It happened in the fall of 1983. My first pair of pointe shoes. They were pink. And I mean a brightly gleaming, true ballet pink. The brand was Capezio Pavlova, and they were packaged in a sleek black box covered with white stars that truly seemed to sparkle as I carefully removed the lid. A magical moment.
Preserved in a shadow box hanging on my daughter’s wall, that pair of Pavlova’s is no longer a shocking pink. But a faded dusty rose. Frayed satin around the box. Still donned with aged ribbon and elastic that has lost it stretch.
I called upon these memories after having been asked to compose a blog on purchasing pointe shoes for beginners. A daunting task to the newbie to say the least. Capezio no longer produces the Pavlova. And I believe the starry black box has been retired as well. But I am here to help!
“In order to fully prepare for your pointe shoe fitting, you must understand the shape of your foot.”
So parents and budding ballerinas, hold on tight. Brace yourselves. We are going to tackle this together!
Currently there are upwards of 10 companies producing pointe shoes. Within each of those brands, there lies several different types and styles — all with varying characteristics. And let me just throw this out there: It is my opinion that there is not a certain brand or style that is best suited for a beginner. It is my recommendation that you base your selection on fit and comfort (and I use comfort very loosely!). In order to fully prepare for your pointe shoe fitting, you must understand the shape of your foot. Once you have analyzed and know that, the fitter can then select a shoe with characteristics best suited for you.
I am pretty sure the topic of pointe shoes could fill its own full encyclopedia edition. So for the sake of this blog and out of respect for your time, I am only going to discuss three main parts of the pointe shoe: The box, the vamp and the shank.
Deep breath … in … out … in … out. We got this!
When purchasing pointe shoes consider: the box, the vamp and the shank.
This is where knowing the shape of your foot first really comes in handy. The pointe shoe box comes in three main shapes: square, slightly tapered, tapered. If you have wide square feet, you will want to try a shoe with a square shaped box. Narrow with perfectly slanted toes? Begin with a tapered box. Maybe your second toe is longer than your big toe. Start by trying on a shoe with slightly tapered box. All in all, the box of the shoe you choose should mimic the natural shape of your foot.
Now the shoe is on. What are you looking for? Your toes should be snug but not curled when standing flat. Try and go up en pointe. Did you feel your feet sink down to the bottom? If yes. Too wide. If no. So far so good. Throughout your fitting, be certain that you are not experiencing any numbness in your toes. That could be a sign the shoe is too narrow for your foot.
The vamp is the length of your box. Look at your toes again. For long toes, go with a longer vamp. Short vamps are for short toes. In the middle? Go with what feels best.
Vamp length is an important characteristic of your shoe. If your vamp is too long for your foot, it will inhibit you from getting all the way en pointe and not allow you to roll effectively through your demi pointe. Two crucial movements in learning strong pointe technique. A vamp that is too short can be injurious allowing your delicate metatarsals to bulge out and not receive the appropriate support they need.
This is the part of the pointe shoe that supports the arch. Assess the height and flexibility of your natural arch. People with high arches tend to have flexible feet; flatter feet with lower arches are usually more rigid. Shanks come in varying strengths ranging from soft to strong and many levels in-between. As your feet begin to get stronger the longer you are en pointe, you may want to select different shank strengths.
Similar to the vamp, the shank is another significant element to your shoe when it comes to injury prevention and perfecting great pointe technique. If your shank is too strong, you will not be able to achieve a full pointe by getting all the way up on your shoe. A shank that is too soft can compromise the health of those delicate metatarsals I mentioned earlier.
Hopefully. I have supplied you with enough information to feel ready and empowered to take on your first pointe shoe fitting and purchase. Remember that in the end, only you, the dancer, can determine what your true fit should be. Finding the perfect fit may be trial and error for a while, but the right shoe for you is out there. I promise! Once you bring your prized possessions home, be sure to check out my blog on how to appropriately break in your shoes prior to your first pointe class. Best of luck!
Writer’s Note: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is proud to partner with Freed of London, USA. Through the Freed of London, USA Pointe Shoe Scholarship, three 2015-2016 CPYB academic students have been outfitted with a year’s supply of pointe shoes. What’s more, Freed of London’s FREED DIRECT professional fitters provide CPYB students with on-site custom pointe shoe fittings.