Right to the pointe: A shoe education
Your students have been asking, and you’ve finally approved some of them to start their pointe training. It’s certainly an exciting time for them – and you (aren’t you proud?!) – but it’s also a crucial time. You want to help start them off on the right foot, and that means guiding them and giving them resources for finding their proper shoe.
It’s okay if you’re not completely up-to-date on the latest pointe shoe technologies and brands; that’s what we’re here for! But helping your students find the shoes that are right for their feet is imperative to their alignment, their experience and their future. So read on for some insight and tips to impart to your students!
A trip to a professional fitter
Even if you have years of professional dance and teaching experience under your belt, take your newbie pointe students to a professional fitter, who will analyze your students’ feet – their structure, dimensions, how they bend – and help them find a shoe of the right fit and that allows them to properly get over the box.
“Pointe shoe fittings are literally an art,” says Carolynn Rowland, marketing coordinator for Só Dança. “There are so many elements that must come together perfectly for each dancer in order for them to work in the shoe properly.”
Mary Carpenter, master pointe shoe fitter, and ballet and Pilates teacher, adds, “The first fitting sets you up for all fittings after that. It is much easier to get it correct the first time than to fix incorrectly fit shoes years later. It also sets the dancer up for correct alignment in class; they literally can’t dance correctly if the shoes don’t fit.”
Being en pointe will definitely be a new sensation for your young dancers, but it shouldn’t be incredibly painful if the shoes fit correctly. In addition, “If the first pair of pointe shoes doesn’t fit properly, the student may compensate by using incorrect muscles or alignment to try to stand on pointe comfortably,” notes Michelle Cave, director of Ballet and Beyond NYC, and teacher at Steps on Broadway and the Youth Program at Steps.
At a professional fitting, not only will the students be properly fit for their shoes, but they’ll also learn all that entails beginning pointe – how the shoes are supposed to feel, how to stitch them, how to wear them and how to break them in.
A teacher's role
“First and foremost, teachers and studio owners must assess each of their students to ensure that they are ready to be on pointe,” Rowland says. “Pointe shoes are a tool for dancers to enhance their art form and grow and develop as a technician. With that being said, pre-pointe dancers must have proper technique, adequate strength and sufficient flexibility before going en pointe.”
Carpenter says she’s a big advocate of pre-pointe classes. “They are great because you can give strengthening exercises and wear de-shanked or demi-pointe shoes,” she suggests. “You can also do things like stitching parties where everybody meets outside of class and learns to sew and to tie the ribbons.”
And when it comes time to head to the dancewear store for that initial fitting, go with your student, or, even more fun, make it a group outing to make it really special and memorable.
If it’s not possible to tag along with your students, do be sure to send them to a store with a skilled and reputable fitter, and where there will be a few different styles to try, Cave says.
What to look for
Even if you’re not the one fitting the young dancer, it’s helpful to know what goes into finding that perfect fit. More knowledge is always good for your skillset, and you’ll be more articulate and able to answer any questions students and parents have as they’re beginning their pointe training.
Rowland offers a few things to look out for as your students are being fit: the length of the vamp, height of the crown, strength or flexibility of the shank and the lateral support of the wings. Dancers with shorter toes, for example, may need a shoe with a low vamp, and longer-toed dancers may do better with a longer vamp.
Cave says she tends to prefer dancers to have a shoe with a stronger rather than more flexible shank for their first pair of shoes, so that they feel well supported when they first start pointe work.
And if you’re not present at the fitting, it’s always a good idea to have your students show you their shoes before they sew them. Once they’ve been worn and the ribbons and elastics are sewn on, those shoes won’t be returnable, and you want to give the final okay.
Staying in the know
These days, there are many different brands of pointe shoes, so how can you as teachers stay up-to-date on the latest innovations and styles of shoes available? Don’t be afraid to turn to the internet for help. Do a little research online, even follow professional dancers, ballet companies, dance publications and dancewear companies on Instagram. Check in with your local retailers about new products on the market.
“And ask for samples a lot,” Carpenter suggests. “If I can’t get a sample, I actually order shoes to try. You really have to have a tactile experience; reading about it isn’t enough. Think of it like a science lab, but for ballet.”
A new technology: Só Dança’s Elektra Joy
Among some of the newest pointe shoe technology is Só Dança’s Elektra pointe shoe. The shoe offers complete customization with interchangeable shanks, for times when you need a harder or softer shoe depending on the classwork or rep. The Elektra also has a minimalist look, with no seams, bindings or casings, and the shoe doesn’t require much break-in at all.
“The thought process and engineering that went into the development of the shoe is pretty spectacular,” Rowland says. “Everything in the shoe was discussed, deliberated and executed. The terms ‘comfort’ and ‘pointe shoe’ have never been in the same sentence until now! That’s not to say your toes are always going to feel fabulous in the shoes, because dancing for hours on end will most likely make them a bit sore. But we have created something called foot enveloping foam. This layer of comfort coats the interior of the box to provide a protecting layer for the dancers’ toes.”
A shoe with these features may not have been available when you were studying pointe, so see if your local retailer carries the Elektra and offer it as an option for your new pointe dancer to try.
Technique above all
Rowland encourages teachers and studio owners to be in tune with their students’ abilities. “Make sure they are ready for the extreme endurance of pointe work because pointe shoes can be very strenuous on the body.”
“At the end of the day,” Cave adds, “it is still a strong, solid technique that is going to produce the best dancing on pointe, regardless of the innovation in the shoe.”
For more information on Só Dança and the Elektra pointe shoe, visit www.sodanca.com/elektra. And for more useful pointe shoe tips such as ribbon stitching, cutting shanks and more, head to Mary Carpenter’s YouTube channel, DancewithmaryNYC.