Pointe Shoe Guide
Frequently asked questions:-
1)How old should you be to start Pointe?
Really, there is no absolute answer for what age – what is important is that every dancer is individually assessed and considered, looking at both her physical dance ability and maturity. Yes, age is important in that you need to be mentally mature enough (just getting properly fitted for pointe shoes requires a lot of maturity, let alone dancing en Pointe). You also need to have enough physical maturity. We know that the bones in the feet are some of the last to harden, and that before they harden, the growth plates are at risk of damage. We know that just before the onset of puberty/ menstruation, there is a significant growth spurt, and at this time, hormonal changes make ligaments more flexible, growth plates are active, and dancers can become clumsier, so starting pointe during this growth spurt really places the dancer at extra risk of injury. Of course, there is a vast difference between a girl who is doing ballet once a week, and one who is training much more intensively- the one who is training 3-4 times a week has much more muscle strength and technique to help protect her, so for her, starting pointe a bit earlier is not as much of a worry (though good care and preparation is still vital- one cannot afford to damage these young dancers before their career has begun!) Again, the use of demi pointe shoes during this growth spurt can be very helpful in continuing strength work while reducing injury risk. Ask your teacher if you can progress to demi-Pointe shoes first.
2) Why do you need intrinsic foot muscle strength?
When the foot is in the Pointe shoe, correctly pointed (long straight toes) and correctly supported in the shoe, it is the intrinsic foot muscles that do all the work, supporting most of the body weight. When a shoe is too big, and the toes are all scrumpled in the shoe, the leg muscles have to do the work, to hold the foot out of the shoe, and the lovely line at the ankle is lost.
Intrinsic muscles can be strengthened with use of demi-Pointe shoes, and exercises such as metatarsal lifts, therabands, wobble boards and other exercises. None of these exercises take very long and should be done daily.
There are many excellent resources for good exercises- some of the below links may be helpful:
3) Why are demi-Pointe shoes essential in preparing for pointe?
We were not anatomically designed to stand on our toes in pointe shoes, yet most people, when they think of ballet, imagine a dancer on pointe, and so it is every girl’s dream to reach that stage whether a hobby dancer or not. Teachers therefore often feel pressure to put girls on pointe for fear of them giving up ballet. We are faced with a situation then of many girls going on pointe before they are truly ready, and often finding it so painful that they then give up ballet anyway. In addition to taking up an extra hour of ballet a week, and doing many preparatory foot, ankle and core strength exercises, Esther Joun believes that demi pointe shoes have an amazing role to play, and we agree for even more reasons than originally proposed. Ultimately they can make the teacher, the dancer and the pointe shoe fitter’s life much much easier! Why? Well, a demi-pointe shoe:
- encourages better ankle control and balance due its thicker sole,
- works the intrinsic muscles in the foot much harder
- gets the foot used to working in a confined space
- and, looks like a pointe shoe- the emotional aspects of starting pointe for the older girls in a ballet school are often overlooked. To the observer outside a class, they cannot tell whether a girl is wearing Pointes or Demis, and so if half the girls in the class are on pointe and some are not, it is not so easily noticeable. It means everybody can stay working in their Demi pointe shoes until they are individually ready to move up to full Pointe.
- Makes fitting of a pointe shoe far easier when the time comes- our experience is that it is dramatically quicker to get to the required supportive fit.
According to Alison Whitaker, BSc (Hons) GSR, Sports Rehabilitator, specialising in Dance, the design of demi-pointe shoes provides a transition stage between soft ‘flatties’ and pointe shoes that better prepare the feet for the higher demands of pointe work when they are worn before pointe work starts.
Many dancers, however, go straight from soft ‘flatties’ to Pointe shoes in this critical stage of their training. Without a gradual transition phase between shoes the dancer is more likely to suffer an injury later on because they haven’t been as carefully prepared for the higher demands expected of them in Pointe work. It is therefore advisable that a young dancer wears demi-Pointe shoes for at least six months before they start Pointe work in line with preparatory strengthening exercises so as to improve their competence on pointe and decrease their chances of injury.
4) Why do you need excellent core muscles and good turnout?
When you dance on pointe you not only rely on the shoe for support, but also to dance 'out' of the shoe needing huge strength in your legs, hips and abdominal muscles. Pointe work is not just about feet. Core stability is as important- it does not matter how strong your feet and ankles are, if your body is not correctly aligned, and your core stability is weak, dancing on pointe could be more difficult. It is much healthier and safer for you to take slightly longer preparing your body, allowing some skeletal maturity to have taken place, than to have started at a too young an age, maybe causing you damage that could bring your dancing to an early finish.
5) Why do Pointes need to be fitted so snugly?
Pointes are designed to support the whole foot, encasing and gripping the metatarsal heads into the box. When a Pointe fits correctly, the shank of the shoe melts into the arch, supporting the rest of the foot. If a shoe is too big, this will never happen. The dancer will also not be able to get over the box, and will not be able to pull herself out of the shoe. This creates uneven balance on the shank and box and leads to early breakdown
A snugly fitting shoe looks like part of the foot (left) With pointe shoes that are too large (right) , the shank cannot mould with the arch even with full body weight on the foot- this is an SS shoe which should mould easily into the arch but there is so much padding in the shoe that it cannot fit properly!
6) Why is shape of the pointe shoe and vamp height important?
Pointe shoes in our opinion should be considered an extension of a dancer’s foot, so when buying a pointe shoe you firstly need to look at the shape of your foot, then look at the available Pointes to see which shoe matches your foot shape and start there.
Choosing the wrong shape pointe shoe can lead to the following:- A square box that is too wide for your foot, will feel like your foot is sinking down to the floor causing pain in the toes. With short toes and the vamp too long, you will have problems rolling up to pointe. With long toes and the vamp too short, you may not have enough support. You need to find the correct vamp height that allows your foot to roll up onto pointe yet be able to push the shoe over so that the whole platform is being used. If you find the correct Grishko shoe for your foot but find the vamp is too high or low, talk to your fitter- we can reduce the height, or change a round vamp shape to a v shape. This will be a Special Order and you will need to allow 6-8 weeks for your shoes to be made. If you are unable to push right over the platform, the vamp height should be looked at first .
7) Sewing on Pointe Shoe Ribbons
Everyone has their own way of sewing on ribbons but we believe this method is one of the most secure, and really helps the shoe and foot work together, with the heel piece securely attached.
Each pair of Pointe shoes requires about 2.5m of Pointe shoe ribbon. You may get away with less if you are very tiny, or need more of you are bigger.
8) Breaking in Pointe Shoes
Each pointe shoe is beautifully hand crafted. Please do not hammer, shut them in doors, bend them over the barre, bend them with your hands or anything else that will damage them. This can make them unsafe. we will not replace any shoes that have been tampered with in this way. If one part of a shoe is compromised through ‘breaking’ or bashing, other parts are put under too much strain and will break!
The best way is on your feet, when all the parts of the shoe are supported together. Pointe shoes should be prepared correctly before dancing in them. Treat them with respect and they will serve you well. Don’t do any breaking in unless your teacher is happy with your shoes, or has such a rapport with your local fitter that she is usually happy with the fitting.
Face the barre, with two hands on the barre for support.
1) Rise onto pointe, then roll down, very slowly, on both feet.
2) Pony trots, alternating feet.
3) Rise onto pointe, bend both knees forwards and push over on to, and right over the box.
4) Repeat, but on alternate feet.
5) repeat steps 1 to 4 in turnout position.
(Repeat until you find the shoes softening at the demi- pointe break)
You can also wear your new shoes around the house with a pair of socks over them (never go up and down stairs), or even sleep in them!
Lisa Howell has a good way of getting the shoe to start breaking in the right place- do it VERY VERY GENTLY !! (see video link here)
NB: The DreamPointe shoe requires no breaking in, and should not be manhandled as the plastic shank will snap. It is already ‘bendy’
9) Caring for Pointe shoes
Your new Pointe shoes are durable but you do have to look after them!
Always make sure your shoe fits you properly- a shoe that doesn’t fit well will not last as the pressures on the different parts of the shoe are unbalanced.
Break your shoes in carefully according to the suggestions above.
After your have worn your shoes for the first time, mark them Left and Right
Each day, after class, pop your feet back into your shoes to get their shape back, take out any padding you may have used, and them hang them up to dry thoroughly.
If you do several classes a week, do buy 2 pairs at a time so you can rotate them and let them dry. If the box is danced on when wet, it will break down and more stress will be put on the shank causing it to break early.
10) When is a shoe dead?
If you are dancing en Pointe daily, then you need to own more than one pair of shoes. These dancers should have a minimum of 3 pairs on the go at the same time, changing them after 45- 60 mins of work. If your feet perspire heavily, change them after 30 mins work. Pointe shoes will last longer if they are changed, drying out thoroughly for a MINIMUM of 24 hours before re using. (take any padding out!) The average life span of a pair of shoes is actually only 4-12 hours of work, of course that does depends on the type of classes you are taking and level of pointe work you are studying. When Pointe shoes have reached the end of their life, injuries can occur. An experienced dancer will know when her shoe is worn out, but if you are new to Pointe work, then please ask your teacher for advice.
Pointe shoes usually need to be replaced when
• either the platform is no longer stiff,
• the toe box has become too soft,
or the shank no longer offers you the support you are used to.
You need to be aware enough to notice these things. You may:
• start feeling pain in areas you never felt before,
• find you are no longer able to push right over the box,
• be falling off pointe when you try to balance, or
find yourself falling forwards out of turns.
If the toe box or shank becomes mushy, soft, cracked or damaged in any way, it is definitely time for a new pair of shoes. A lot of dancers only use the shank as a guide to when a pair of shoes needs to be replaced, but the box is essential too for support of all those toe joints.
Never dance in shoes that have become too soft as the shoe could collapse
NB- when wearing the DreamPointe:- Once the box has lost its support, you should stop wearing the shoes (you should for any style of shoes) but in the DreamPointe this is more important, as without the support from the box, the shank of shoe may ‘snap’ suddenly.
11) Why should I not buy Pointe shoes on the internet?
In order to find the right pair of pointe shoes for you, a good pointe shoe fitter will try on at least 2 shapes and probably 5-6 pairs of shoes (sometimes more) to get the right fit. A good pointe shoe fitting can take over an hour. A first fitting usually takes the longest as girls don’t usually know how the shoe should feel. (You should not be able to slip a pair of Pointe shoes on like slippers- they should feel like second skin, really snug and supportive and sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to achieve this.
Once you have had your first pair of Pointes fitted, don’t assume you can just order the same shoe again- as you start pointe work your feet often change shape over several months so it is always good to be refitted. Remember also that most pointe shoes are hand made, and so there can be variations in the same shoe style and size due to cobbler differences, so it is always good to try on shoes before you buy them. Once you have had a particular size and model 3 times in a row, then you are probably OK to order your next pair online or mail order but in most cases, a good fitting cant be beaten!
12) What happens if my feet are different sizes?
Your fitter will always try and get you fitted in one pair of shoes, and there are devices by Tendu and capezio called inlays which can change the size of a shoe by 1/4
However, if there is an obvious difference between your feet, it may be necessary to have 2 pairs of shoes - e.g a 5XXX on your left foot and 5.5XX on your right foot. This is not the end of the world as pointe shoes do not have a left and right- you will then have 2 pairs of pointe shoes at once but they will last you twice as long. Do be careful though- when you make up your 2 split pairs consisting of the 5XXX and the 5.5XX, make sure you alternate each pair regularly- don’t put one away in the cupboard and use only one, as chances are by the time you want to get the 2nd pair out of the cupboard, your feet will have changed in pointe work and it will not fit!
13) What do I do if I am vegan?
Some ballet shoe manufacturers can make vegan ballet slippers and some vegan pointe shoes for vegan customers. At present we do not have access to a steady supply but watch this space!
Vegan shoes and slippers are special order items, so you will have to be prepared to wait 6-10 weeks for them. Visit your local stockist for a fitting and they can then order them in for you. They will ask you for a deposit, and of course being special order, these items are non returnable. If they are not prepared to do this, please get in touch with us.
14) What if my local stockist does not stock an item that I want?
All of our UK stockists have access to any item made by Freed, Capezio, Bloch, R Class, Grishko, Gaynor Mindon- they can order them from us. If it is a stock item of ours it will be dispatched in a day or 2, but if we need to order it in it may take 6-10 weeks. If you have any problems, do get in touch with us, but your local stockist is usually very happy to help!
15) How do I get hold of coloured pointe shoes?
At the moment we don't have access to coloured Pointe shoes- it is something we will work on. When we do have access to them, Coloured pointe shoes will always be a special order item . You may need to wait 6-10 weeks. You will need to have a fitting regular shoes first and then order the colour you want from us.
16) How is it possible for my feet to fit equally into several different widths of shoes?
One of the things we have noticed with a foot that does not have good intrinsic muscle bulk under the metatarsals, is that the foot is very ‘squishable’. i. e, one can squeeze a seemingly wide foot into a narrow shoe because it does not have enough muscle bulk to hold it firm. This is of course potentially risky as you could land up in a shoe that is too narrow without knowing! This is another reason why you must work really hard to strengthen your intrinsic foot muscles. We fitters want to feel a good solid mass underneath the metatarsal area when your foot is pointed. It should not feel like we are pushing our thumbs into marshmallows.
17) How do I attach Suede Tips?-
As a quicker alternative to darning your pointe shoes, Tendu offers Suede patches to attach on to the platform. Take the round part of the suede tip, and place it over the platform edge, so that the edges around the top part of the circle/ platform are smooth and flush with each other. Then fold the 'extra, overhang' part with the logo on it down towards the sole of the shoe. Depending on the size of the shoe, this may overlap the front part of the sole. If so, trim the suede patch so that it sits flat next to the front of the ballet shoe sole. (don't worry if you have to trim some of the logo off!) Then use a strong adhesive suitable for fabric / leather such a High tack or UHU strong adhesive, to glue the patch to the platform and underneath . Do check your patches before each use of your shoe- you would not want them coming off while you are dancing!!
What about padding in Pointe shoes?
A well fitted shoe should not need or have space for much padding at all but we understand if you feel you need this.