The Truth About Choosing The Right Pointe Shoes

You work hard every day. You put in the grueling hours of strengthening and perfecting each technical detail in class. So with that, you deserve to have your pointe shoes complement the flawless lines you work hard and sweat for. Similar to refining your technique, I'm sure you carefully took the time to get to know your ballerina feet along with having a pointe shoe fitting guide help you find the best fit. Although having an accurate fitting is valuable, the truth is there is no perfect formula where you will discover the right pair of shoes just from a fitting alone. What most people may not know is there are multiple factors aside from matching the shape of pointe shoes to a dancer's feet that will affect how they feel.

...it is important to make sure your pointe shoes match your technical needs and skill level

After having a fitting, a dancer will rarely start dancing in the pointe shoes immediately, as she/he usually has a particular routine for "breaking them in". The fit of the shoe is one thing, but preparing them in certain ways can sometimes help with comfort and function, since everyone’s feet are unique. For example, I currently wear the brand “Sansha La Pointe”. The first thing I do is sew on the ribbons, then add 2 elastics per shoe in an X formation, followed by hammering the box for a quieter, softer shoe. This is what I’ve found works for me through asking others and trying different things on several pairs of pointe shoes. I would recommend testing your shoes first and asking your teacher or a professional for guidance if you are interested in altering your shoes in any way, but keep in mind your needs will differ from other ballerina’s feet.  

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Pointe shoes can be like pirouettes. One day they feel great and you're happy with them, the next day, suddenly, they're not working for you anymore and you don't know what caused this change. During the fitting, keep in mind you are simply doing relevés and pliés, it isn't until you begin dancing in your shoes that the glue softens, which will alter how they feel. Each brand will react to your footwork differently and that's why it's important not to settle for one brand. Be open to trying new makes; figuring out what works best for your dancers feet will only become easier through trial and error. For example, maybe the shank of the shoe you've chosen felt fine during the fitting but you find they only last through a few rehearsals. It’s important to differentiate between knowing when it’s time to replace your worn out pointe shoes or if it’s time to switch shoe makes completely.

Pointe shoe fit and feel is clearly very specific to each dancer's [...] movement vocabulary

The kind of work you're doing while dancing in your shoes can also change the way they feel. Most professional dancers will swap their shoes between class and rehearsal because they use them for different purposes. Think of what you're trying to achieve in class versus a rehearsal. For classwork, you may be working on soft landings in jumps and, therefore, will want a softer shoe for this. On the other hand, for repertoire, you may be working on a piece that requires control and will want a supportive shoe. A fellow dancer I know always wears Grishko's for class because she feels they help her "work through [her] feet better...and prepare [her] more for the rest of the day.” Whereas, she wears Gaynor Mindens for rehearsals since the repetition of choreography “can wear the shoe down [faster] and Grishko's won't last as long.” “Gaynor Mindens last longer and [are] more comfortable… if my feet swell I feel I have a little wiggle room." Pointe shoe fit and feel is clearly very specific to each dancer's pointe work and movement vocabulary, which is why there is no “one-size-fits-all” formula for the perfect fit. It will take some time and getting to know yourself as a dancer. As you continue to try new shoes and fitting methods for your unique dance needs, you will be more aware of your body and what works best for you.

Don't settle for one brand

This is not all just to say that a fitting is not an essential step to finding the right shoes, it only means it is one of the many factors that contribute to finding what's right for you. As a dancer, you will continuously improve throughout your training and career, so it is important to make sure your pointe shoes match your technical needs and skill level. Just like most things in ballet, it is all worth the patience and ongoing search for what works for your unique feet.

About the author

Kelsey began her professional training at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School when she was 14, where she would continue until she graduated in 2016. She then attended the RWB aspirant program where she had several performing opportunities with the company.  During her time in the program she was fortunate to attend various summer intensives such as: Atlanta Ballet, Arts Umbrella, and Ballet Jorgen where she was offered a short term contract. Following this contract Kelsey moved to France for a year to perform for Disneyland Paris while teaching ballet to the cast members. (And trying all the croissants!) This past summer Kelsey spent working with the RWB Summer Dance Collective, a contemporary based start up company, and is keeping her options open for her next opportunity.