Finding the Right Pointe Shoe for You
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.
The quest for the perfect pointe shoe is a very personal venture. Every dancer’s feet, needs and background are different. Some toes are tapered; others are broad. Some dancers are on the search for their first pair of shoes, and others may have foot problems caused by a prior shoe and are looking for something new. The search for the perfect fit should be one that is exciting, fun and so rewarding when it’s complete. A little guidance doesn’t hurt either. Here, one of Capezio’s master pointe shoe fitters and two professional dancers, who have gone through their fair share of shoes before visiting a professional fitter, offer their advice.
“I think the first step to finding the right pointe shoe is a big smile,” says Valerie Mae Brown, a master pointe shoe fitter at Capezio’s New York City flagship store on 51st Street. “Dancing is fun, pointe work is fun, and finding the right shoe should be fun, too!”
As a pointe shoe fitter, Brown’s initial work with a dancer begins with looking at the shape of the toes. Are they tapered? Broad? Are there bunions? If a dancer has been in “wrong” shoes, warning signs such as bruised or broken toenails and bad blisters could also be evident. If the big toe is longer than the rest, the dancer may need a tapered shoe. If the first three toes are of the same length, a broad box may be best. For short toes, a short vamp will do.
“The whole idea of a pointe shoe is to extend the line,” Brown says. “Therefore, the shoe should be an extension of yourself.”
Brown says she asks dancers many questions during a pointe shoe fitting: How long have you been dancing? How fast do you go through shoes? What bothers you when on pointe? All of these factors should be considered during a dancer’s search.
For the physical fitting, Brown sizes the foot and offers shoes that could possibly work. “Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s super hard to find that perfect shoe,” she says. “It takes patience.”
Seeing a professional pointe shoe fitter can be very beneficial when trying on shoes. Every style of pointe shoe, within every brand, may be slightly different in size. A 9N shoe in one style may be a 6.5B in another. In this way, shoe fitters are experienced professionals who see numerous shoes and feet each day, and they may be the best to tell dancers what they need.
“We see every problem and work to find a solution,” Brown says. “You may think you have the widest foot in the world, but we’ve seen wider, and we know what to do! Professional fitters usually have more styles and sizes to try. Having a good selection is key.”
Brown says that dancers should see a pointe shoe fitter not only for their first pair of shoes but also when dancers are experiencing consistent pain or discomfort or if they have recently grown or had an injury. Dancers should also seek a professional fitter if they go through shoes too quickly, or if they are unhappy with the way their shoes look.
Tiffany Mangulabnan, a soloist with Ballet Next, says that she wore Freed pointe shoes for many years but decided to see a professional shoe fitter when Capezio became her company’s official sponsor for shoes.
“I went in for a fitting with Capezio's Senior Product Line Manager, Paul Plesh,” she says. “I brought my classic Freeds with me for some reference. I’d worn them for years, but they had never really felt like the perfect fit for me, so I wasn’t attached to them; I was completely open to a new style and brand. Mr. Plesh picked a Capezio model (Contempora) for me based on the shape of my old Freeds, making sure we didn’t stray too far from a fit that I was already used to. My feet felt great in them from the beginning.”
Likewise, April Giangeruso, a member of American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet, says she finally achieved a perfect fit after being frustrated with the heaviness of three prior brands of shoes.
“I was fit in my Capezio Élans at the store,” she says. “They found the correct shoe for my foot, and I walked out with what ended up being the perfect pair. Professional fittings are absolutely essential.”
When trying on a pair of shoes, Brown encourages dancers to speak up. “Dancers should ask questions and double, triple check that they like the shoe,” she adds. “Nobody knows what’s going on inside of another person, so the dancer must speak up about what they are feeling.”
And how will a dancer know when it’s a good fit? It should feel just right! “There isn’t too much pressure on the big toe while on pointe,” says Brown. “The pinky toe isn’t pinched, and the toes are flat while on flat. There isn’t any gaping fabric, and the drawstring is almost superfluous. I don’t want to say it should be comfortable, but almost!”
Brown recommends dancers to try their new shoes in class and give their bodies time to adjust to the new feel. “If a week passes and you feel secure and free of any extreme discomfort, you may have struck gold,” she adds. “If you are experiencing the opposite, abort and try something new!”
Mangulabnan believes that “the right pointe shoe” is one that makes a dancer’s feet look and feel the best. “Dancers should find the pointe shoe they can have a healthy relationship with,” she says. “It’s like any important relationship in life: the right pointe shoe doesn’t hurt or strain your feet and legs, and it makes you feel comfortable and confident in your dancing, makes your feet look great, holds you up well and gives in so you can move with ease.”
Giangeruso adds, “I just want to stress how important comfort is, especially when you are pre-professional or professional and wear your shoes for seven hours a day. Finding the perfect shoe takes time, but when they find you and you find them, it really is a match made in heaven.”
Brown and other professional shoe fitters are truly people who can help this perfect shoe match happen. It is also a cost-free service that allows dancers to be educated about pointe shoes and to ask pointe-related questions. Even in the event that dancers don’t find a match with a stock shoe, Capezio can also customize shoes just for you. Fitters can have shoes made that meet a dancer’s specific needs, such as softening in areas of the shoe, a ¾ shank, fabric cut down at the sides and so forth.
It is crucial for dancers to find shoes that are of a great match. The comfort and happiness that comes from this search is well worth the investment of time.
“Find the right shoe so you can enjoy dancing more,” Brown says. “Pointe work is so much fun! It’s challenging and beautiful in every way. It takes dedication and artistry, and should be treated with a great deal of respect. Every dancer I meet is a very special creature. Whether it’s their first day or their 40th year, they deserve to get properly fit so they can get lost in the flush of a waltz and come to life in the rush of a grand allegro. Ballet is about love, and you should love your shoes.”