Every dancer remembers their first pointe shoe fitting. The excitement, apprehension and unique scent that belongs to a surprisingly hard but beautifully formed pointe shoe.
As a young dancer I don't quite know how I thought ballerinas stood on their toes- a block of wood or something inside? It certainly wasn't the papier-mâché encased in satin combination that I would later spend my whole day in.
But what actually happens in your first pointe shoe fitting and how does a young dancer prepare for the experience?
- Find a good, recommended fitter. An experienced fitter will assess the shape and length of your toes, the shape and flexibility of your arch as well as the width and strength of your foot to determine the type of shoe that would be most suited to you.
- Book an appointment. It can take a long time to find correct-fitting shoes. Hopefully your dance shop will have a vast array of shoes to try, so finding the right vamp length (from the toe platform to the opening of the shoe), box shape (the front part that encases the dancer's toes) and profile height (height of the shoe when viewed from the side), can take over an hour. Even though there may be a wide variety of shoes to choose from, it can take dancers years to find the elusive perfect fit. Often, when professional dancers find their preferred shoe, they stick to the same maker throughout their career.
- Wear ballet tights or socks. The fitter will have to be able to examine your feet so only wear tights if they are convertible and your feet can be accessed by pulling the foot of your tights up. Leggings with ballet socks are also a good idea. Whichever you wear, it should be similar to what you would have on within your pointe shoes in class.
- Wear foot padding. You may not know what protection, if any, you're going to wear inside your shoes. Your teacher may recommend either animal wool or silicone 'ouch pouches' or the fitter may suggest something that will work well with the shoes you're trying. In whichever case, you should make sure you are fitted with what you will be wearing in class.
- Trim your toe nails. Make sure toe nails are trimmed and neat as nails digging into their neighbouring toes and pressure from being up en pointe will be painful!
- Communicate with the fitter. You may be the least experienced out of the two of you when it comes to pointe shoe fittings, but if your toes are curling instead of laying flat in the shoe or you can feel the shoe twisting when en pointe despite your best efforts at not favouring the big or little toes, then speak up. The fitter can only go by what she sees or asks, so if you know something's not right, make sure you say so.
- Don't look down. It's not that you're all of a sudden going to be so much higher off the ground than normal, but looking down can adjust your weight placement and posture which won't help when it comes to ascertaining whether you are up over the platform (the flat toe end of the shoe) correctly!
- Activate your muscles. You will be used to switching on certain muscle groups in class to activate turn out, core and have a feeling of 'lengthening legs down into the floor' on demi-pointe, so use your technique when it comes to your pointe shoe fitting.
- Enjoy! Take a picture if you have permission from the fitter. This is a well-earned and memorable occasion!