What is the Pointe?
So you’ve mastered the art of buying ballet slippers, only to be told your child is moving on to the next level. This is a great moment of celebration in the dancer’s journey – they’ve mastered the technique and built the strength required to get to this stage. The next step, however, can raise a multitude of questions for parents; which shoes next? demi-pointes/soft blocks? pointe shoes? ribbons? sew where and why?
Here we will attempt to give a clear explanation of the differences between shoes, providing some science on which to base your selection.
Also known as pre-pointes, soft-block or shank-less, these shoes are worn for pre-pointe training. They have a shaped box, giving them a similar appearance to a pointe shoe, but are lacking the stiffened shank within the sole. Dancers must not attempt to stand or dance en pointe in these shoes.
So, what is the purpose of demi-pointes? These function to give the dancer a gradual transition from ballet slippers to pointe shoes, allowing them to experience dancing with a boxed toe.
It is important that dancers wait until their teacher assesses their readiness to move from ballet slippers to demi-pointes.
The pointe shoe provides the iconic ballet image that we have all become accustomed to. Invented around 1900, these shoes were created to enable dancers to safely dance on their toes. The shoes are engineered in such a way as to support the dancers feet en pointe, and they do this by allowing a transfer of weight in two places; around the toes and beneath the arch.
Inside the shoe, sitting along the underneath of the foot, is a stiffened sole called a shank. This serves as the backbone of the pointe shoe. The length and flexibility of the shank depends upon the brand and style of pointe shoe. It is important to select one that best accommodates your strength and technical ability. There is also an outer sole, usually made of buffed leather, to provide traction to the dancer when he/she moves along the floor.
The toes are encased in what’s known as the toe box. The tip is referred to as the platform, on which the dancer stands en pointe. The toe box is covered by a section of fabric called the vamp.
Wrapping snuggly around the dancer’s foot and the toe box, the vamp contributes to the overall comfort and supportiveness of the pointe shoe.
Pointe shoes come in different shapes and sizes, some with toe boxes deep enough to cover a large part of the foot and others shallow enough to almost expose the beginning of the toes. Some have a widened winged area to offer extra support and some have more flexible shanks than others. It is important that each dancer gets the right shoe to suit their feet so we would always recommend getting professionally fitted by an expert.
So, you’ve got the right shoes…what else do you need?
You’ll need to purchase ribbons for your pointe shoes. These come in a range of widths and fabric finishes, so check with your teacher to see which one they would recommend.
Next you’ll need to darn the platform of the pointe shoes. This is important for two reasons; it will prevent the satin on the platform wearing away, thus extending the life of the shoes, and it will also provide more traction for the dancer.
Finally you may want to think about purchasing some accessories to help with the comfort of pointe work. From traditional lambswool inserts to toes pads, from toe spacers to gel pouches, there are so many options available. We carry a broad range at our store inside the studio – Dance-2-tu. Pop in and take a look – special ordering is available.
Do you have any favourite tried and tested accessories? We’d love to hear tips on what works best for you.
For more information about when to transition to pointe, check out our blogpost – “When is your dancer ready to go en pointe?” here