For Dancers

Your First Pair of Pointe Shoes - What To Expect

11:15 AM

This article is designed for students to know what to expect, and also to help teachers be able to prepare their students for their first experience en pointe! I know when I started pointe it was all very foreign and unexpected, so hopefully, you will have a smoother experience!

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#1 - You're Ready

Congratulations! Your teacher has just told you that you're ready to begin pointe work! You should be extremely proud of yourself and the hard work you have put in.

Be mentally prepared that you are about to do something completely different. Learning to dance in pointe shoes is like learning ballet all over again. Everything is different, and feels different, and is harder. You will be sore in places you didn't expect. You won't notice how tired you are until you fall.

Photo credit: kaytebug on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND
(This is a photo collage I found on Visual hunt! Always take pictures of your fitting!)

If your teacher says you're ready, that means your teacher believes in your work ethic, and that you are able to handle this new challenge! Don't get discouraged, and be ready to expect and respect the struggle.

If you're still reaching towards this step, don't give up! Check out this section of my blog to learn more.

#2 - The Fitting

It is extremely important that your shoes fit correctly - read more about why it's important here. It's also valuable for you to have your teacher there if they have the time. Don't be afraid to ask them to come (some teachers, like me, require it).

Me helping a student with her first pair

Most pointe shoe fittings are by appointment only, since they usually take 30-90 minutes, depending on the dancer's foot and the expertise of the fitter. Be sure to call the store in advance and make an appointment.

A student getting fitted for shoes. Photo by Sarah Ploeser, used with permission

The fitting will go something like this:

  • You will arrive with your dancewear on (dressed for class! Tights, leo, hair in a bun). Spend a few minutes doing some plies and releves on your own, so your feet are warm. This is important because sometimes certain dancer's feet swell slightly when their feet are warm! 
  • The fitter will look at your feet. They may use their hands, press on your toes, pull your toes to the side, or check the flexibility of your arch. 
  • The fitter will take your street shoe size on both feet, and check width. They may also trace your foot. 
  • Some fitters will ask you to do some basic ballet steps, like plie in first position, plie in second position, tendu right and left to the side. They are looking for the way your feet change as you dance, the width, how your point your toes, if you sickle, which foot is stronger, which foot is higher arched, etc. Don't think of this as a "test" or a quiz! They aren't judging you - they're doing safety and fitting checks. 
  • Your fitter will help you/show you how to properly put on toe pads, and help you find the right toe pads for you. Some teachers have specific requests, so make sure you follow your teacher's recommendations.
  • The fitter will bring out a basket or an armful of different shoes. You will put on shoes and pull off shoes several times before you get to stand up and actually stand on pointe. 
  • When you do finally get to stand on pointe - the fitter will ask you to go to the barre, or they will sit in front of you and hold your hands. They will tell you to "step up" or to "rise up." Step up means pick up your foot, put it on pointe, and stand up, and then put the other foot on pointe. Rise up is an eleve, and your shoes may slip off your heels, but the fitter will fix them. 
  • The fitter will check the fit from all angles, check the tightness, and make adjustments. You may try on 3 or 4 pairs, or you may try on 50. Don't get attached! 
  • When they find the right shoes for you, most fitters will let you take a picture, and then cut your ribbon and elastic. You will have to sew them at home. Make sure you get teacher approval before sewing the shoes - once they're sewn you can't return them. 
  • Do not wear your shoes unsupervised. 
Check out tips on how to sew your pointe shoes here, but make sure you get specific instructions from your teacher first! 

Photo credit: HighTechDad on Visual hunt / CC BY

#3 - Your First Class

Your first pointe class will be all at the barre, or may include some walking or running across the floor (just to get comfortable in the shoes). Your teacher will not expect you to do any crazy steps in your shoes! 
Just like a traditional ballet class starts with plies, then moves to tendu, then moves to degage, a pointe class has a set of combinations put in a specific order to help warm up the body and strengthen the feet. It usually goes something like this:

  1. Foot warm-ups and arch presses (rock and rolls, demi pointe to pointe, snakes, etc)
  2. Plies
  3. Releve or Eleve sequence with some soussus
  4. Tendu
  5. Pas de bourree facing the barre
  6. Echappe facing the barre (sometimes with passe)
  7. Degage
  8. Larger steps like pique prep, sissone, ballone, or pirouette preps
During your first class, you will mostly do the first 4 in that order! You will spend a lot of time doing tons of releves, strengthening, arch presses, snakes, and other similar exercises.

This dancer is doing an arch stretch to help bend and break in her shoe. Photo credit: melalouise on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Please do not attempt to do things your teacher hasn't taught you yet!

#4 - Physical Expectations

When you go on pointe, everything feels different. The shoulders go directly over the hips, and since you're on your toes, that makes you feel like you're falling forward, or are more forward than normal. This is OK! You will regain your balance slowly. 

Your knees will want to bend every time you go up onto your shoes, specifically when you eleve. This is because pointing your toes activates the muscles in the back of the leg, like the calf and the hamstring. Usually, when those muscles activate, the knee bends. You have to re-wire your body, and lengthen your muscles and keep the knees straight while dancing! This is very tricky and will take some practice. Be patient and don't rush.

Photo by LaRessie Mason

You will also kind of feel like a duck... especially walking in the shoes. They are hard and uncomfortable, though shouldn't cause any pinching or searing pain. You may find yourself shuffling or waddling to get around. Try to work through the shoe and bend the shoe to your will and foot by walking normally. 

Along the same lines, you may also feel like you can't bend the shoe, or that if you do bend it, you'll break it. Don't worry, you won't break the shoe. You actually want to break the shoe as much as you can! Your first pair will last anywhere from 3-6 months. 

Do not manually bend, break, cut, or alter the shoe unless a teacher specifically tells you to do so and supervises the process!

Photo by LaRessie Mason

You will also feel like you are not tired, and then you may unexpectedly falter, fall, or shake on pointe. It is a different feeling, and your body may not warn you that you're tired. It's important to stay focused and in tune with your body while dancing on pointe to avoid injury! 

You may find your feet hurting or cramping more than normal, and that is OK. You will gain strength and flexibility quickly if you work regularly! Check out these tips on how to relieve foot pain. 

#5 - Moving Forward

How fast you progress is directly related to how much you practice. Dancers who do 15-30 minutes of pointe a week have a much different track than those who do 30 minutes 2-3 times a week, or 15 minutes a day 5-6 days a week. Talk to your teacher about how much time you will spend on pointe, and what (if any) things you should be doing at home. (Personally, I give my students specific things to do at home daily).

Please note if you do work in your shoes at home, do not do any steps you haven't been taught to do properly, and don't go outside in them unless they're an old, worn out pair! You will destroy them. You should also make sure you dance on a clean hard surface, like linoleum or wood, but avoid tile. It is very slick. You may consider getting pointe shoe covers, or thin socks, to wear over your shoes at home. Any dirt or wax tracked back into the studio could cause a fall.

Check out Dancewear Corner's supply of pointe shoe covers! These are just a few of their fun prints. 

You can expect to start doing more intermediate steps such as sissone, ballone, echappe, pirouettes, or center steps around the 1-year mark. For dancers doing more than 1 hour a week, this changes to 6 months.

You can expect to do advanced steps like pique turns and pirouettes, partnering work, sustained balances in the center, or releves on one foot in the center around the 2-year mark.

You can expect to perform en pointe sometime after 1 year, though sometimes it is longer. It depends on the studio, but some studios prefer to only put advanced dancers in pointe shoes onstage. Remember that pointe is hard enough in the studio! Adding nerves and a floor you aren't used to can cause issues for inexperienced pointe dancers. 
Photo credit: fd on / CC BY-NC

Congratulations on your new adventure, and enjoy the ride! Learn as much as you can, ask questions, don't be afraid to struggle, and have fun. 

And don't wear your pointe shoes at home (unless you have permission). 

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