Everything You Need to Know About Buying Pointe Shoes for Ballet!

By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

Pointe shoes are the most sought-after and desired shoes for young ballet dancers, and only once dancers are physically ready to go en pointe will they be allowed to start wearing pointe shoes. Your child’s dance teacher and possibly their doctor will be the ones to determine when your dancer is ready for pointe shoes. Pointe shoes are also incredibly unique to each individual and must be fit properly to ensure dancers won’t injure themselves and will be able to perform to the best of their ability. 

To choose the right pointe shoes, you need to first obtain your child’s teacher’s permission to go en pointe. At your local dancewear store, you will be fit for pointe shoes and will look at the fit of the shoe as determined by the length, width, shank strength, vamp length, and box construction. 

If you’re wondering what all those terms mean, look no further! Here you will find a brief overview of the anatomy of a pointe shoe so you can understand how pointe shoes are constructed, which informs how they fit and function. While there is no substitute for a proper in-person pointe shoe fitting, this guide will give you the basic terminology and understanding of pointe shoes to go into your fitting with confidence.

The Anatomy of a Pointe Shoe

The parts of a pointe shoe include:

  • Box
    • Platform
    • Vamp
    • Wings
  • Shank

The Box of a Pointe Shoe

The box of a pointe shoe is what encases the dancer’s forefoot. Made of layers of fabric or cardboard, and hardened by paste, the box should hug the foot tightly without making the toes overlap. The box is where you put lambswool or a toe pad to protect your toes from friction. Making up the entirety of the box is the platform, the vamp, and the wings of the shoe.

What is The Platform of a Pointe Shoe?

The platform of a pointe shoe is the flat bottom of the box, where the dancer balances on their toes. Platforms are typically flat, although some brands have a slightly spherical platform.

What is The Vamp of a Pointe Shoe?

The vamp refers to the front of the shoe, from the tip of the platform to the end of the fabric at the front. Vamps come in different lengths, and shapes, and support the front of the foot and the metatarsals. 

What Are The Wings of a Pointe Shoe?

The wings of a pointe shoe refer to the sides of the shoe, which support the sides of the foot and the metatarsals. Wings come in a variety of heights depending on the brand and style of the shoe, in order to accommodate different types of feet.

The Shank of a Pointe Shoe

The shank refers to the stiff length of material that creates the sole of the shoe. In a pointe shoe, shanks are made in a variety of different strengths in order to support the dancer’s weight en pointe. The shank of a pointe shoe is essentially the spine of the shoe, assisting the dancer’s own strength to stay on the box. 

Do Pointe Shoes Have Wood In Them?

Pointe shoes, contrary to popular belief, are not made of wood, but rather layers upon layers of compressed, hardened cardboard, leather, and paste, and are covered in satin.

What are Pointe Shoes Made Of?

Pointe shoes are made of a combination of hardened cardboard, leather, and paste, and are covered in satin. Pointe shoes have been made of these materials for over one hundred years. Some manufacturers have developed newer pointe shoe technology, like Gaynor Minden, whose pointe shoes include elastic polymers similar to materials found in prosthetics. 

What Should I Expect At a Pointe Shoe Fitting?

Pointe shoes are incredibly unique to each dancer, so when being fit for pointe shoes, you should expect to be there for at least an hour! Consider calling ahead to your local dancewear store to make an appointment to ensure a quality fitting. 

A reputable pointe shoe fitter will take the following things into consideration before even bringing a pair of shoes out:

  • Age of the dancer
  • Experience level of the dancer
  • Street shoe size
  • Foot shape
  • Foot function in certain dance steps
  • The kind of padding that will be used

How Should Pointe Shoes Fit?

While keeping in mind that all feet are different, pointe shoes should fit completely snug, without any growing room. When standing flat on the floor in a pointe shoe, the tip of the big toe should just touch the inside of the platform. Your fitter will ask you to plié in first or second position, and while in plié, the toes should all lay flat on the floor without crunching or overlapping. 

How Pointe Shoes Should Fit When Standing on Flat Feet

When standing flat, there should be little to no room between the shoe and the foot from all sides. If there is a slight gap at the sides near your ankle, tighten the drawstring at the front of the vamp and tuck the ends into the shoe. If there is a gap between the top of the foot and the vamp, the vamp shape is too deep and is incorrect for your foot. If your foot is being squeezed at the top such that your skin is protruding from inside the shoe, the vamp is too shallow.

How Pointe Shoes Should Fit When En Pointe

Your pointe shoe fitter will ask you to place one foot on the platform – don’t use both feet just yet! As you place one foot on the platform in parallel, your fitter will use their hands to feel the trajectory of the shank. 

Ideally, the shank of the shoe will follow the arch of your foot. If it twists to one side, it is possible the shoe is too narrow or too wide. Also, the shank should not protrude past the end of your heel. If it does, the shoe is too long.

Finally, if the fitter is happy with the fit of the shoe thus far (remembering everything we have said about fit on flat feet as well), it’s time to go en pointe with both feet! Holding onto a barre in parallel first, step up onto the platform of one foot and then the other. (It is difficult to relevé or rise and articulate through the foot in pointe shoes without ribbons and elastic sewn on, so the “step-up” approach to the box is best for fitting purposes). 

Here it will be determined if the vamp and wings are high enough to support your foot or are too high and hinder your ability to get up and over the box properly. Another check of the shank will be performed to ensure that it is laying properly and not twisting. 

If the shank is too soft, it will appear to bend very easily and quickly, thus not fully supporting the foot. If the shank is too hard, it may be difficult to get up onto the box. Because shanks come in a huge variety of strengths and lengths, it’s important to consult both your teacher and fitter to determine what will be the best shank for you. 

How Long Should a Pointe Shoe Fitting Last?

It may take over an hour for a first-time pointe shoe fitting. As you can see, a ton of factors contribute to a properly fitted pointe shoe, and it’s important to be patient and trust the fitter. After your fitting, you will also purchase ribbons and elastic to sew onto your shoes, which is how pointe shoes stay on. You may also choose to darn the platform of your shoes to help with longevity. 

How Much Do Pointe Shoes Cost?

Pointe shoes range from $70 USD to $140 USD. Add in the ribbons, elastics, and padding for the toes which is not included with most pointe shoes and you can expect to pay around $90 USD to $160 USD.

What Are the Best Pointe Shoe Brands?

The best pointe shoes come from the brand that fits your foot best! There are many excellent pointe shoe brands on the market, and just like with most dance shoes, there is no real “best” brand because all feet are unique, and each brand caters to different needs! There are also multiple styles of pointe shoes within each brand – Bloch makes 34 different styles!

However, just because there is no real “best” brand doesn’t mean there isn’t a “worst” brand of pointe shoe. Reputable dancewear stores will only carry reputable dance brands, like Capezio, Bloch, Russian Pointe, Freed, Grishko, Sansha, Gaynor Minden, Suffolk, SoDanca, and Repetto.

If you are shopping online, look for those name brands, and don’t be fooled by cheap, no-name pointe shoes. Wearing poorly made pointe shoes can be dangerous for even a professional level dancer. 

Can Beginners Wear Pointe Shoes?

No, beginner dancers cannot wear pointe shoes. Dancers must have at least 3-5 years of serious ballet training under their belt before going en pointe. Be sure to get approval from your child’s teacher before purchasing pointe shoes, and do not purchase shoes for children “just for fun”. Pointe shoes worn by inexperienced dancers can cause serious harm to growing bodies!

If you and your child believe they are pointe ready, but your teacher or health specialist believes otherwise, speak to your teacher about investing in demi pointe shoes in the meantime. You can read all about Demi Point or Soft box shoes in our article here!

How Old Do I Have to Be to Wear Pointe Shoes?

Most dancers will only be allowed to purchase pointe shoes once they are at least 10-11 years old with others waiting until they are 12 or even 13. This is because of the delicacy of maturing bones and growth plates in the feet and ankles, so the age of the dancer must be taken into consideration when beginning pointe work. 

Christopher Powney the Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet School wrote in his article Ballet Competition culture: are we putting young dancers at risk that the top training schools only begin pointe work at 11 and that training takes several years before students are given difficult and technical variations to perform – in reference to variations being seen performed by young students at competitions en pointe.

Why Does Street Shoe Size Matter When Buying Pointe Shoes?

All brands of pointe shoes come in different size ranges and often do not run by street shoe size, which is why an in-person fitting is so important. A pointe shoe fitter will ask what size street shoe your dancer wears because they know what the closest match in the different brands of pointe shoes will be, but they will possibly also measure the length and width of your child’s foot for more accurate sizing. Also, it is important to note that pointe shoes are often not returnable, so be sure to attend an in-person fitting to ensure you purchase the correct size.

What Do Foot Shape and Foot Function Have to Do With Pointe Shoe Fittings?

Foot shape and foot function are also determining factors when being fit for pointe shoes. Some foot shapes fit better into certain brands or styles and evaluating simple ballet steps such as plié and relevé to see what the foot does when flat will be helpful to the fitter to choose the right shoes.

What Kind Of Padding Should I Use in Pointe Shoes?

A pointe shoe fitting will also likely include selecting a kind of padding to insert into the shoe to protect the toes. You will have the choice between toe pads and loose lambswool. Beginner pointe dancers through professionals wear something in their shoes to pad the toes and knuckles for protection when en pointe. Friction or even slipping between the box and toes can cause discomfort, and although toe pads or lambswool does not alleviate pain it can create a cushioning barrier between the two.

Just like pointe shoes themselves, the kind of padding dancers wear in their shoes is a very individual choice. Toe pads come in many fabrics and materials, including gel pads, wearable spacers, and customizable, moldable inserts like these by PerfectFit Pointe.

Time to go shoe shopping!!!!

Pointe shoes are a special rite of passage for dancers, and as you can see, there are many considerations you must take before choosing the right pair. It may take a few purchases before a dancer finds the perfect shoes, and unfortunately, that is just the name of the game when pursuing pointe work. Be patient in your search, and you’re sure to find the best pair for your dancer! 

About the Author

Lesley Mealor

Lesley Mealor is a dance industry professional, with over 15 years of experience in all facets of the dance world, from dance education and adjudication, to dance retail and product development, to on-stage experience. A graduate of Oklahoma City University with a degree in Dance Performance, Lesley serves as the co-host of Making the Impact - A Dance Competition Podcast, and is a director of events for Spirit of Dance Awards. She resides in New York City with her plants and her cat, Charlotte.