Pointe Shoes

“Miss Haley, which pointe shoes should I get?”

2:47 PM

Oh if I had a penny for every time I got this question....

The answer is always the same: “The right ones.” I mean, what else can I say? “Go get this type, this size, this brand, they’re my favorite”? I don’t think so!

how to find the right pointe shoes

I’ve decided to write up this post because of the amazing amount of times I’ve heard this question, and maybe it’ll help some other confused parents and students out there.

Here’s how pointe shoes work: A company decides to make pointe shoes, so they develop their own shape, hardness, material bank, and signature look. Bloch shoes are a little… well… blocky. Grishko has narrow heels and wider metatarsals, and tapered toes. Capezio is round-ish. Russian Pointes are very very very hard and usually fit someone with a super narrow foot and a high arch.

That being said, there are many little variations in each shoe. For instance, here is a list of all the different components of a pointe shoe:
  • Length
  • Width
  • heel height - how high they sit on your heel
  • height on the instep: how high they come up on the side of your foot
  • shank hardness - how hard they are to bend
  • shank style - full, 3/4, half, demi-pointe, super soft, graduated shank, etc.
  • vamp height – how high they come up over your toes
  • wing – how high/low/hard/soft they are on the sides of your metatarsals
  • platform – the flat part you balance on
  • drawstring – some have them, some don’t, sometimes they’re elastic, sometimes they’re cotton…
  • vamp cut – u-shaped, v-shaped, square-ish…
I could keep going. but I won’t.

Not only that, but each brand of pointe shoe (the company) has different styles of shoes within the company. For instance, Grishko makes an Elite, Maya, Maya II, Nova, Ulanova, Ulanova II, 2007, pro-2007, pro-flex 2007, and a few more I can’t recall off the top of my head. Bloch, Capezio, Russian Pointes, they all do the same thing. So not only do you have all the above choices, but you have the slightly different shoe shapes within each company.

This means there are hundreds of thousands of different possibilities.

And (not that I’m trying to freak you out) sometimes one shoe fits one foot, and another shoe fits another foot! Luckily there is no Right or Left until you break them in, so if you buy two pairs, you get two pairs.

Lastly (I know, right??) sometimes the padding you use changes how the shoe fits! I have to wear a paper towel in my left Maya I shoe, and a bit of lambs wool in my Gaynor Minden shoe to make them fit right. I had one girl whose shoes fit with Ouch Pouches, but not Gellows.

I’m trying to make this very clear:

This is why you MUST go to a fitter until you find that perfect combination.

(I feel like bold, centered, italics, caps lock, and underlined should do it, but let me know if you need more.)

If you don’t, you could seriously injure your feet! Dancing en pointe is dangerous unless you do it right, and you can’t do it right with a pair of shoes that don’t fit.

Usually, for the average dancer, there are about 3-7 different kinds of pointe shoes that will fit them. They should try on as many pairs as possible, and pick the one pair that:
  • fit the best (no squished toes, no sinking in, no sickling or twisting)
  • make their feet look prettiest (arch, toes, vamp, etc)
  • make the dancer feel most secure and confident en pointe (very important)

Below is the paper I give my students before they get fitted.

Pointe shoe fitting requirements

  • Please only go to one of the following stores: Dance Max Dancewear (Marietta, GA), The Sock Basket (Asheville, NC or Greenville, SC) [**obviously if you live in a different area you’ll go to different shoe stores. Find out which stores have the best fitters. An inexperienced fitter is just as bad as a bad pair of shoes.]
  • Call the store before you go! Some stores only fit by appointment, and some require you to be there by a certain time.
  • Shoes should fit tight around the foot. They will be hard and uncomfortable, but they should not cause a pinching or searing pain.
  • Your toes should be secure in the box, but not scrunched up against the bottom or sides of the shoe
  • The outside sole should end right before the edge of your heel. Avoid getting a shoe that’s shank extends the whole length of your foot if at all possible, unless it’s the best fit.
  • Cut your toenails two or three days before your fitting. If the skin is still tender, use a little bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and rub the skin to dry and toughen it. [I’m going to highlight this, it’s very important!]
  • Do some warm-ups before you get fitted, or wear tennis shoes for a few hours. Don’t fit shoes with cold feet (dancing makes your feet swell, and if you get a fitting with cold feet, they may not fit when you try to dance in them)
For the fitter:
  • No Gaynor Minden shoes please! [for notes about this, see my post about Gaynor's.]
  • Fit the shoe for their foot now, not for their foot when it grows. It is okay if they grow out of their shoe.
  • They are to use Gellows gell toe pads (Pillows for Pointe) unless their shoe fits best with a different pad. Lamb’s wool is not required.
  • No super-soft shanks or super-hard shanks. [this is for beginner pointe students, so if you need a harder or softer shank, disregard this.]
  • Inch-wide ribbon and single-band elastic (unless their foot requires criss-crossed)
  • Bunheads pointe shoe sewing kit or another similar kit with waxed thread and heavy-duty needle
  • The student is responsible for sewing their own shoes. Please do not sew their shoes for them.

I hope this helps you choose which shoes you want, and I hope you decide to go to a fitter the next time you need pointe shoes! It’s worth the drive/retail cost! not only that, a lot of stores will offer discounts on shoes if you dance with a studio, or if you buy a certain number of shoes, or something like that. Ask about discounts. Thanks, and Happy Dancing!
~Miss Haley

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  1. Dear Haley-
    This is great. I have a bit of a blessing/curse, as my feet have a low arch, making them stronger but not as pretty in pointe shoes. Are there any specific makes/models that are designed with low arched feet in mind?

    1. Helena, Yes, Grishko makes very nice shoes that highlight the natural foot. They have a good shape to them, but form well to your feet. They are usually available in a soft or super soft shank. I'd recommend getting a soft or medium arch and then hand-breaking them in a spot that allows you to get up en pointe where you need to be, but still gives you the strength and support you need. If you'd like, take some video or pictures of yourself up en pointe and barefoot in releve first position and send them to me (email is haleymathiot@gmail.com) and I'll give you a few pointers ;)

    2. I'm not sure as I'm no expert on this.... But the Russian ones are ment to have a slight pre-arch but I've never had them. They're ment to be mostly for flay feet and make them look better when en pointe

    3. I'm not sure as I'm no expert on this.... But the Russian ones are ment to have a slight pre-arch but I've never had them. They're ment to be mostly for flay feet and make them look better when en pointe

  2. I am very flat footed I have greek feet. Of course my arches have got higher since I stretch them 4 times a day for 30 minutes and ideas on what pointe shoes could work for me. I start pointe next month <3

    1. Kirstyn,
      Your fitter will be able to tell you exactly which shoe is best for your foot! Trust them, and your teacher. Congratulations on starting pointe!

  3. My first shoe was a super soft shank from grishko. Why are they not good for beginners?

  4. I have found that they are simply not necessary. I DO believe that there is a time and a place for every shoe: after all, every shoe is designed for a reason, and for a different kind of dancer! But every dancer I've seen, personally, in a super-soft did just as well in a soft, or even a medium. Not only that, the shoe will last longer, provide more support, and encourage more strengthening. If your expert fitter says you need a supersoft, then you do. But if you've been in them for a few months and you seem to hit a plateau in your strengthening, you know it's time for a harder shank.

  5. I wear bloch European Balance 5 1/2 3X. I don't live anywhere near a ballet store so I have to order off line. I would like to try Russian Pointe,is there anything comparable in this brand?

  6. There are some that are similar.... I wear a European Balance as well, and there are some Russian Pointes that do fit me, but my foot is so flat I can't actually use them! I would honestly NEVER order a shoe I've never tried on before. Any little thing that isn't perfect could result in an injury. If I were you, I'd schedule a trip to a professional fitter, or plan an extra day next time you go out of town! What area do you live in?

  7. Well hello (miss Hayley?)! How have you been? I err well I love your blog and really a ppreciate all the useful info you post about dance, some of which have helped me through a lot in class. So I got through your pointe especifications post and I errh...well I'm in a kind of predicament with my current shoes and pointe work in general. I feel deeply frustrated and I feel... well sometimes I think I will never ever get better on them, let me explain. I use, generally Grishkos, Fouetté especifically and very wide (XXXXX), very hard ones but no matter how much I work them on, the pain never goes away. I have strong legs and ankles and decent arches, but no matter how hard I try I just don't seem to improve my center work in pointe, recently I have been breaking them off real fast, and today I just broke in a pair of new ones in one class, a thing that before took me a week or two weeks at least. So maybe I'm getting stronger? But with these new "strenght" (or maybe wrong kind of work?) comes a excruciating pain in the toes, like bone deep I hadn't felt before and blisters on my bunions and even though I have the wider box, I keep getting bunions like crazy at the sides of my feet. I tried some LaPointe ones before but they are worse, I get far over the box with those, and they were reinforced hard.So, maybe my shoes are not the ones for me? Or maybe it is just my physiognomy or my wrong technique? I'm real real sad because, no matter how hard I work I just don't seem to get better on pointe, but rather hurt myself and break my shoes. What do you think? Also, would you like to give me some advice for getting better? I send you a hug! Thank you!

    1. Hey! I'm so sorry to hear about the pain you're feeling in pointe shoes. I'd love for you to send me a few photos of your feet, and a few photos of you en pointe. Have you mentioned the pain to your pointe shoe fitter? they might be putting you in the wrong shoes. I love Grishkos, but you may want to try a European Balance by Bloch. They have a wider box and a good platform. You can send me photos at haleymathiot@gmail.com and I will give you some feedback.

  8. Interesting post. As for the shoes longevity, have you tried Siberian Swan? New brand of pointe shoes with Active Arch Support technology. Plastic shank (not box), no need to break in. Long lasting shoes

    1. No, I've never heard of them! I'll ask my fitter :D


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