Pointe shoes are the symbol of a ballerina. As a little girl, I remember trying on the old, left behind pairs in the lost and found and thinking they were just magical. They really are, but there is a lot more to it than just looking pretty. You’ll often hear: “Ugh you don’t want pointe shoes! They hurt too much!”. And it’s true, I guarantee there will be days where you honestly consider chopping off your feet. However, once you start pointe, you are taken to a whole new level of dance, where all the steps start to make sense, and where your turns start to multiply.
But you don’t get to that place in one day. To be honest, when you first start pointe, you may only do a few relevés at the barre for fifteen minutes a class- for a whole year! This is totally essential though because when you first start pointe, you will need to develop the muscles to hold yourself up on those shoes! Always focus on rolling through your shoes and using the absolute best technique you can. The sloppier you get, they more chance you will injure yourself, and most likely, not be able to develop those muscles in your legs and feet.
Speaking of starting pointe, when is the proper age?
I started wearing pointe shoes when I was eleven years old and I had been dancing “recreationally” for about two years. I would not recommend wearing pointe shoes if you are under age ten, mainly because of lack of strength. I also don’t recommend hopping into a pair of pointe shoes when you first begin to dance, regardless of your age, as you will not have the technique necessary to go on pointe. Your ballet teachers will instruct you when it is time to go get those magical shoes, but remember to be patient, because they know when it is safe for you to start.
Certain pointe shoes are more fit for the beginner. When I first started pointe, I wore Capezio Tendu IIs. If I wore these shoes now, it is highly likely they’d be dead in a day and I would be VERY unhappy. But companies like Capezio and Bloch make the best basic shoes for beginners. Generally the shank (where your arch goes) is not as strong, so it is easier to get over onto the box of the shoe, and also, the shoes are much cheaper than higher quality ones (the shoes that are meant to last much longer, which beginners don’t need). NEVER just order a pair online without trying them on in a store. Schedule an appointment to be fitted at your local dance store and try on tons of shoes. Narrow your selections down and try them on again. Even put one type on each foot and do some relevés. Everyone’s feet are different, and you need to find your perfect match. Make sure to show your first pair to your instructor so that they can verify they fit properly and are safe. For the beginner, I also suggest you pick up a pair of toe pads (sock-like pouches for your toes, to be worn under your tights and shoes.) Keep checking my blog for a post on how to sew pointe shoes- a daunting task!
For the more experienced dancer, you’ll notice that shoes don’t last quite as long. You’ll feel the shank and box die far too quickly, and you will need to experiment with some higher quality, and unfortunately, pricier shoes. The most popular high quality shoes at my studio are Grishko (which I wear), Russian Pointe, Bloch, and Freed. These shoes are more customizable. You can order different length boxes, different strength shanks, and many other details. If you have a big arch and are killing your shoes, definitely go for a harder shank. If you have a small arch, you’ll find that the softer shanks make it easier for you to get over your shoes. You’ll find that you try many different shoes throughout your dance career, and it’s even likely you’ll be wearing two different kinds at the same time! Keep experimenting and remember to always have a “backup” shoe in case they stop making your shoe, or in case your model becomes unavailable just before show. I have posted pictures below of four different shoes on the dancers at our studio’s feet, along with the prices, as found online. Remember, even if it is pricer, it may be well worth it if they last longer or suit your feet better.
Good luck to all those little ballerinas, who like me, dreamed of wearing those magical pointe shoes.
Update: I started wearing Suffolk Solo Prequels this summer and am really liking them. I feel more comfortable in my Grishkos, but the Suffolks add more support for my foot and look a lot nicer. I enjoyed using them for partnering especially, as I really felt like I was on my leg. I’m not sure which I like better still, but I’ll continue to wear both.