It happened in the fall of 1983. My first pair of pointe shoes. They were pink. And I mean a bright, 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 bedroom wall, that pair of Pavlova’s is no longer a shocking pink. More of a faded dusty rose. Frayed satin around the box, still donned with aged ribbon and elastic that has since lost its stretch.
I called upon these memories after having been asked to compose a blog on 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!
So parents and budding ballerinas, hold on tight and brace yourselves. We are going to tackle this together.
Currently, there are upwards of 10 companies producing pointe shoes. Within each of those brands lie several different types and style each 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 comfort and fit, and I use “comfort” loosely! 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 your particular appendage.
The topic of pointe shoes, I am pretty sure, could fill its own full Encyclopedia edition. So for the sake of this blog and out of respect for your time, I will only discuss three main parts of the pointe shoe: The box, the vamp and the shank.
Deep breaths … in … out … in … out. We got this!
This is where knowing the shape of your foot really comes in handy. The pointe shoe “box” comes in three main shapes — square, slightly tapered and 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. Is your second toe longer than your big toe? Start by trying on a shoe with a slightly tapered box. All in all, the box of the shoe you choose should mimic the natural shape of your foot.
Now that the shoe is on, what are you looking for? Your toes should be snug but not curled when standing flat. Try to 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? Choose what feels best.
Vamp length is an important characteristic of your shoe. If the 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. These are 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.
The shank is the part of the pointe shoe that supports the arch. Assess the height and flexibility of your natural arch. Dancers with high arches tend to have flexible feet. Those with flatter feet and lower arches tend to be more rigid. Shanks come in varying strengths ranging from soft to strong and many in-between. As your feet begin to get stronger and 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 get all the way up on your shoe and achieve a full pointe. 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 help you feel 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 A New Page Blog on how to appropriately break in your shoes prior to your first pointe class. Best of luck!
Incredibly passionate about the wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world of ballet, Paige Ade is a wife, mom, and former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer. She writes for Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s A New Page blog.