Pointe Shoe Fitting Guide

Welcome to Pandr Pointe World!

As a dancer progresses through their career the one goal on all their minds is… Can I go en pointe yet?  Buying their first pair of pointe shoes is a very exciting occasion. The hours/years of challenging work have finally paid off and the anticipated moment of putting on that first pair of beautiful, pink satin pointe shoes has arrived.

It is very important to remember that the first pair of pointe shoes is a momentous occasion and not to be taken lightly. For the dancer’s safety, foot development, suitable strength and appropriate technical preparation must be considered. A pair of pointe shoes must be professionally fitted to suit their individual criteria and unique foot shape.

We have created a guide to help you understand all the factors involved with some frequently asked questions which will help you make the right decision on finding the perfect pair of shoes.

Is there a minimum age to start pointe work?

There is no official minimum age to start dancing en pointe. Physical development and technical ability are the best indications for readiness to dance en pointe. Most dancers with the correct training and development tend to be ready at around 11/12 years of age. As there are exceptions to this rule we would always ask for tutor confirmation with anyone below the age of 12. Everyone will nonetheless be assessed and advised accordingly. It is always better to wait the begin without adequate readiness.

How do I know if I am ready for pointe?

Pre- first pointe shoe fitting:

Including specific pre-pointe work a dancer would have completed several years of ballet training
Satisfactory core, leg and foot strength. A good sign is where a dancer can pull up on demi-pointe consistently
Appropriate bone structure development. This is to reduce the risks of injury and damage to the feet.

Post- first pointe shoe fitting (as a pointe beginner):

When standing en pointe knees and back must be straight
Core muscles pulled in with relaxed shoulders
There should be no falling backward or rolling when standing at the barre. Balancing on the centre of the box/platform

Is there anything to discuss with the teacher?

Deciding whether the time is right to begin pointe is a decision that should not be made lightly and certainly with the teacher’s permission. You should be confident that your child has received the suitable instruction, including pre-pointe training. If it is possible observing a beginners pointe class would give a valuable insight. Pointe beginners would normally only spend a brief time in class en pointe with the remainder of the time learning how to properly maintain the shoes, build strength/flexibility and attention to basic techniques.

What should we expect at the first fitting?

There are no two fittings alike, but we would recommend allowing for at least half hour to an hour. Therefore, we offer appointments for your convenience. Starting with n examination of your child’s bare feet the fitter would then select shoes to match the foot shape. Your child would be asked to plie and rise to demi-pointe to show adequate technique, strength and foot development.

Our fitters will select a style/size to try. This is usually just a starting point but, in some cases, the ‘first fit’ could be the correct shoe. If this is the case, we would always try other shoes so your child can feel how different variations can have an impact on fit. Our fitters will ask lots of questions and it is important at this stage to answer as truthfully as possible. It can take lots of patience to select the right pair but due to the dangers and possible discomfort it is well worth the time.

Terminology:

  • En pointe: a style of dancing on the tips of the toes
  • Pre-pointe: Using ballet shoes or demi-pointe shoes exercises will be performed to develop technique and strength require for pointe work. This may be done in ballet class or in some cases a separate demi-pointe class
  • Core strength: Strengthening abdominal, back and pelvis are will give core strength. Strong core muscles are the basis for good pointe technique.
  • Pulling up: To elevate, not sink, for correct technique will reduce strain on the muscles and joints of the back, legs and feet. This allows you to work with your shoes not fight against or rely upon.
  • Demi-pointe: Used for pre-pointe training; standing and dancing on the balls of the feet. Also called soft blocks or half pointe.
  • Barre: A handrail used for teaching ballet technique and exercises. To be held lightly and should not be gripped or leaned on.
  • Platform: the tip of the pointe shoe box, where the dancer balances.
  • Pointe model: There are different models of pointe shoes to accommodate different foot shapes.
  • Plié: With feet turned out and heels firmly planted the dancer would bend their knees and straighten again. Ballet posture is important.

Preparation required for the fitting

  • Feet: Clean and dry feet with manicured nails. Nails need to be trimmed so they do not protrude passed the flesh of the toes. (Fittings may be postponed if this isn’t adhered to)
  • Clothing: Should be comfortable but not too baggy. The fitter will need to see the dancer’s posture throughout their body.
  • Tights: If tights are worn, they must be convertible, to give access to bare feet.
  • Gently stretch the feet and ankles: before the fitting. This to avoid possibly strain and cramping when going en pointe.

How can the parent/guardian assist during the fitting?

A little preparation before the fitting can be very beneficial. Talk before about how the pointe shoes may feel. Supportive and snug yet not painful or pinching. There will be lots of questions asked by the fitter and we would welcome encouragement for the dancer to listen and answer accurately. It is important for the dancer to speak up about any discomfort or fitting related questions. Also feel free to ask any questions or sit back and enjoy the fitting.

What is the teacher’s role in pointe fitting?

The relationship between the teacher, dancer and fitter is extremely important. We welcome teachers to come along to the fittings and get involved. With everyone working as a team the dancers has the best opportunity of success en pointe. An expert pointe teacher will also know how a shoe should fit and will have valuable experience of what a dancer needs and the various pointe shoe styles that are available. If the teacher is not available, we strongly recommend the shoes should be shown for approval before any ribbons are sewn or before the shoe is used.

How should pointe shoes fit?

A correctly fitting pointe shoe should feel snug. It isn’t possible to fit pointe shoes with growing room. A loose shoe increases the chance of injury and the dancer will not have the correct control of movement. The snug nature of the fit may feel unusual at first but the fitter will check many aspects of the shoes and ask lots of questions to determine if they are too tight or just snug. Pinching toes, squeezing of toes, feet not laying flat and excessive pressure on the big toe are all signs of an over tight shoe.

To attain a properly fitting shoe the fitter will ensure that the box sits securely against the toes with all five toes laid flat along the insole. The big toe should reach the end of the box comfortably when performing a plié. When stood flat the heel should be snug with a little pinch of fabric on the heel counter once up en pointe. When en pointe the dancer should have an even distribution of weight across the toes, which will assist balance on the platform and the feet should not sink in to the box. The ankle and metatarsal area will be observed along with the whole-body alignment head to toe.

Metatarsals are part of the bones of the mid-foot and are tubular in shape. They are named by numbers and start from the medial side outward. The medial side is the same side as the big toe.

Anatomy of a Pointe Shoe

Pointe Shoe Anatomy

1.   Throat Line
2.   Block/Box
3.   Modified Vamp
4.   Shank/Insole
5.   Sock
6.   Binding
7.   Drawstring
8.   Vamp
9.   Platform
10. Wing
11. Side Seam
12. Pleats
13. Outsole
14. Heel Strap

How to position and sew the pointe ribbons

The following diagrams show the most common and basic method of attaching ribbons. Through experience the dancer will develop their own preferences e.g. moving ribbon positions forward or back to suit their body/foot.
Ribbon Placement

1. Take the heel of the pointe shoe
2. Pull it all the way forward
3. Make pencil marks inside the folds (see arrows)
4. Before you sew each ribbon, fold over one end.
5. Sew the folded end inside the shoe (using mark from step 3)

Why not put your feet up with a bottle of wine (over 18's only) and watch our tutorial

 

DO NOT sew elastics to the back of the heel. Always place either side

Elastic Position

1. Single elastic passes around the ankle (recommended method)
2. Double elastics cross over the instep

What is the best way to prepare pointe shoes?

As soon as the teacher has approved the fit of the shoes it will be time to sew on the ribbons. (please see our ribbon tutorial) Teachers will normally show students the correct way to fasten the ribbons in the first pointe class. It is important not to tie the ribbons at the back of the ankle as this could damage the Achilles tendon. A double knot should be used and placed in the hollow between the Achilles tendon and ankle bone. Tucking the knot under the ribbons so the ends are not shown.

Elastics can be used for added support, but we would always recommend trying the shoes without elastics first to ensure they do not hide any underlaying issues. Correct elastic position is shown in the ribbon tutorial. Do not stich elastics at the back of the pointe shoe as this could cause damage to the Achilles tendon.

When a pointe shoe has been professionally fitted they should require very little to no preparation. Experienced dancers will develop certain techniques to best prepare their shoe to suit their individual circumstances. A beginner should never alter their shoes unless it has been advised by the fitter or teacher. Bashing, bending, breaking pointe shoes or changing the design will compromise the strength and support in the shoe in possibly dangerous ways. The breaking in should always be achieved, supervised by a teacher, while performing exercises in pointe class

Instep: the top of the foot, opposite to the arch on the sole of the foot
Achilles tendon: the largest tendon in the body, running all the way from the heel into the calf.
Breaking in: softening and moulding pointe shoes to the feet.

Is there anything else required?

Padding in shoes is not totally necessary but most dancers prefer to use it for the comfort it can provide and fit improvements. Only padding designed for pointe shoes should be worn and we would advise avoiding experiments with other materials. We have a broad range of pointe shoe accessories to compliment the pointe shoe collection. There is also a specific tape that can be used on the toes to prevent rubbing. Ask the fitter for more information and discuss with your teacher on how to apply. Toe spacers and heel grips may also be used but providing a correct shoe choice has been made they tend to only be used in very rare cases.

When does my daughter need a new pair of pointe shoes?

Because they fit so precisely and provide such important support, pointe shoes must be replaced more frequently than street shoes. Your daughter needs a new pair when:

  • Her feet grow so that the shoes are uncomfortably tight.
  • Her foot shape changes so that she is no longer supported properly and comfortably.
  • Technical development changes her needs in the shape or shank strength pf the shoes.
  • The shoes begin to lose their supportive qualities.

The feet and other parts of the body can be damaged when a dancer wears shoes that are too tight, no longer match the shape of her feet, or no longer provide adequate support. Signs of worn-out shoes include lack of support, or squashy softening, in the toe box or platform and over-flexing in the shank. Appearances can be deceiving; shoes might look almost new but be structurally worn out, or appear dirty and worn but still be fully functional. Your daughter’s teacher or fitter can help determine if they are still wearable.

With only a short time on pointe each week, many beginners can wear a pair of shoes until they are outgrown, and they may need only a pair or two in the first year. At the opposite extreme, many professionals wear each pair only once! Pre-professionals students typically need one or two pairs per month, so parents of serious dancers should be prepared for frequent replacement.

How long do they last? Is it possible to make them last longer?

You can usually expect around 12-15 hours of wear from a pair of pointe shoes. To get the most out of that lifespan, follow some basic care principles. Because they are made of natural materials, most pointe shoes break down when wet. Encourage your daughter to use the mesh bag outside her dance bag to carry her shoes after class. She should also remove toe pads immediately after use and store them separately from her shoes. Shoes must never be squashed, and they should be set out to air-dry thoroughly between classes, ideally for at least 24 hours. When dancers wear pointe shoes daily, they often alternate pairs so that each pair had time to dry completely before being worn again.

Should my daughter wear her pointe shoes at home?

Due to the risk of injury we would strongly discourage the use of the pointe shoes outside of class for at least the first year. A specialised floor is used at pointe class which provides just the right amount of traction and with the teachers supervision which is essential to safely learn the skills and strength needed to be safe.

What is the role of the dance store in my daughter’s life?

The dance store is important as a source of appropriate dancewear, shoes and accessories. In addition, the dance retailer is often a wonderful source of information about training, performance and dance-related events and organizations in the local community. He or she can be a special part of your daughter’s support team.
Professional pointe fitting takes place almost exclusively in dance stores. As long as she dancers on pointe, your daughter will continue to need the personal care of a professional fitter to ensure the safest and most satisfying technical development and dancer performance.

Beneficial Exercises for the Feet and Pointe Work

These 8 exercises will help with strengthening ankles and feet whilst also correcting any ailments in the feet and ankles. Follow the instructions to help your daughter build the strength to make her pointe experience as safe and satisfying as possible. Keep toes extended but relaxed – neither flexed nor strongly pointed – unless instructions specify pointing or flexing the toes. Start with one set of 8-10 repetitions of each exercise, on each foot. As strength increases and the exercises are learned, increase to two or three sets (about five minutes per set). After the exercises, gently stretch the ankles and feet.

Equipment: elastic exercise band (tie ends together to make a loop), small towel or thin cushion. When possible, perform exercises 1-4 with space below the feet (sitting on a firm bed or elevating the feet slightly off the floor with a firm cushion, not thick enough to put strain on the knees) for better range of movement.

  1. Dorsiflexion (flexing the foot upward)

Sit with legs extended forward, one foot resting on top of the other. Wrap band as shown, with end hanging loose. Without flexing the toes, flex the working (top) foot at ankle, slowly and smoothly, upward toward the body. Do not move the other foot. Return to starting position slowly and smoothly.

Target muscle: Tibialis Anterior
Importance: alignment of foot and ankle; control for jumps and pointe work.

  1. Plantar Flexion (“pointing” the foot)

Sit with legs extended forward. Wrap band as shown and grasp with hands. Without strongly pointing the toes, slowly and smoothly extend the foot into a “pointed” position (at ankles not toes) then return to starting position.

Target muscles: Gastrocnemius and Soleus
Importance: strength on pointe and throughout dance technique.

  1. Eversion

Sit with legs extended forward, ankles a few inches apart. Wrap band and show and grasp with hands. With working foot extended, but not strongly pointed, move the foot smoothly outward (to an everted position). Move exactly to the side, without changing angle of foot or moving toes. Return smoothly past starting point to fully inverted position.

Target muscle: Peroneus Brevis
Importance: control and stability; avoidance of sickling and winging.

  1. Inversion

    Sit with legs extended forward, with working ankle resting on top of the other ankle. Wrap band as shown and grasp with hands. Slowly and smoothly move inward (to an inverted position). Keep ankle extended and try not to use toes. Move exactly to the side in relationship to the ankle. Return slowly past starting point to fully everted

Target Muscle: Tibialis Posterior
Importance: with eversion, essential for control and stability.

  1. Pointing Big Toe

Sit with working led extended and ankle flexed but relaxed. Wrap loop around big toe joint and grasp band with hands. Moving only the toes, point big toe against resistance of band. Then, allow toe to return very slowly to flex position.

Target Muscle: Flexor Hallucis Longus (FHL)
Importance: stability on pointe; avoidance of over-pronation and bunions.

  1. Pointing Little Toes

Perform as exercise 5 but wrapping band around the little toes instead of big toe. Sit with working leg extended and ankle flexed but relaxed, and wrap loop around four little toes. Moving only the toes, point against the resistance of the band, the allow toes to return slowly to flexed position. 

Target muscle: Flexor Digitorum Longus (FDL)
Importance: Overall Stability

  1. Big Toe Push

Sit on couch, or on floor with a thin cushion for the working foot. Bend working knee and place foot on couch or cushion. Put forefinger under big toe joint and push the toe joint downward. (The movement of this exercise is mostly invisible, but the pressure can be felt by the finger).

Target Muscle: Peroneus Longus
Importance: Strength and control in relevé; keeps big toe functioning properly.

  1. Towel Curl

Place small towel on floor or exercise table and sit in front of it. Place working foot in middle of towel. Repeatedly grasp and release towel with toes, gradually moving it toward the body. (Picking up objects with toes provide similar exercise).

Target muscles: Intrinsic Muscles of Arch
Importance: flexing and pointing the toes; stability throughout foot.

Glossary

This glossary includes vocabulary from the “words to know sections throughout the guide, along with other terminology that will be helpful as your daughter begins pointe and advances in her ballet training.

Achilles tendon: the largest tendon in the body, running from the heel bone into the calf.
Arch: The curve of the sole of the foot.
Barre: handrail for balance during ballet exercises; to be held lightly, not gripped or leaned on.
Breaking in: softening and moulding pointe shoes to the feet.
Bunion: deformity and inflammation of the big toe joint, often very painful. Correct pointe fitting and training help dancers avoid or delay bunion development.
Core strength: muscular strength throughout the torso, including the abdomen, back and pelvis.
Demi-pointe/half-pointe: standing and dancing on the balls of the feet.
Instep: the curve of the top of the foot.
Knuckling: crumpling at the toe joints and sinking into the toe box.
Metatarsal area: the metatarsals are five long bones connecting the heel and toes. “Metatarsal area” refers to the joints between the metatarsals and phalanges (toes), where the toes bend at the ball of the foot.
On flat: standing and dancing with the entire sole of the foot or shoe on the floor.
On pointe: standing and dancing on the tips if the toes; also called en pointe
Plié: bending the knees with correct ballet posture.
Pulling up: coordinated usage of muscles throughout the body to elevate, not sink, for correct technical development and reducing strain on the muscles and joints of the back, legs and feet.
Pre-pointe: special exercises and guidance that target the technique and strength needed for pointe work; may be offered within ballet class or as a separate class, using ballet slippers or demi-pointe shoes.
Proprioception: awareness of the body in space.
Relevé: rising from flat to demi-pointe or pointe.
Rolling to pointe/ rolling through: passing through demi-pointe on the way from flat to pointe.
Sickling (over-supination): slanting or twisting of the foot so that it rolls toward the little toes. On flat, the big toe might be raised. On pointe or demi-pointe, the dancer seems to fall outward off the toes.
Springing to pointe: rising to pointe with minimal roll-through, almost as if jumping onto the toes.
Winging (over-pronation): slanting or twisting of the foot so that it rolls toward the big toe. On flat, the foot rolls over the big toe. On pointe or demi-pointe, the dancer seems to fall inward off the toes.