Filtering by Category: Parents' Pointe Guide

What are demi-pointe shoes?

Some teachers use demi-pointe, or shankless, shoes for pre-pointe training. Demi-pointes have a shaped box like a pointe shoe, but no stiff shank in the sole.

Wearing demi-pointes gives dancers a more gradual transition from ballet slippers to pointe shoes. They can get used to the feel of a pointe shoe before learning to dance on pointe.

To accommodate dancers' different foot shapes, Russian Pointe offers two models of demi-pointe shoes, Almaz and Rubin. For each model, dancers can choose between a U-shaped and V-shaped vamp.

Dancers should use demi-pointe shoes only according to their teacher’s instructions, and they should never attempt to stand or dance on pointe in a demi-pointe shoe.

How long do pointe shoes last?

You can usually expect about 12-15 hours of wear from a pair of pointe shoes. To get the most out of that lifespan, follow some basic care principles. Because they are made of natural materials, most pointe shoes break down when wet. Use a mesh bag outside her dance bag to carry her shoes after class. (Some dance bags come with external mesh bags for this purpose.) Remove toe pads immediately after use and store them separately from her shoes. Shoes must never be squashed, and they should be set out to air-dry thoroughly between classes, ideally for at least 24 hours. When dancers wear pointe shoes daily, they often alternate pairs so that each pair has time to dry completely before being worn again. Read more about replacing pointe shoes when they no longer provide proper support.

When should pointe shoes be replaced?

Because they fit so precisely, pointe shoes must be replaced more frequently than street shoes. A new pair is needed when:

  • The feet grow so that the shoes are uncomfortably tight.
  • The foot shape changes so that the dancer is no longer supported properly and comfortably.
  • Technical development changes the dancer’s needs in the shape or shank strength of the shoes.
  • The shoes begin to lose their supportive qualities.

Importance of replacing shoes The feet and other parts of the body can be damaged when a dancer wears shoes that are too tight, no longer match the shape of her feet, or no longer provide proper support. Signs of worn-out shoes include lack of support in the toe box or platform and over-flexing in the shank.

Looks aren't everything Be aware that appearances can be deceiving; a shoe might look almost new but be structurally worn out, or appear dirty and worn but still be fully functional. The teacher or fitter can help determine if they are still wearable.

How often do I need new shoes? With only a short time on pointe each week, many beginners can wear a pair of shoes until they are outgrown, and they may need only a pair or two in the first year. At the opposite extreme, many professionals wear each pair only once! Pre-professional students typically need one or two pairs per month, so parents of serious dancers should be prepared for frequent replacement.

What accessories are needed for pointe work?

First, make sure to buy ribbons and elastics, which hold the shoes onto the feet. Most dancers use a variety of toe pads for comfort inside the box. Lighter padding usually leads to better control and fit. Beginners should only use padding designed for pointe shoes and avoid experimenting with other materials. Many dancers also tape their toes to reduce rubbing; ask the teacher’s advice about what kind of tape to use, whether it is needed, and how to apply it. Extras such as toe spacers or heel pads should only be added if the fitter or teacher considers them necessary.

How should pointe shoes be prepared?

After her teacher has approved the shoes (for beginners), it is time to sew on the pink satin ribbons that secure them to the feet. The teacher will show students how to cross the ribbons across the instep, wrap them around the ankle, and tie them on the inside of the ankle (never on the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle). Most dancers also sew elastics to their pointe shoes, for added support. Elastics may be sewn in a single length around the ankle from one side of the heel to the other, or in two lengths crisscrossing the instep of the foot from heel to side of shoe.

Properly fit pointe shoes require little or no other preparation. Professional dancers may have elaborate rituals for preparing their shoes, but beginners should never alter their shoes in any way unless their teacher or fitter recommends it. Banging or bending the shoes, or attempting to modify their design, can compromise their structure in potentially dangerous ways. The breaking-in process should be accomplished through exercises in pointe class.

What is the best shank for pointe beginners?

Just as for more advanced dancers, shank choice for beginners is mostly determined by the individual dancer's foot shape, strength and technical development. So, there is no "best" shank. Building strength Many instructors do prefer that beginners start in lighter or softer shanks. Lighter support allows beginners to experience roll-through and develop the strength in their feet, without over-reliance on the pointe shoes to prop them up. Other instructors like to see beginners "working" their shoes more strongly, which requires a stronger shank.

Just enough support For any dancer, the right shank choice is the one that gives adequate support without restricting movement. The shank should facilitate proper placement on pointe while providing the degree of flexibility in roll-through desired by the dancer and instructor.

Read more about Russian Pointe Spotlight and Jewels shanks and Classic shanks.

How do pointe shoes support the body?

Two parts of the shoe work together to support the entire weight of the body on the platform of the shoe: the toe box and the shank. The box, firm yet malleable, holds the toes together and keeps them straight. The shank is a stiffened part of the sole, usually a layer or several layers of material between the insole and the outer sole, which supports the entire foot on pointe. Shanks are made in different degrees of strength, or stiffness, so that each dancer can choose the amount of support she needs. The dancer should never rely on an overly stiff shank. Instead, she must develop so much strength that the shoe is a partner, not a prop. Choosing the correct shank strength facilitates this development. Read more about pointe shoe structure.

What is the teacher's role in pointe fitting?

Teachers can help you find a reliable fitter, and some teachers arrange and/or attend first fittings for their students. An expert pointe teacher knows how pointe shoes should fit and work with the feet, and that different dancers need different pointe models. Most teachers require students to bring their first pointe shoes for approval before wearing them; do not sew ribbons onto the shoes, or allow them to be worn or get soiled, before the teacher has approved them.

Along with you and the fitter, the teacher is an essential part of your daughter’s support team. When everyone works together, she has the best chance of success on pointe.

What is the parent's role during pointe fitting?

SupportEncourage your daughter to listen to the fitter’s questions and answer them as specifically as she can, and to speak up about any discomfort or questions she has. Talk with her ahead of time about how the shoes should feel: snug and supportive but not painful or pinching. Read more about how pointe shoes should fit.

Practice Before the fitting, you might practice communication by teaching your daughter to point to the places where a shoe feels wrong, or to use her hands to demonstrate what her feet are feeling (the hands and feet have similar bone structure).

Prepare your daughter and facilitate communication when necessary. Otherwise, step back and be an observer during the fitting.

How should pointe shoes fit?

Pointe shoes must fit snugly. Loose shoes greatly decrease a dancer’s control of movement and increase her chances of injury. So, it is impossible to buy pointe shoes “to grow into.” This snugness may feel surprising at first, but your daughter’s fitter will ask many questions to determine whether the shoes are too tight or just snug in an unfamiliar way. They should never be tight enough to cause pain. Signs of overly tight shoes include pinching of the little toes, toes not lying flat, squeezing or creasing of the sole of the foot, blisters at the heel, and a feeling that the big toe is jammed or stubbed. In a properly fitting shoe, the toe box sits smoothly against the toes. All five toes lie flat against the insole, and the big toe reaches the end of the box comfortably when the dancer does a plié. The heel is snug when the dancer stands on flat; on pointe, there is a little “pinch” in the heel fabric.

On pointe, the dancer’s weight is evenly distributed on her toes, she is balanced on the center of the platform, and the feet do not sink into the box. The foot follows the line of the leg all the way to the toes, with no noticeable angle at the metatarsal area or ankle. The entire body is held in correct alignment, so that an imaginary vertical line could be drawn from the head to the toes.

Read more about finding a perfect fit in pointe shoes.

How should the dancer prepare for a pointe shoe fitting?

She should prepare her feet as she would for dance class or performance, and she should wear comfortable street clothes (dancewear is not required unless requested by the teacher).

What to wear Clothing should be comfortable but not baggy. The fitter will need to see the dancer’s placement throughout her body. If pants are worn, they should be able to be rolled up to show the ankles.

Show the feet Avoid footed tights or other clothing that would make it hard for the fitter to see the bare feet and ankles. Stockings should be lightweight – similar in weight to dance tights; fitters typically provide light stockings for dancers to wear.

Foot care Avoid fitting right after a dance class or other exercise, when feet may be swollen. Prepare the feet in the same way as for pointe class. Gently stretch the feet and ankles to avoid strain and cramping on pointe. File nails so that they do not protrude beyond the flesh of the toes, but not low enough to cause inflammation. Make sure that feet are clean and dry.

What should we expect at the first pointe fitting?

Allow up to an hour for the first pointe fitting and purchase. Many stores offer appointments, especially for the first fitting, to provide the necessary time and attention. The fitter will probably start by looking at your daughter’s bare feet in order to choose a pointe model to match her foot shape. Your daughter may be asked to plié and rise to demi-pointe to demonstrate her technique and the strength and development of her feet. Then, the fitter will choose a model and size to try. In some cases, this “first try” shoe will fit the dancer. More frequently, it is just a starting point. In each pair of shoes she tries, your daughter will be asked to place her feet in various positions, on pointe and on flat, to show how the shoes fit and work with her feet. She will also be asked questions about how the shoes feel, and her answers are very important. It takes patience to find just the right pair, but it is worth the effort because of the dangers and discomforts associated with an imperfect fit.

Where should we buy pointe shoes?

Pointe shoes should be purchased only after a professional, personal fitting that takes into account the dancer’s individual anatomy, strength and technique. Professional fittings are offered by many specialized dance stores; you might ask your daughter’s teacher or other teachers and dancers for recommendations. If you’re unsure of what a store offers, consider observing fittings there before making an appointment. The Q&A in the Parents' Pointe Guide section, or in Russian Pointe’s publication Parents' Guide to Beginning Pointe, can help you evaluate what you see. Fitters vary in their styles and particular methods, but the basics of a professional fitting explained here should be in place.

What is pre-pointe training?

As dancers get ready to go on pointe, they need to focus on developing the strength and technique that will be necessary for pointe work. Some teachers offer pre-pointe as a special class. Others integrate it into regular ballet class during the pre-pointe year. Either way, pre-pointe training should include special exercises for building strength and flexibility in the feet, ankles and legs. Classes might include a variety of exercises at the barre, at center floor and on the floor, and the teacher might use exercise bands for certain exercises.

Dancers also need adequate core strength and proper alignment to be able to go on pointe successfully and safely, so pre-pointe training should include focus on the torso and entire body as well as the feet and legs.

To help dancers make a smooth and gradual transition into beginning pointe, some teachers use special shoes during pre-pointe training. Demi-pointe shoes, also called pre-pointe or shankless shoes, are constructed like pointe shoes but without a shank (the stiff, supportive part of the sole). In demi-pointe shoes, the dancer is able to experience the feel of a toe box, before they are expected to rise to full pointe.

What should parents discuss with the teacher about beginning pointe?

Your daughter’s teacher has probably spoken with you about pointe readiness; if not, this is an important discussion to initiate. Before your child begins, you should be confident that she is ready and receiving appropriate instruction, which should include pre-pointe training and guidance and a careful progression through the first pointe year. If possible, observe a beginners’ pointe class. At professional schools, pointe beginners typically spend only a short portion of the ballet class on pointe, focused on learning how to use the shoes and building strength and flexibility, rather than attempting steps and combinations on pointe.

What are the signs of pointe readiness?

Ballet teachers evaluate each dancer carefully before advising her to begin pointe work. Before beginning pointe The dancer has had several years of serious ballet training, preferably including targeted pre-pointe instruction. She has adequate core strength, leg strength and foot strength to pull up consistently on demi-pointe. She has adequate development of the bone structure to minimize potential for damage to the feet.

As a pointe beginner The dancer has proper alignment, so that her back and knees are straight when she stands on demi-pointe and on pointe. Her abdominal muscles are pulled up, without straining, and her shoulders are relaxed. Holding the barre, she is able to balance on the center of the platform, without falling backward or rolling forward.

What is the best age to go on pointe?

There is no single correct age to start dancing on pointe. You have seen how your child’s physical growth follows its own unique pattern. Pointe readiness is also very individual, and it is determined by both physical development and technical growth. A minimum age of 11 or 12 is often recommended, and dancers with several years of serious, regular training tend to be ready by age 12. Nonetheless, there is no age-based universal rule. It is much better to wait than to start without adequate readiness, and each child should be evaluated individually.

What are some terms that parents of pointe dancers should know?

As your daughter progresses in pointe work, you will learn a great deal of ballet terminology! Here are a few terms that will come in handy as you get started:

Achilles tendon The largest tendon in the body, running from the heel bone into the calf.

arch The curve of the sole of the foot.

bunion Deformity and inflammation of the big toe joint, often very painful. Proper pointe fitting and training help dancers avoid or delay bunion development.

instep The curve of the top of the foot.

metatarsal area The metatarsals are five long bones connecting the heel and toes. “Metatarsal area” refers to the joint between the metatarsals and the toes, where the toes bend at the ball of the foot.

demi-pointe/half-pointe Standing and dancing on the balls of the feet.

on flat Standing and dancing with the entire sole of the foot or shoe on the floor.

on pointe Standing and dancing on the tips of the toes; also called en pointe (“ahn pwent”).

relevé Rising from flat to demi-pointe or pointe.

rolling to pointe/rolling through Passing through demi-pointe on the way from flat to pointe.

springing to pointe Rising to pointe with minimal roll-through, almost as if jumping onto the toes.

barre Handrail for balance during ballet exercises; to be held lightly, not gripped or leaned on.

breaking-in Softening and molding pointe shoes to the foot.

core strength Muscular strength throughout the torso, including the abdomen, back and pelvis.

plié Bending the knees with correct ballet posture.

pulling up Coordinated usage of muscles throughout the body to elevate, not sink, for proper technical development and reducing strain on the muscles and joints of the back, legs and feet.

pre-pointe Special exercises and guidance that target the technique and strength needed for pointe work; may be offered within ballet class or as a separate class, using ballet slippers or demi-pointe shoes.

 

Why is going on pointe such an important event?

For a young dancer, buying her first pointe shoes is a momentous occasion. As their training progresses, dancers eagerly – even impatiently – await this moment. They know that beginning pointe work is a milestone, a sign of artistic maturation. And nothing can match the thrill of putting on that first pair of beautiful, pink satin shoes!

In the midst of this excitement, it’s important to remember that starting pointe is not a step to be taken lightly. To dance safely on pointe, a dancer needs careful technical preparation, adequate strength and development, and a pair of pointe shoes that has been professionally fitted to match her unique foot shape and individual technique.

Before your child begins pointe work, take some time to get to know all the factors involved. Read the Q&A in the “Info for Parents” section of this blog, or in Russian Pointe’s publication Parents' Guide to Beginning Pointe, to find answers to the most frequently-asked questions about pointe readiness and finding the right shoes for your young dancer.

What does a parent need to know about pointe?

Whether your daughter is about to go on pointe or has been on pointe for a while, it’s a good idea for you to educate yourself about pointe shoes, pointe training and how to stay safe and healthy on pointe. The Parents’ Pointe Guide section of the Russian Pointe blog has a wealth of introductory information for you! Russian Pointe also produces a beautiful booklet, Parents’ Guide to Beginning Pointe, which is available from Russian Pointe and many dance retailers. You will also want to explore the other sections of the Russian Pointe blog and other resources, to learn about pointe fitting, pointe work and pointe models. You can also find deeper background information about pointe shoe fitting in the Retail Affiliate Learning Pages.

You want your daughter’s experience on pointe to be richly satisfying and rewarding, as well as healthy and safe. We hope that you enjoy exploring all the resources we have created to help ensure that she – and you – will have the best experience possible!