Finding the perfect pointe shoe can be a difficult process and can take dancers many tries and countless pairs to get it just right. Your perfect pointe shoe needs to fit like Cinderella's glass slipper - not too small, not too big, just snug and fitted all around your foot. Since the majority of pointe shoes are still handmade, there can still be variation within the same style so the process can sometimes feel never ending.
Not to despair! The pointe shoe fitting process can be really fun and exciting, especially when you are new to dancing on your toes. Knowing the names of the parts of a pointe shoe and understanding how a shoe should fit can help you in determining whether a shoe feels perfect for you.
Pointe Shoe Anatomy
- Block or Box - Supports the toes and the metatarsals
- Vamp - The front of the box. Vamp height is important in regards to the flexibility of the instep. Generally the higher the instep, the higher the vamp in order to provide adequate support and prevent one from 'falling out' of the shoe
- Platform - A hardened flat tip of the shoe that one stands on when 'en pointe'.
- Side seam - This seam is generally used as a reference point for sewing ribbons. It pulls upward on your arch to increase the line.
- Binding - The tube of fabric which encases the drawstring to tighten the shoe around the foot.
- Wings - The transition point of the shoe from the hard box, to the soft satin sides.
- Outer sole - The bottom of the shoe, typically made of leather.
- Side quarters - The fabric sides of the shoe. The fit of the fabric against the foot can be adjusted with the drawstring.
- Insole or shank - The shank supports the arch 'en pointe'. The stiffness of the shank is an important factor for safety and alignment when 'en pointe'.
- Profile - The height of the box from the floor to the top of the foot when standing flat. Proper profile height is important for comfort, blister prevention and box support.
'If the Shoe Fits…'
When having pointe shoes fitted, it's important to wear ballet tights and your preferred type of padding for the most accurate fit. If it is your first time getting fit, your pointe shoe fitter will recommend the type of padding that works best for your foot.
Your pointe shoe fitter will be looking out for various signs that show that the shoe is not working for your particular foot and will lead you through different tests in order to determine proper fit.
Length: Standing flat, your toes should just touch the tip of the shoe. If they don't touch the tip, they are probably too long, and if they are crushed or curling, the shoes are too short. In demi-plié, if you feel significant pressure on the tip of the big toe, this means that the shoe is too short or it could be too wide. Stepping up to pointe, you should be able to pinch a small amount of fabric at the heel for a proper fit, though too much means the shoe is too long.
Width and Platform: The box of your pointe shoe should feel snug and look smooth, without any bulges or creases. The edge should not dig into the foot, meaning you may need a larger or wider box, nor feel loose on the top, meaning you need a smaller box or lower platform. Stepping up to pointe, you should not feel a significant drop down into the shoe which can mean that the shoe is too wide for your foot. The side quarters should fit snugly with the drawstring pulled, minimising bagginess and gaping at the sides of the shoe. It is also important to determine if the shank is twisting, as the shank should be aligned with the bottom of the foot. If the shoe is twisting excessively, this can mean that the shoe is too narrow.
Support of the Shank and Vamp: Traditional pointe shoes soften with wear, thus may feel very stiff at first. It's important to choose a shoe that is stiff enough to allow for proper alignment of the foot and ankle 'en pointe', but pliable enough for work 'en demi-pointe' and articulation through the foot. If a shoe is too stiff, it can prevent you from getting over your box and a too high vamp can dig into the foot 'en demi-pointe'. If a shoe is too soft or a vamp is too low, it can feel that you are going over too far and need more support.