Heading to the local dancewear shop for a pointe fitting is an exciting experience, whether you are getting your very first pair, or going in to find a better fit! There is something so magical about that shiny pink satin. The energy, adrenaline, excitement and whimsy of the scenario can quickly take over, possibly leaving you with the wrong pair of shoes for your feet! Read on for tips on making the most of your pointe fitting.
Picking the Right Dancewear Shop
The first step towards finding the right pair of shoes is picking the right dancewear shop for your fitting. It’s important to do some research before blindly scheduling an appointment. Sometimes the student’s instructor will recommend a specific store and go with the students to their fittings, or sometimes a studio will partner with a local shop and always refer students to that store. If an instructor requires students to visit a certain store, the student should of course seriously consider the instructor’s request, but always keep an open mind.
Always remember: Your feet belong to you, and you alone are responsible for the care of them. If one shop doesn’t have a shoe you feel comfortable purchasing, there is no harm in writing down the closest fit and getting a second opinion!
Qualities of a “good” place to schedule an appointment:
- The store will have several different brands & models of pointe shoes
- The store will have a solid, flat surface (NO CARPET!) to try on shoes
- The store will have a barre or something for the student to hold on to for stability during the fitting
- The store will have mirrors available for the student to use during the fitting
- The store will accept returns or exchanges on shoes in un-sewn, new condition (if your instructor doesn’t approve of the fit)
Start With Research
Your favorite search engine is a great place to start looking for pointe shops. Google maps & YellowPages.com are great starting points. Your current corner of the world might make finding pointe shoes difficult. Major metropolitan areas usually have the largest choice of dancewear shops, much to the dismay of dancers in the suburbs and farming areas. Sometimes the best choice is to drive a little farther for the right store with a giant selection.
Tip: Many pointe shoe manufacturers only accept distributors who are a certain number of miles from another distributor. Try expanding your search radius, and you just might find a new store that carries a larger selection of shoes!
Once you’ve found a few stores to look into, take a look at the store’s Facebook, Yelp.com reviews, Google reviews, etc. Ask other students at your studio their experiences with stores that interest you. Check the store’s website to see how many pointe brands a store offers. The more different makes/models of shoes a store has, the more likely you’ll find a pair that fit you well.
A really good way to gauge how a certain store does fittings is to visit the store on a busy Saturday, when the store is likely doing pointe fittings. Head in to pick up a spare pair of tights and briefly observe a pointe fitting. You can always call ahead to see if there are any fitting slots available for the day. If not, you’ve got a good chance of catching a fitting in action. An attentive fitter will use a hands on approach. He or she should look at the shoe from all angles, and in a few different positions, asking questions on fit and feel.
Once you’ve picked a dancewear shop, set your appointment! Feet swell & change throughout the day, especially if you are working on your feet a lot. Ideally, try to schedule your fitting near the time of day you normally take class. This will help make sure your feet are nearly the same as they would be on any given class night.
Pointe Fitting Prep
It is our inherent belief that all pointe students (and parents of!) must take time to learn their foot type before heading in for a fitting. All shoes are designed for a specific foot shape. Being armed with knowledge of your feet can prevent you from wasting $75 or more on the wrong pair of shoes.
A few days before your pointe fitting, clip your toenails so they are short (but not too short!) and mostly flat across the top. If you tend to get ingrown toenails, trim the corners of your nails to keep them from digging in.
The night before your fitting, make sure you have a clean pair of convertible tights on hand to wear to your fitting. Convertible tights are a must, the fitter needs to look at your bare feet, and you need to have tights on during the fitting to keep the shoes you try on clean. Ideally, you’ll want to wear what you normally wear in class, but choose something that will allow you free range of motion, such as a deep plie in second position.
The day of your fitting, take a quick shower. It sounds odd, but clean your feet, shave, whatever you need to feel comfortable with someone staring at your feet and being near them for an hour or more. You always want to put clean feet into new shoes before buying or sewing them. Many stores won’t return/exchange shoes even if the exterior is perfect if there are foot stains or sweat marks inside!
During the Fitting: What to Expect
The day has come! How exciting! If this is your first fitting, congratulations! If you’ve been fitted before, be sure to bring in your most recent pair of shoes so you can show the fitter what’s working, and what isn’t.
Not all fittings are exactly alike, but most will follow the same pattern. The fitter will greet you and lead you to the fitting area. Usually you’ll have a quick discussion about your studio, who your instructor is, things like that.
- The fitter should ask to look at your bare feet. If she doesn’t, you might want to run far far away. She should be looking at your feet, observing your toe shape, foot profile, arch type, etc. She will measure your feet with a brannock device to find the width and length of each foot.
- Make sure the fitter checks to see how compressible your feet are. If she does not, be sure to bring it up during your fitting! It’s a very important part of shoe fit.
- The fitter will typically discuss padding, and offer a few various toe pad samples to use during the fitting. If you have your own padding, feel free to use it. Keep in mind a new pair of shoes might need a new type of padding!
- Once your initial consultation is over, she will select a few different shoes to try on.
- You will try on various shoes until you decide on a pair, or perhaps you won’t feel right in any of the shoes.
The fitting process is very involved, your pointe fitter should be checking every aspect of the shoe from her point of view. Is the shank laying straight on the arch, or does the shank twist (indicating a bad fit)? Are the ankles improperly winged or sickled when standing on full pointe? Is the vamp the right length? It’s up to the dancer to make sure these bases are covered. If your fitter doesn’t check these things, you should ask about it.
How Should Pointe Shoes FEEL?
There are amazingly knowledgeable pointe fitters, and there are not so knowledgeable fitters out there. What both of these extremes have in common, is that neither of them can tell the dancer if the shoes are a perfect fit. This ties back into THE NUMBER ONE rule of pointe fitting: Only you can tell if the pointe shoes truly fit! Most pointe shoes look relatively similar at first glance from the outside, but all vary a lot in shape on the inside. A shoe might look stunning from the outside while also offering no support on the inside. This is where you come in!
Pointe shoes shouldn’t always be painful. If a shoe you try on in the store is causing pain somewhere in the foot, ask the fitter to help you adjust padding to see if fit is improved. If the shoe still causes pain in the big toes, try a different length/width, or a different model all together.
Toes: Pointe shoes shouldn’t cause pain to the toes. Pressure and some discomfort, yes. Throbbing/stabbing/shooting pain, no. When standing flat or in the deepest 2nd position plie on flat, the longest toes should just touch the end of the shoe. The toes should have a small amount of wiggle room vertically and side to side, but the box of the shoe should generally follow the contour of the toes as closely as possible. No toes should be bent, crunched, squished, overlapping or crossed. On pointe, the biggest toes should feel pressure, it’s a generally uncomfortable feeling at first.
Forefoot/Metatarsals: The top of the box and wings should hug the metatarsals. The joint at the base of your toes is an important area– the box of the shoe should support this part of your foot, which will ultimately help support you en pointe. If you have no support here, you will feel pain and big time pressure in the big toe as it is forced to take all of your body weight- the equivalent of a tapered foot in a square shaped box. Lack of metatarsal support generally manifests as sinking down into the shoe, causing the big toe to bend as it bears the weight. A narrower shoe or different box shape will help.
Arch: The shank (inside) and sole (outside) of the shoes should follow the line of your foot & arch. If the shank twists right or left away from the arch, the shoe may be too narrow or simply not the perfect shoe for you. Keep in mind, a brand new shoe will be stiff and the shank will need to be molded to your arch after purchase. Creative elastic and ribbon placement can correct a twisted shank to a certain degree, but it’s a sign that the shoe isn’t fitting in the box, causing too much pressure on the metatarsal.
Heel: The fitter should be able to pinch .25″ – .5″ of extra material at the heel of the shoe while standing en pointe. If there is extra baggy fabric, the fitter should try a slightly shorter shoe. Note: Ribbons/Elastic can offer some help to a baggy heel, but lots of extra fabric should be avoided. Heel height can also be considered. Some models have an extra deep heel, some have a low heel. A person with a very rounded and prominent heel will be more comfortable in a shoe with a deeper heel.
Always be prepared when heading in for pointe fittings. Be honest with yourself and the fitter. When no two feet are exactly the same, a lot of fitting theory comes down to personal preference. A shoe that should theoretically be your perfect shoe might not feel great in the store. In addition, two pairs of the same make/model/size may feel different on your feet. Never rush this process. You know your own feet, it’s up to you to make the most out of your pointe fitting! It’s best to have your instructor check each pair of new shoes before you sew them in the event they need to be exchanged.
Pointe fitting isn’t exactly rocket science, but it is complicated and can be very confusing. Take your time, learn about your feet, and go in with an open mind. It might take a few tries, but you’ll eventually find your perfect shoe. Adrenaline and excitement can interfere with a pointe fitting, try to stay relaxed and honest with yourself.