Not too long ago, there were very few options for a dancer when looking for a pair of pointe shoes. There were only a few brands and a few styles available. Many professional ballerinas have their pointe shoes custom made to fit their feet, however for the student and the dancer on a tight budget this is not possible or realistic! Thankfully, there is much more variety in the brands and styles of shoes that you can buy today.
Why does this matter so much?
If pointe shoes are not correctly fitted to the foot, it is likely that the dancer will experience some sort of injury. Pointe shoes should be fit snugly and according to the individual shape of the foot. It is very important for dancers who are purchasing their first pair of pointe shoes to go to a store that can help to fit the dancer’s individual foot. It is also a good idea to have the student’s ballet teacher check the shoes before they are worn in class to make sure they are a good fit.
The modern pointe shoe can be changed in size in several different ways in order to achieve a good fit. I will briefly explain the different parts of the shoe and how they affect the fit. However, please keep in mind that this is only a brief overview! Parents and students should seek help from teachers and experienced pointe shoe fitters when buying a pair of pointe shoes for the first time - please do not try to do this by yourself!
Overall width and length:
Each style is offered in varying widths and lengths. It is important to find the correct width and length of shoe because if the shoe is too big, the shoe will not offer enough support on pointe and the toes will “jam” down into the shoe. If the shoe is too narrow and too short can irritate the Achilles tendon and the pressure on the joints of the toes can cause inflammation and discomfort.
The vamp is the length of the shoe that covers the toes and should correspond to the length of the toes. Dancers with short toes should look for a shoe with a shorter vamp, and vice versa. Ideally the vamp should completely cover the second joint of the first toe. If a dancer with long toes attempts to wear a shoe with a short vamp – it is likely that their foot will not be well supported at the front and will “fall out” of the shoe. Likewise, if a dancer with short toes wears a shoe with a long vamp, they will be restricted in the movement from half pointe to full pointe and may not be able to go all the way up on their shoes.
The shape of the box:
The box (the part of the shoe that encases the toes) is offered in many different shapes and varieties on a gradient from a “square” box to a “tapered” box. In general dancers with toes that are all the same length should look for a more-square box and dancers with toes that gradually decrease in length should look for more tapered box. If the shape of the box does not correspond with the shape of the foot, the toes will either have too much space, and thus jam down into the shoe, or the toes will not have enough room and there will be too much pressure against the other toes and the sides of the shoe.
The profile, or the height of the shoe when placed flat on the floor, should correspond with the height of the foot when standing flat on the floor. As a general rule, a dancer should not be able to slide more than one finger between her foot and the top of the shoe when standing with her feet flat on the floor. If the profile is too high, there will be too much space in the shoe and the dancers foot will slide and jam down into the shoe. If the profile is too small this will also cause the dancer a great deal of discomfort.
These are just some of the basics, but hopefully you leave this post feeling a little more informed about how pointe shoes can be fit to keep the dancer safe and injury free!
This post's author, Mrs. Cumpston, serves at the Ballet Mistress for the Ballet 5:8 professional company and is the Director of Residency Programs for Ballet 5:8 School of the Arts.