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What You Need to Know About Pointe Shoes

Isabella McGuire Mayes • 01 Sep 2023

What You Need to Know About Pointe Shoes

Pointe shoes are a fundamental element of the world of ballet, allowing dancers to elongate their lines  and dance on the tips of their toes. They are a symbol of elegance, strength, and artistry. However, finding the perfect pair of pointe shoes is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour. In this article, we will provide an overview of pointe shoes, discuss their anatomy, offer tips for breaking them in, and explore proper care and maintenance. Additionally, we will delve into some popular brands, including Bloch, Freed, Grishko, Gaynor Minden, and custom-made options.

What are pointe shoes?

Pointe shoes are specifically designed to support a dancer’s weight on the tips of their toes, known as going “en pointe”. When you stand “en pointe”, your bodyweight is highly concentrated on your feet! For that reason, it’s important to note that you should only start using pointe shoes when your teacher or coach advises you to. When you start ballet, you start on flat ballet shoes, and you’ll slowly develop the strength and flexibility to move onto pointe shoes and can then use both.
If you want to work on your foot strength, we have some great online ballet classes on developing strength in your feet that will help you get there.

Pointe shoes consist of several key components that work together to provide stability, flexibility, and comfort. Here’s a very interesting video on how pointe shoes are made, but the basic components include:

  1. Box: The box is the rigid, square-shaped area at the front of the shoe that encases the dancer’s toes. It is usually made of layers of fabric, cardboard, or plastic, providing support, and protecting the toes.
  2. Shank: The shank is a stiff, supportive piece that runs along the bottom of the shoe, beneath the arch. It helps to distribute the dancer’s weight evenly and provides crucial support for the foot.
  3. Vamp: The vamp is the portion of the shoe that covers the top of the foot. It can vary in length and shape, accommodating different foot shapes and arch heights.
  4. Platform: The platform is the flat, round surface at the front of the shoe that allows the dancer to balance and execute movements en pointe. The size and shape of the platform affect the dancer’s stability and ability to turn.

Finding the right fit

Every dancer has unique feet with different shapes, arches, and strengths. Finding the right pair of pointe shoes involves considering these individual factors. It is crucial to seek professional guidance from a qualified ballet teacher or fitter who can assess your feet and recommend suitable options.

Breaking in your pointe shoes

Ballet shoes are notorious for being uncomfortable and very hard, but that’s where breaking them in properly makes all the difference! Breaking in new pointe shoes can be a process that requires patience and careful attention. It’s a very important process, helping to make the pointe shoes more comfortable, supportive in the right places,  as well as more effective and shaped to your foot  as you dance. In fact, pointe shoes are very loud and literally  breaking them in by bashing the bottom of the shoe on the floor gets the sound out, so it won’t detract from your performance. Here are some tips and tricks to break your pointe shoes in properly:

  1. Softening the box: Use your hands, feet or a hammer to gently soften and mould the box of the shoe to match the shape of your foot. This can help alleviate discomfort and improve the fit.
  2. Sewing elastic and ribbons: Properly sew elastic and ribbons to the shoes to provide stability and prevent the shoe from slipping off during movement.
  3. Padding and toe protection: Consider using toe pads, lamb’s wool, or gel cushions to provide additional comfort and protect the toes from blisters and pressure.
  4. Shellac and jet glue: Use glue to provide extra support in areas of the shoe that tend to break quicker.

Proper care and maintenance

To prolong the lifespan of your pointe shoes, it is essential to care for them properly:

  1. Cleaning: Use a soft brush or cloth to remove excess dirt or powder from the shoes. Use calamine lotion to remove the shine from the shoes, also known as pancake! Avoid getting the shoes wet, as this can weaken and shrink the materials. 
  2. Drying: Allow your pointe shoes to air dry completely between uses. Placing them on a radiator can help this process. 
  3. Storage: Store your pointe shoes in a breathable bag or pouch to prevent moisture build-up. Avoid storing them in tightly enclosed spaces, as this can lead to odour issues and softening of the shoes prematurely  

Let’s take a look at popular brands of pointe shoes in the UK

  1. Bloch: Known for their innovative designs and diverse range of styles, Bloch offers pointe shoes to suit various foot shapes and preferences.
  2. Freed: Freed of London is a renowned brand that has been crafting pointe shoes for generations. They offer a wide range of styles and options, including different shank strengths and widths to cater to individual needs.
  3. Grishko: Grishko is a popular brand known for its durability and quality. They provide a variety of models designed for different foot types and strengths, offering options for both beginner and professional dancers.
  4. Gaynor Minden: Gaynor Minden revolutionised pointe shoe technology with their innovative materials, such as their signature elastomeric shanks and shock-absorbing features. Their shoes are known for their longevity and comfort.
  5. Custom-made shoes: Some dancers opt for custom-made pointe shoes tailored specifically to their unique feet. Professional fitters or cobblers can create shoes that perfectly match the dancer’s foot shape, arch, and strength as well as professional needs.

Buying pointe shoes off the shelf vs getting custom-made shoes

When considering brands, it is important to note that each brand may fit differently, and what works for one dancer may not work for another. It’s essential to try on different brands and styles to find the one that suits you best. 

If you’re struggling to find the perfect pair of pointe shoes, that’s where custom-made shoes can make a huge difference! In general, we recommend that dancers strongly consider custom-made shoes because of the amount of weight you’ll be carrying on very delicate tendons, muscles, and bones and the high risk of injury that comes with using the wrong pointe shoes for your feet. Here’s a very useful video from Isabella McGuire, the first and youngest British ballet dancer to be accepted to the Vaganova Academy and a demi-soloist at the Mikhailovsky Ballet on custom-made pointe shoes and how they have worked for her.

As we can see, pointe shoes are an essential tool for ballet dancers, enabling them to achieve the ethereal beauty and grace of dancing en pointe. Finding the right pair involves considering individual foot characteristics and seeking guidance from professionals. Proper care, maintenance, and breaking-in techniques are crucial for maximising comfort and longevity. Brands like Bloch, Freed, Grishko, Gaynor Minden, and custom-made options provide a wide range of choices to accommodate the diverse needs of ballet dancers. With the perfect pair of pointe shoes, dancers can confidently embark on their pointe shoe  journey and showcase their artistry and technical skills on stage and in class. 

Sign up for professional ballet coaching from Ballet with Isabella 

Want to become the ballet dancer you want to be? It’s time to join Ballet with Isabella! Our online studio classes cover everything you need to get an effective workout – and you’ll be getting world-class training right in the comfort of your own home. Take a look at classes for beginners, intermediate, and advanced-level dancers, and get the expert guidance, coaching, and mentoring you need in an encouraging  space.