Believe it or not, pointe shoe fit can have a true impact on the future of a pointe student. The most frustrating part, is that while a pointe fitter can tell a dancer what shoe looks nice, it's up to the dancer to decide if a certain shoe really fits. With a huge array of different makes, models and customization options, it can be extremely difficult to find the right shoe!
The best way to arm yourself for your next pointe fitting is to learn your foot type, and how your foot type translates to pointe shoe fit. Are you in your best shoe?
Box Shape is arguably the most important aspect of your pointe shoe fit! The wrong box shape can be the source of many frustrations, including big toe pain, zero metatarsal support, bruised toenails and more. The goal is to find a pointe shoe with the box shape that follows the contours of your toe shape the closest.
At this time many instructors, fitters and dancers are unaware that each pointe shoe on the market comes with one of three main box shapes. This is extremely important to know, yet not widely realized. Now you know!
Every pointe shoe manufacturer offers at least one model in their collection that has one of the three main box shapes:
Some manufactueres have earned certain reputations about their pointe shoes, which often turn out to be misconceptions.
Bloch for example is often suggested for dancers with square, wide feet. Bloch does offer shoes for square and wide feet, but Bloch also offers several models in the slightly tapered to fully tapered categories!
It's very important to take all opinions on certain manufacturers with a grain of salt. Every dancer has amazingly different feet, and what works for one dancer will most definitely not fit every dancer! Your best bet is to try on every model available in your size, even shoes you think may not fit. You just might be surprised!
Vamp Length is another important aspect of pointe shoe fit. A vamp that's too long will hold you back in the shoe, possibly preventing you from getting over the box. A vamp that's too short won't provide enough support to the front of the foot and metatarsal, possibly causing you to roll over your shoe.
short toes = short vamp
medium toes = per preference
long toes = long vamp
A rigid, inflexible arch benefits from a lower vamp- too long and it can be difficult to get over the box
A moderately flexible arch can wear a variety of vamp lengths based on other aspects of the foot
A very flexible arch needs the support of a longer vamp so the foot doesn't roll over the shoe
Did you know?
A highly compressible foot is more likely to conform to the shape of the shoe, not the other way around!
Depending on degree of compression, the foot may expand vertically if the shoe is narrow in width, which can call for extra support from the vamp.
A longer vamp can help this dancer feel more secure in her shoes.
The width of a pointe shoe can vary widely, which makes it hard to predict. The very best way to determine correct shoe width is to be fitted professionally.
The relationship between shoe length and width is a delicate one-- a dancer who isn't finding enough support in a shoe with the correct box shape and vamp length can try going both up a length and down a width (or vice-versa) to find the best shoe.
Too wide, and the metatarsal will not be supported, causing the dancer to sink down into the shoe with all weight on her big toes. Too narrow, and the foot can start to lose feeling over time. The shank of the shoe will also twist off center when too narrow, as seen below:
Due to something called the degree of compression, it's important to understand how your feet react when compressed. Squeeze the sides of your feet where bunions would form. If your foot moves considerably when squeezed, it will also expand vertically, impacting your foot profile height.
Profile height is yet another important aspect of pointe shoe fit. Profile height refers to the height from the side, or profile of the shoe. Finding your perfect shoe profile may take some trial and error. As we learned above, a dancer with highly compressible feet also have feet that expand vertically as it compresses-- it's not always a black & white situation when it comes to each individual foot!
If you can fit a finger or two into the throat of the shoe, your profile could be lower. The throat should lay snug against the top of the foot. You should not be able to move your toes around much inside the shoe when fit correctly.
Tip: Some dancers like to step on the box of the shoe to flatten it out during the break in process. Be wary of this practice-- flattening the box will also cause the shoe to grow up to 1/2 inch wider! For a dancer with compressible feet, this will inevitably cause problems.
A shoe that otherwise has the perfect box shape, vamp length and width can still cause pain if the profile height is too high!
FOR EXAMPLE: The following series shows various shoes that the creator of PointePerfect.com has purchased over the years. She has highly compressible feet, a high, flexible arch, moderate instep, and the 4 smallest toes on each foot are prone to curling.
Shoes she purchased with medium profiles left too much extra room in the throat of the shoe. This allowed her to sink into the shoes, forcing her toes to remain in a curled position and extra pressure on the big toe.
Shoes with a low profile hug the whole forefoot in all directions. This keeps her compressible feet from expanding too far vertically, supports the metatarsal, and allows her to stretch her toes within the shoe instead of curling under. In this case, it also helps her stay pulled back and up in the shoe instead of pushing very far over the platform when working.
Shank strength is an aspect of pointe shoes that is a highly personal choice for the experienced dancer, and often a very specific choice for instructors of beginning students. The ideal shank strength is determined by several different factors of the foot and body.
Just as every dancer has completely different foot and body structure, the same make/model/shank strength is NOT acceptable for every dancer in the same class. The dancer should wear the shoe that compliments her, not suffer along with the wrong pair because it's what the school requires. Trial and error is often needed in picking the right shank.
It's very likely that the dancer's shank strength preference will change as her feet grow and change with additional class time.
Many instructors have specific shank requirements for beginning pointe students. It gets a little hazy from there.
Some suggest shoes with soft, supple shanks to strengthen the dancer's feet. Others suggest hard shanks to help the dancer get on pointe and build strength via resistance from the shoe. So which one is it?
Neither method is wrong. Both will help build strength in the muscles, but both can discourage students if care isn't taken to approach initial training the right way. A student in a much too hard shank can find it very difficult to get over the box. A student in a too weak shank will be unable to roll through pointe and risks rolling too far over the platform, which can cause injury in the early years.
The dancer's height & build contribute to appropriate shank strength. A young, willowy pre-teen won't normally need the shank strength of a tall, mature adult.
Ideally, the beginning student should be fitted for her first pair of pointe shoes based on all aspects of her feet and body. This will give her the best chances for success.
Experienced students and pros can generally choose their shank strength based on preference. The same height & build aspects apply, but strength rules all with these dancers.
After years in the ballet studio perfecting technique, she's developed strong muscles in her ankles and feet. She may prefer to wear shoes with a very supple shank for greater articulation through the foot. She may prefer a harder shank to retain the feeling of a brand new pair of shoes. Most people hover somewhere in the middle.
This dancer is to the point where she can recognize issues she's having with her shoes and manipulate them in a way that compensates for inconsistencies. She should also have the ability to recognize what she needs differently for her next pair.
Never forget, a dancer's feet are always changing. A medium shank one year might become a supple or hard shank the next.
Heel shape in pointe shoes depends on the shape of your heel while standing flat and on pointe. Heel fit isn't the most important part of the pointe shoe. Most manufacturers use an average "medium" heel height, but some models offer extra low or extra deep heels. There are different heel types. Some people have feet that taper from the metatarsal back to the heel. Some people don't taper much and have a full, wide, rounded heel. Most are somewhere in between. There is a type of heel called "disappearing heels", where the heel of the foot seems to diminish greatly while on releve or full pointe. People with a disappearing heel should look for shoes with a low/tapered heel.
You don't want to have more than 1/4 - 1/2 inch of extra fabric at the heel while you're on pointe. Too much baggy heel will break up the lovely line from your toes to the rest of your leg, and can look really funky. Pay attention to your heel during the fitting, there shouldn't be much extra fabric at the heel. Carefully placed elastics and ribbons can help smooth out a heel, but too much is just too much sometimes!
Your heel shouldn't be too high or too low that it digs into your achilles, which can cause issues in dancers.
Finally, NEVER sacrifice shoe length for smooth heel fabric. A shoe that's too short isn't a shoe you'll be able to wear for an extended period of time.
Some manufacturers offer special features built into their shoes. There are a few different things that are offered to enhance comfort & durability, and even act as antibacterial lining! Here are just a few of the special features some manufacturers offer:
Is there anything you still aren't sure about? Do you have a specific question about pointe fitting that I didn't cover? Please feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get back to you as soon as I can!
Thank you so much for reading. Now head over to the POINTE SHOE FINDER and input your specs for detailed results!!