When I got my first pair of pointe shoes I knew little to nothing about what was going to come in the following years. I thought that a pointe shoe was a standard-made shoe where the only criteria for selecting a shoe or another was the length of the foot. I was not aware of the pointe shoes universe we are lucky to have today and I got introduced to it quite late in my dance journey. If I only knew how much pain, injuries and difficulties I could have avoided if I had the information I am about to share with you in this post back then!
Without further ado, let’s jump straight into today’s article: what I look for in a pair of pointe shoes. This article is not a substitute to a professional pointe shoe fitting: it is a simple collection of information I learned through my experience and can only serve you as an additional guidance to find your own ideal shoe with the help of a fitter.
My pointe shoe journey
Since my first pair of pointe shoes I went on and tried almost any brand on the market: from traditional paper and paste shoes to more innovative models. Fitting after fitting I started becoming very clear on which shoes would work for me and which wouldn’t.
We all have different feet and we all are at different stages in our dance journey, which means we all have different needs in terms of foot wear. I like to experiment with different brands and models from time to time: the more I try, the better I learn what my ideal shoe would be like.
After many years, I still haven’t found my perfect shoe (if the perfect shoe exists) but I learned a lot of helpful information that saves me from wasting money on a shoe that in the end does not really work for me.
A match to my foot shape
In 2018 I decided to stop wearing bulky padding in my shoes, therefore whenever I go for a new pointe shoe fitting, I always ask to be fitted barefoot with my toe spacers (I have quite a lot of space between my big toe and second toe) and nothing else.
Some fitters are a little surprised and try to convince me to wear a little protection, but I am sure that a good shoe should not require any excess padding as it should not feel painful or be too big. By not wearing any padding, the fitter and I can select a shoe that perfectly matches my features instead of letting the shoe decide for me.
This size and shape selection is crucial and I am often extremely picky during this process. Here is some pointe shoe anatomy that can guide you through the process:
shape: The shoe should not press against your foot’s tricky spots (especially bunions and pinky toe). Depending on your foot structure and features, the shoe model can vary quite a lot.
size: just like regular street shoes, pointe shoes have a size too. Be aware as it often differs from brand to brand.
width: it’s how wide the shoe will be in the metatarsal area. It’s often identified by the number of “X”s on the sole, but this also varies from brand to brand and model to model. Many small stores only have one or two width types in stock, which can be a problem if you’re not “average”.
shank: it’s the sole of the shoe and it can be of different shapes and strengths. A shank should never be too stiff and you should be able to roll through it easily and feel supported.
I’ll say it again: pointe shoes should not hurt! For sure they won’t feel like slippers, but you shouldn’t feel any major pain. When I put on a shoe and it’s not comfortable (my foot feels smashed, my toes crunch, I sink into the box…) I know it won’t work.
A shank I can easily roll through
I used to believe that hard shanks matched highly arched feet and that soft shanks matched low arched feet. I couldn’t be more wrong! While a softer shank might be easier to get over the box with, the shank strength and how developed your arch is have nothing to do with each other.
A hard shank won’t necessarily make your feet work more. In many cases, it can be the complete opposite. I personally prefer to wear softer pointe shoes, as they let me articulate and control my feet more. At the same time, I still want a good amount of support coming from the shoe. Pointe shoes that are too dead are very dangerous to dance in.
If the life of your pointe shoes concerns you, I can assure you that for most brands a soft shank will last as much as a hard shank if that’s what you need.
Here are the main highlights from this article and the things you have to keep in mind when selecting your pointe shoe:
wear minimal padding: the shoe should match your regular foot shape
make sure to carefully select the size and the width. Most stores have limited width options, so go ahead and ask for more information if you have issues with the width
shoes should be comfortable (in the limits of what’s possible). We don’t want to dance in pain
a hard shank does not equal a high arch just like a soft shank does not equal a low arch. Choose a shoe you can easily roll through
I hope you found this article helpful. Good luck with your pointe shoes journey! What pointe shoe do you currently wear (if you wear any)? Let me know in the comments!