Buying pointe shoes for the first time is an important part of a young ballerina's dance development. It is extremely important to make sure your pointe shoes are properly fitted by a professional. Once you find a shoe that fits you well, and your feet have stopped growing you will start to find preferences in your dance shoes as you will learn what you need for your feet. But to start out with, you need to get them fitted to make sure they are right for you to avoid causing damage to your feet.
Demi-pointe shoes can be used to train dancers who are new to pointe technique, to prepare them for the feel of wearing a pointe shoe. Their outer appearance resembles a pointe shoe and has a toe box which is not as deep or hard as a regular point shoe. They have no shank so they do not provide the necessary support for pointe work and it can be dangerous to stand en-pointe in demi-pointe shoes.
They are also used in some performances where the appearance of the pointe shoe is desired but no pointe work will be performed.
The box is a hard enclosure in the front end of the shoe which encases and supports the dancers' toes. The front end is flattened to form a platform to balance on.
The shank is a piece of rigid material which stiffens the sole to provide supprt for the arch of the en pointe foot.
Your first fitting
Generally, 12 years of age is the youngest a dancer should start en pointe. Even if they are strong and highly skilled dancers, their bones are still very soft and going en pointe too early can lead to bone disfigurement and arthitis. Most dance teachers will not recommend starting at an earlier age.
You must get your first pair of pointe shoes fitted by a professional. Your teacher will advise what they think is best for you, and can recommend a dance store which offers a fitting service. First fittings usually take up to an hour and you usually need to make an appointment. They should also advise what you need to do to prepare or bring with you for the fitting (ie tights, cut nails etc.) A professional fitting is so vital to ensure the shoes fit correctly in order to avoid injury.
Your teacher should advise if you are allowed additional toe padding such as Pointe Pads or the popular Ouch Pouches. Animal wool is also a traditional method for additional padding. Make sure you advise your fitter if you are allowed padding so they can ensure the shoes will fit correctly according to this.
Pointe shoes need to fit snuggly. Too much room will allow your foot to move around in the shoe whilst dancing which is dangerous and can cause bone damage, whereas shoes which are too tight can cause calluses, bruises, and bunions. There should be no gaping, and when flat on the floor, toes should lay flat with no scrunching or overlap. Major brands who specialise in pointe shoes such as Grishko and Bloch, have a range of widths to help every dancer find the most perfect fitting shoe.
The shank of the shoe should be the right strength for the arch of your foot - this often depends on the experience of the dancer.
Pointe shoes do not have a left and right shoe. However, after a few wears they will conform to the shape of your feet.
After you have purchased your shoes from a fitting, check them with your dance teacher before you commit to sewing ribbons on or making and adjustments. Stores will not accept the shoes back if they are scuffed or altered in any way.
Pointe shoes will feel uncomfortable. The snug fit will allow little to no room to wiggle your toes and will feel constricted at first. Some numbness in the toes is normal, but with experience you will become accustomed to the feel. Balance will be difficult at first as the shank is narrower than the sole of the foot. The stronger your ankles, the less your foot will roll to the side.
Dancers break in or soften new pointe shoes to help improve their fit and eliminate some discomfort. Some methods such as deforming them against hard surfaces, striking them with blunt objects, wetting them and heating them, are not advised methods as they will shorten the pointe shoe's usable lifetime. Wearing them each day for approx. 30 minutes will allow heat from the foot to soften layers of material and glue which will mould the shoe to the shape of the foot withour deforming or damaging them. You will find each dancer has their own technique in how they prefer to break in their shoes.
Repetitive flexing will cause the shank to gradually weaken and lose its support. The box will also eventually soften and reduce the strength on which the dancer balances.
The front face and bottom edge of the toe box are subjected to friction against the floor and will wear away, exposing the toe box and creating loose frayed fabric eges. This does not make the shoe less productive, simply unsuitable for performances. The platform can be protected by darning or by applying a suede toe patch.
Under moderate usage, the first pair of pointe shoes should last around 12 months. Professional ballerinas wear through a pair of pointe shoes every few weeks, some even after every performance. The toe box will start to soften and lose support due to pressure and moisture from dancing. If you feel your shoe is starting to wear in, get another pair as back-up.
After use professionals advise that you must dry the shoes completely to maximise longevity. Remove all padding from the box of the shoe, stuff the shoes with paper towels for 3 days to keep the shape of the shoe and air dry somewhere which isn't too hot. A mesh pointe shoe bag or cotton bag can be helpful to keep them in. Never leave them in a bag with no vents (ie plastic bag or dance bag).
Visit Move Dancewear for a range of pointe shoes and accessories
You can get a useful book to help you with your pointe shoes by Angela Reinhardt - Pointe Shoes Tips & Tricks. Plus, we love this: Laura Tong has a great piece about how she prepares her pointe shoes here