferring body weight on to your toes. If the outer sole of the shoe remains flat against the pad of your heel, your shoe is the right width for you. If your sole twists away from your foot, the shoe is too narrow. At this time, you should also check that the box completely covers the toe joints.
Check the length of the shoe– Check the length of the shoe by peeling the satin of the shoe off the heel and folding it back under the shoe (see below). Place the foot back en pointe, and check where the sole finishes. The end of the sole/shank should be just short of the end of the heel. If the shoe is too long there may be bagging of the satin at the back of the shoe because it’s cut to fit the heel. If the shank is too short however, the foot will tend to wobble more, and the satin will pull too low. This results in the back of the shoe often popping off when rising from demi to full pointe and can be very annoying and dangerous.
Once you have a good fit, recheck it stepping up onto pointe. Hold onto the back of a stable chair or bench, and place one foot en pointe. Put some weight through that shoe and then bring the otherfoot up onto pointe. Make sure your toes are pointed long in the shoe and that there are no areas of severe pressure on any toe. Isolated areas of pressure may be solved by use of specific padding in the shoe, but should be avoided with a good fit if at all possible.