When getting fit for pointe shoes there are several things to consider. Some include the arch of the foot, the length of the toes, the shape of the foot, the profile of the foot and if it is compressible. These things, in combination, help determine the make and model most suitable for the dancer.
Tapered Box (Narrow) For feet that are usually narrow and have toes that taper from the big toe down to the pinky
Medium Box (Moderate) For moderately tapered toes or feet that have one or two toes that are even in length.
Square Box (Wide) For the square foot that has even or only slightly tapered toes
V Vamp – May be more suited to a foot that has a higher arch
U throat – May be more suited to a foot that has a lower arch
Parts of the pointe shoe
The most important parts of the shoe are:
Shank – The shank is the stiff insole that supports the arch of the foot. It has varying degrees of flexibility and is typically made of redboard or leatherboard, although high-tech materials are now being used for greater durability.
Box – The box is the stiff area of the shoe which tightly encases the toes and provides the dancer with support while standing en pointe. It is lined with glue and a combination of burlap and paper, or more recently, modern materials such as elastomerics. The box may have different configurations to fit the shape of the foot.
Vamp – The vamp is the front part of the shoe measuring from the platform to front part of the binding or drawstring. The vamp comes in varied shapes and lengths to offer different types of support.
Platform – The platform is the oval-shaped flat part at the tip of the shoe on which the dancer’s weight rests while en pointe.
Additional parts of the shoe:
Drawstring – The elastic or cotton string encased within the binding – the drawstring helps to secure the shoe to the foot.
Insole – The interior bottom of a shoe which sits directly beneath the foot under the footbed. It is also known as sock liner and is usually made of suede or cotton.
Outer Sole – The bottom part of a shoe that comes in direct contact with the floor when a dancer stands in a flat position. It is usually made of scored or buffed leather to provide traction. It is internally stitched into the upper.
Wings – The stiff sides of the toe box that provide lateral support while en pointe.
Pleats – The folds of fabric located on the underside of the box – some pointe shoes are constructed without pleats.
Outer Sole – The bottom part of a shoe that comes in direct contact with the floor when a dancer stands in a flat position. It is usually made of synthetic or leather.
Back Seam or Stay – The fabric that covers the seam at the back of the heel.
Waist Seam – The seam that separates the wings from the side quarters or heel section and holds the front and back of the shoe together.
Heel Section or Side Quarter – The satin part of the shoe covering the heel and sides of the foot from the side seams to the back of the stay
Preparing shoes for wear
Because pointe shoes do not come ready-to-wear and are not initially shaped to the dancer’s foot, the breaking in process usually takes a few classes before the shoes are comfortable to dance in. Every dancer has her own way of preparing new pointe shoes for increased comfort and the student and professional methods may vary. Although not all dancers need to make adjustments to their new shoes, those who do should take special care as to not ruin the shoes. Below are several ways that dancers prepare their shoes for wear, although many are extreme and will decrease the lifespan of the pointe shoe.
Pointe shoes are completely covered in satin, even on the toe, which makes it rather slippery. Professionals typically cut the satin away from the tip of the shoe to expose the canvas layer underneath, which gives the shoe more of a grip. Students may keep this satin layer on to prolong the life of the shoe, only removing the tip when the satin is so frayed that it may impede their dancing.
The nail at the heel of the shoe is often removed so that the shoe better conforms to the foot and allows more flexibility.
Bending the Shank
The shank is the part of the shoe that supports the arch of the foot. Some shoes are so stiff that the shank needs to be softened in order to conform to the line of the foot and to better enable the dancer to stand on the flat platform of the shoe. The shank can also be cut to a ¾ length to make the arch more defined and the shoe more flexible.
Strengthening the Shank
Some dancers have very arched feet and need additional support on the shank of the shoe. Shank tacks may be added to reinforce the shank, thus prolonging the wear.
3/4 Shank – The shank can be cut and removed at the heel section of the shoe to enable to heel to sit at the proper place.
Banging the Pleats
Many dancers, especially professionals, bang the pleats of their shoes on a hard surface, such as a cement floor or a brick wall to lessen the noise of a new shoe. Some even take a hammer to them! These “banging” techniques soften the layers of fabric and paste making the shoes quieter but also decrease the lifespan.
Softening the Box
The box of the shoe is made of layers of fabric, paper and glue and is very hard when new. In order to flatten the profile of the shoe, dancers step on the toe box or close it in a doorjamb (an extreme measure used mostly by professionals). Water and rubbing alcohol can also be blotted on the bunion area of the shoe to soften the fabric so that the shoe conforms better to the foot.
Hardening the Box
Some dancers are very hard on their shoes and use shellac or “Jet Glue” in the toe box to prolong the life of the shoe. The glue or lacquer seeps into the fabric of the tip of the shoe and hardens acting as a reinforcement to the toe box.
The sole of the shoe is usually made of a scored or buffed leather. Scrapers and roughers, which are tools that have sharp metal bristles, are used to scratch up the soles of the shoes to give the dancer better traction. The tips and blades of scissors are also used to make deeper incisions.
Sewing Ribbons and Elastic
Sewing ribbons and elastic onto the shoe are the final touch. The primary purpose of the ribbons and elastics is to keep the heel of the shoe on when doing demi-pointe. They also pull the shoe tighter to the foot and maximize the line of the arch. Because every arch is different, each dancer has her special way of sewing ribbons and elastics. Most often, elastics are placed at the back of the heel and can be sewn on the inside or outside of the shoe to minimize friction. The ribbons are attached to the sides of the shoe just where the arch begins and only sewn on the inside. They are then wrapped around the ankle and tied in a secure knot. A heavyweight, sometimes lightly waxed thread such as dental floss, is used to secure the ribbons and elastic to the shoe.
Caring for the shoe
Since most pointe shoes are constructed of paste and fabric it is important for the dancer to let her shoes dry out at the end of the day. Many feet sweat and when the moisture penetrates the fabric and glue of the toe box, it softens and breaks down more quickly. Sufficiently air drying the shoes after each wearing is of utmost importance in maintaining the longevity of the shoe.