I still remember the feeling of happiness that I felt the day I bought my first pair of pointe shoes. I was 9 years old, and although the age at which each ballerina buys their first pointe shoes is not always the same, it’s very important to know the type of pointe shoes we need when we are beginners, at whatever age this might be.
To go on pointe is something you do when you’ve been doing ballet for a few years. Wearing the wrong pointe shoes for your feet can lead to improper foot development, learning bad habits and even cause injury, so it’s very important to understand the types of pointe shoes that exist and which one is the best for you. Let ‘s dig into it!
First, what is a pointe shoe?
Pointe shoes are the shoes that ballerinas use mostly in classical repertoire, but they can be also used in modern and neoclassical pieces. The pointe shoes allow you to dance on top of your fingertips, making the dancer look light and ethereal, like sylphs.
What type of pointe shoes do you have?
Nowadays, there are many brands and types of pointe shoes, to not make this text too long, I will mention the 6 most important characteristics:
Like street shoes, pointe shoes have a size according to the length of the shoe, and depending on the brand they will use a different type of sizing (European, UK, USA, etc). But beware, your street shoes size won’t always match your pointe shoes size.
The sole of the pointe shoes can be made of different materials, but what matters most about the sole is its hardness, and this is the second most important characteristic when choosing your first pair of pointe shoes. To understand the different hardnesses, we classify the soles as very soft, soft, medium, hard or very hard.
The box is the third most important characteristic when choosing your first pair of pointe shoes. There are different shapes, dimensions and hardness of the wings (the sides of the box are called wings), but the most important characteristics are width and height.
4. Box width
The width of the shoe and the box are proportional. A larger box is a wider shoe, and a smaller box is a narrower shoe. The width is usually measured by the widest part of the foot, which is the part where the toe joints begin. This characteristic is very important, as wearing the wrong width shoes can be very painful.
5. Vamp (box height)
When choosing your first pointe shoes you should also pay special attention to the height of the box, because if it is too high or too low you will go on them incorrectly and they will get deformed.
The platform is the part of the shoe that stays in contact with the ground when you go on pointe. The larger the platform, the more balance and support you will have, but a smaller platform will show a better line of the leg and the foot.
How to pick my first pair of pointe shoes?
To pick your first pointe shoes you must know the type of feet you have, but before we are going to talk about the protections, as we must first know what is the extra space that we need inside the shoes so that our toes and protections fit.
To protect the toes from the shoe friction we use protectors called toe pads. There are toe pads of many types and materials, silicone, foam, fabric, thicker, thinner, and there are ballerinas who do not use toe them and use cotton or paper instead to better feel the inside of the shoe.
The protection you decide to use is a very personal decision, just keep in mind the extra space when buying your pointe shoes. If it’s your very first time, try different toe pads and different pointe shoes on the same day.
Finally, let’s talk about how to choose your first pair of pointe shoes!
Standing flat, your heel should touch the back of the shoe and your big toe should just touch the front. If they don’t the shoes may be too long. If your toes are crunching or curling the shoe may be too short.
“plié” deeply on one leg. Significant pressure on the big toe indicates a length that is too short.
If you have a lot of “cou-de-pied” (the arch of your foot is very curved) you will need a hard sole, and when you gain more strength you will have to switch to using very hard soles. On the contrary, if you don’t have a lot of “cou-de-pied” (the arch of your foot is straight or slightly curved) you should opt for a soft or very soft sole, and later move on to a medium sole.
We will pick a higher vamp if our feet are very arched to prevent the feet from bending beyond the platform and a shorter vamp if we have less arch to be able to fully get on the platform. In any case, the joints of all toes should always be covered by the box, never out because there would be a risk of injury, so if the ballerina has long toes, the box should be higher.
On the figure (A) the ballerina has a very arched foot, the sole is too soft and the vamp too short.
On the figure (B) the ballerina doesn’t have a very arched food, the sole is too hard and the vamp too high.
On the figure (C) the ballerina is wearing a soft sole (this is called “knuckling” and it is incorrect).
On the figure (D) the ballerina is wearing the perfect pointe shoe
The place where the sole should naturally bend is just below the heel, if it bends on the toes it means that the sole is too soft. The platform should always be in contact with the ground all or just a little behind (after a few days of use you should be able to get on completely).
Some pointe shoes have what ‘s called a split sole (a sole that is divided in two parts, cutted normally at 3⁄4). These types of pointe shoes are great choices for both types of ballerinas with big and smaller arches, but I don’t recommend using them if you are a beginner.
To measure the width, each brand uses different letters or numbers:
- 2 or less / X / A or B / N (N for “narrow”)
- 3 / XX / C / M (M for “medium”)
- 4 or more / XXX / D or E / W (W for “wide”)
As for the platform, you should pick a platform that is large enough to give you support and feel stable but that at the same time looks good on you (smaller platforms tend to favor the line of your leg and foot more). Small ballerinas tend to use smaller platforms since their weight and height do not require as much platform surface, but it may vary from ballerina to ballerina.
The most used brands
To help you with making the decision of picking your first pair of pointe shoes, these are the most common brands: Bloch, Capezio, Freed, Gaynor Minden, Grishko, R-Class, and Sansha.
To be able to go on your pointe shoes for the first time, you should be able to do at least 20 “relevés” in a row with your knee stretched without getting cramps over a single leg, this way you can find out if your ankles and knees are strong enough for using pointe shoes. When you go on pointe, your weight should be over your big toe, it is very dangerous if the weight is transferred to the little toe as you could twist your ankle.
Getting blisters and irritation is normal during the first few years. Therefore, apart from being physically prepared, you must also be mentally prepared to endure the pain. Over the years, the skin gets used to and you are able to spend more hours dancing on pointe shoes. Just to have an idea, a professional dancer usually uses pointe shoes about 8 hours a day.
To finish off, remember that you can ask your teachers for advice, they will surely help you make this big decision, something that you will remember for the rest of your life.
Júlia Muxinach | Ballerina & blogger | shesapiens.com