The Right Fit

  • Posted on
The Right Fit

Maybe you’re reading this thinking the same thing that many of our first pointe shoe fitting parents and dancers think when they walk into Tutu. What is the deal with this pointe shoe fitting thing?

Maybe you’re reading this thinking the same thing that many of our first pointe shoe fitting parents and dancers think when they walk into Tutu. What is the deal with this pointe shoe fitting thing?


Here is the quick synopsis -

Pointe shoes are a structured shoe made of canvas and specially cured paste that supports the foot when a dancer is on her toes. Like a snow ski boot they are made for support and technique not comfort. A teacher clears a student for pointe once they have enough strength in their feet and ankles to properly support their body weight. A dancer that is not ready for pointe shoes could injure herself. In a fitting, we are educating the dancer on how they should feel, assessing their foot shape, strength and flexibility and we use all of this information to pick the shoe that works best for them to start their pointe work. That takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on questions from parents and dancer.


From the first time a dancer wears her pointe shoes, the hard paste begins to soften and mold to the foot, and the dancer and shoe become a more natural pair. You may hear dancers say they need to “break in” their shoes, this is what they are talking about. Unfortunately, “breaking in “ is also “breaking down”, and for that reason, pointe shoes only last around 15 hours total* before they lose their support and functionality. When pointe shoes “die”, meaning lose structure, it can be either frustrating, because the dancer can no longer be supported on pointe, or worse, dangerous, because the shoe lets them fall over the front or sides.


*Parents take note…regarding the 15 total hours for the life of a pointe shoe. For the majority of dancers this could be up to year if you’re doing 30-60 minutes of beginning pointe class once a week, and your feet don’t grow. For some dancers ( and you may not know who you are yet :) ), when in an intense ballet program, your pointe volume will start at an hour a week but grow quickly. Many high school level dancers in an intense pointe curriculum may do 15 hours a WEEK when you consider added rehearsals. This is a whole separate topic, but those of you in an intense ballet program should be aware that the expense of pointe shoes can add up.



First to clarify what Pointe shoes are…


Pointe shoes are a structured shoe that allow a dancer with enough training and ability to rise up onto a hard platform on the tips of their toes. Basically as a dancer rises to a releve position (on the balls of their feet) the structure of the shoe allows them to push one step further up to their tip toes. The foot is totally flat, or suspended, in the shoe - it is not “scrunched” down. Pointe shoes, combined with proper technique, lengthen the lines of a dancer, and the platform, the part a dancer rests on with her tip toes in releve, can allow for quicker turns because of less resistance compared to the ball of the foot.


All this sounds good in principle but is quite difficult to master.  Generally the average age of dancers to start pointe, with years of ballet training under their belt, is around 11-12 years. Tutu cannot make any comment on whether a dancer is ready for pointe - that is up to the teachers, parents and dancer to decide. When a teacher gives the go ahead for pointe shoes we will do our best to pick best fitting shoe that will support both the foot and the technique of the dancer.


What is a pointe shoe made of?


With the exception of a couple of brands, pointe shoes are hand made like a cast with a leather or fiber board “spine” or “shank” in the back to support and lift the foot up. Where the toes are (“the box” and platform of the shoe) is burlap, canvas and a special paste that is hard at first but softens as the dancer wears them. We need our pointe shoes to soften and mold to our foot somewhat like a baseball mitt. The more they mold or “break in” the more we can articulate them. Most professional dancers you see en pointe are in shoes so soft they last only for one performance!


Ok cool, well what’s with the appointment and why does it take so long?


At Tutu, we figured out ten years ago that we have to take some time for first timers to understand the feeling of pointe shoes.. Dancers who are starting pointe are so freaking excited you could give them a couple of cement shoes and they would be good to go. So, in order to avoid a bad first shoe experience, here is the breakdown for a first time fitting::

10 minutes: What are the shoes all about? How are they made? Questions from parents and dancers?

10 Minutes: Toe pad choice (a little cushioning between the toes and the shoe) - assessment of foot shape, flexibility of ankles/feet. Do we need spacers or anything else?

10 Minutes: Comparing different sizes - do we understand how they should feel when they are down flat? Up in releve? Are you feeling any sinking?

10 Minutes: Are we properly aligned? What shoes do the best to support but lift us up in releve?

Conclusion: Things to work on. Need exercise band instruction? Questions? High five and pictures from a million angles cause you got your first pointe shoes!!! Yay, you!